Last week we visited Crack in the Ground in Central Oregon near Christmas Valley. You may be wondering what exactly this place is. Well… it’s a huge crack in the ground in the middle of the desert.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was impressed by the crack’s picturesque angles and curved surfaces.
There’s a 2-mile trail inside that reaches a depth of ~70 feet below the surface. We took the left path that has a more gradual entrance. It’s in the middle of the picture below. This trail is relatively easy but if you go the whole length, expect to climb over boulders and through some cracks.
But how did this crack get here? It’s an ancient volcanic fissure. I learned in most climates, fissures fill up with soil and rock from erosion. Since it’s so dry here, there has been relatively little filling.
Crack in the Ground sits within the Four Craters Lava Bed. During the Pleistocene, four cone volcanoes were active here. A shallow depression formed when older heavier rock sunk. The fissure opened near the edge where there was tension along a fault zone. This Bureau of Land Management map shows the extent of the lava beds and the location of Crack in the Ground.
On the first 4-mile hike, my llama was Marty McFly, AKA “The Professor.” He was not the most dominant llama there, but he was considered to be the smartest. He was always on the lookout. Llamas have large eyes, much like pronghorns, so they can spot predators.
There are three short hikes near the covered picnic area. The Geologic Time Trail winds along ¼ mile to connect you to the other two trails. Interpretive signs note the changes of the last 50 million years. The colorful small signs explaining the geologic history looked brand new. The Trail of Fossils takes you up a ¼ mile loop trail on the hillside and shows you fossils that left their imprints in large boulders.
The hike to Gray Butte, located in the Crooked River National Grassland near Terrebonne, Oregon, is great to walk in the spring because of the wildflowers. I went here in May and we saw quite a few colorful flowers. The habitat is sagebrush steppe with scattered western juniper trees.
View of Mt. Jefferson from Gray Butte trail
I have been here twice with Leslie Olson, one of my favorite guides with Bend Parks and Recreation. One time we went on Cole Loop Trail #854 and the other time we went on Gray Butte Trail #852. The roads to the trailheads have sections that are rough but passable. We did out-and-back hikes of around four to five miles total distance. They are listed as easy to moderate hikes. Here’s a map that shows both trails.
McCoin Orchard at Gray Butte trailhead
A piece of history
My most recent hike began at Gray Butte trailhead, elevation 3,800 feet, near the McCoin Orchard. The orchard was originally planted by Julius and Sarah McCoin in 1886. The property was purchased by the U.S. Forest Service in the 1930’s. At one time there were 100 fruit trees here – apple, pear, plum, etc. Grassland range specialists saved the surviving trees in the 1980’s. When I was there, the trees were in full bloom.
Today I took a hike up Gray Butte, northeast of Terrebonne, Oregon. It was a nice hike with lots of wildflowers and spectacular views. This view is from the edge of the Crooked River Caldera looking west to Mount Jefferson, on the right, and Black Butte, on the left. The rocks in the foreground are splattered with messages left by lichens.
My place in the world is out in the wild places of central Oregon. From dry sagebrush steppe in a caldera to lush meadows bordered by pine forests. There are so many special places to explore…
The Mill A Loop is a short and easy hike that starts on the flag bridge in the Old Mill district of Bend. This 1.1 mile trail is paved and mostly flat. You walk along the Deschutes River for most of the hike. At certain times of the year, kayakers, stand up paddleboarders, and innertubers will float by you on the river.
Flag Bridge March 2018
Crossing the bridge over the Deschutes River to see the Art in the High Desert show in Bend, Oregon
The Flag Bridge is a well-known sight in Bend. The flags are changed to celebrate different holidays and events. I am always impressed by these flags of many colors fluttering in the breeze. They also fly over a smaller pond near the restaurants.
The Otter Bench Trail gives you some breathtaking views of the Crooked River. The trail head is near the town of Crooked River Ranch and the trail goes along the base of the cliffs bordering the river. We walked a couple miles in, stopped for lunch, and then headed back. There is little elevation change on the section we hiked but if you decide to head down to the river, it gets steep.
The trail goes through juniper and sagebrush habitat and along rocky talus slopes. If you go off the trail a little ways, you can walk to the edge of cliffs that enclose the river far below. If you have a fear of heights, don’t get too close to that edge. A turkey vulture flew by at eye height when we were close to the edge. Hope it wasn’t waiting for a meal!
You get a good view of some of the geological forces at work here. The basalt columns in the lower cliffs are part of the Deschutes formation. Above them you can see light tan colored tuff. Far above the tuff area you will see more columnar basalt and it is part of the most recent Newberry formation.
There is a small dam on the river a few miles from the trail head.
There are golden eagles nesting on the cliffs and you can see how easy it was for them to find a nest site here. The Horny Hollow Trail forks off from the main trail but it’s closed seasonally when the birds are nesting. It was closed when we were there but I saw eagles flying above the highest cliffs in the distance.
I heard and saw quite a few songbirds on this hike in April. The list of species seen includes Townsend’s solitaire, black billed magpie, mountain chickadee, Brewer’s sparrow, and western meadowlark. It was nice to hear some of these songsters again.
As temperatures begin to warm up, the high desert starts its wildflower show. We saw big showy arrowhead balsamroot, purple phlox and rock cress, delicate pink prairie stars, yellow fiddleneck, larkspur, and white miner’s lettuce. After a particularly hard winter we were grateful to see these bursts of color.
This trail passes through Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Crooked River National Grassland, and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife land. There is no fee to use the trail and there’s a good parking area at the trail head.
Here is a BLM map that shows the Otter Bench trail:
Here are driving directions from BLM:
Directions to Otter Bench Trailhead from Highway 97 From Highway 97, just north of Terrebonne, turn left on to Lower Bridge Road (Sign with left arrow says “Crooked River Ranch”). After 2 miles turn right on 43rd St. After 1.7 miles turn left on Chinook Dr. After 5 miles (including a steep descent), go straight on to Horny Hollow Rd (do not take Chinook back up the switchback) Go 1.7 miles to the end of the pavement and park there.
It’s hard to imagine that the big flat area pictured above was once filled with water that all disappeared. Developer William A. Laidlaw was in this area in the early 1900’s and he promised settlers a project that would irrigate nearly 30,000 acres. Local businesses and settlers put up some of their hard earned dollars for the project but then figured out they were being taken advantage of. Laidlaw was burned in effigy in 1907 and 1912. New plans were made by the state for a reservoir.
Tumalo Dam construction. Photographic copy of TID photograph (from original print on file at TID office, Tumalo, Oregon).
In 1914, the huge earthen Tumalo Dam on the edge of 1,100 acre Bull Flat was constructed. It took 18 months to complete. The reservoir was filled with thousands of gallons of water. A couple of school kids were passing by the reservoir one day and heard a roaring noise like a tub draining. A giant whirlpool was sucking down the water at the rate of 220 cfs – as fast as it was being filled. Yikes!
They tried plugging the hole with bales of hay and detonating dynamite on floating barges. Nothing worked. It turned out the engineer that designed the project had not done much work on the soil at the site. It is extremely porous and modern day engineers liken it to a sponge. There are also lava tubes underneath the surface. Continue reading →
In the shadow of Black Butte, water flows out of a hole in the ground and turns into a fast-moving river known as the Metolius River. You can take a short walk to the headwaters, located about 14 miles northwest of Sisters, Oregon. Pine forests enclose the two clusters of springs where this 315-square mile drainage basin begins.
Metolius River Headwaters
Since the water level is relatively constant, it has a couple interesting characteristics. The flow rate at the headwaters is 6,700 cu ft/min and it reaches 81,000 cu ft/min by the time it reaches Lake Billy Chinook, 28.6 miles away. The water temperature is consistently at about 48° F. Brrr!
On a warm night at the Sunriver Nature Center last summer, visitors packed the room and stood outside the door for a chance to listen to tales from an Oregon wanderer. Who were they waiting so eagerly for? Fifth-generation Oregonian and author, William L. Sullivan. There are many people that write about the wonders of Oregon, but few are as prolific. His 18 books cover a variety of topics but he is best known for his travel guides that cover different regions of the state.
As he was introduced to the crowd that night, we were reminded that he had trekked across Oregon many years ago. Sullivan’s account of the 1,000-mile journey from the southwest corner of the state to the northeast corner can be found in his book, Listening for Coyote.
He also wrote a book about how he and his wife constructed a log cabin using only hand tools. They lived there for several years and still do so during summer months. Their account of that ongoing adventure can be read in Cabin Fever: Notes from a Part-Time Pioneer.
Do you want to go to the top of one of the few volcanoes in the U. S. located within the city limits? Pilot Butte is a cinder cone that rises 480 feet above the city of Bend. There are some amazing views from its 4,142 foot summit.
Look at this 360° “photo sphere” image that I took from the top. You can move the image around to see it all. It is a fantastic place!
About 190,000 years ago, Pilot Butte erupted and spewed glowing cinders and steam hundreds of feet into the air. The butte was covered in a foot of ash when Mount Mazama erupted 7,700 years ago. As Pilot Butte eroded away over the years, it evolved into the extinct cinder cone that we see today.
Getting to the top
You can get to the top in a few different ways. The Nature Trail is a 0.8 mile hike and the Summit RoadTrail and the Summit Drive Trail are both 1.0 mile long. There is also a road that winds around the butte. The road closes for several months during the fall and winter. The Nature Trail is a dirt trail that ranges from moderate to moderately steep. There are several benches where you can rest and take in the sights. The Summit Road Trail starts on the west side and follows the road. You can also access it from the east side via a short trail. That’s the Summit Drive Trail.
Looking uphill on Pilot Butte
Roadcut on Pilot Butte
Juniper tree and views to the East
The butte is covered by bunchgrass, wildflowers, shrubs, and western juniper trees. You will see reddish volcanic soil along the trail and in road cuts.
You can see lots of interesting wildlife here. Mule deer can be common during certain times of the year. A cougar was seen on the butte a couple of years ago but they are not a common sight. You are much more likely to see a golden-mantled ground squirrel. Red-tailed hawks and other raptors hunt here so be sure to look up. You might also see (and hear) black-billed magpies and scrub jays. On warm days, western fence lizards might be out sunning themselves on rocks.
The day we hiked at Paulina Lake, 25 miles east of Bend, the weather forecast was a bit iffy. In fact, the location for our hike had been changed to a warmer locale but we decided to go for it.
Paulina Lake sits at 6,350 feet in elevation and snow was predicted. We started our hike at Paulina Lake Lodge and hiked two and a half miles to the hot springs. We ran into snow, rain, hail, and sun on that October day.
The trail hugged the side of the lake so we had good views of it the whole way. Paulina Lake, and it’s fraternal twin East Lake, sit in a caldera that formed after Newberry volcano blew and then collapsed. Paulina Lake is 1,531 acres in size with depths up to 250 feet. To learn more about the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, click here for one of my previous posts.
If you’re looking for a short hike to a couple small, quiet lakes, try out the hike to Blow Lake and Doris Lake southwest of Bend. It’s only a mile to Blow Lake and another mile and a half from there to Doris Lake. There are 400 feet of elevation gain. You can park at the Six Lakes Trailhead along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. As the trail name implies, there are six wilderness lakes to explore here.
Doris Lake, Oregon
The elevation here is 5,310 feet and you pass through subalpine forest on your way to the lakes. Blow Lake is 45 acres in size. Windfall trees form a frame along one edge of the lake and can be seen resting on the bottom of this clear lake. Doris Lake, a mile and a half away, is slightly larger at 69 acres in size.
As I hiked to Blue Pool, I wondered if it would really have the jewel-toned blue water I had seen in so many pictures. We walked for four miles and finally caught a glimpse of this small lake. Walking to the edge of a steep cliff, we looked down at its crystal clear waters.
About Blue Pool
Blue Pool, also known as Tamolitch Pool, was breathtakingly beautiful on this bright and sunny day. The turquoise and sapphire blue waters sparkled up at us. The leaves of trees surrounding the pool were just beginning to change color. Their reflections in the water looked like an Impressionist painting.
A walk along the mile-long trail of the Lava Cast Forest gives you a glimpse of how recent volcanic activity has affected the local environment. The trail is located several miles directly west of Sunriver, Oregon in part of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument.
If you are looking for an interesting historical area to visit close to Bend, try following parts of the route of the Santiam Wagon Road. It parallels present day Highway 20 and parts of Highway 126 between the cities of Sisters and Lebanon, Oregon. This particular wagon road is interesting because its purpose was to provide safe passage from the Willamette Valley eastwards into central Oregon. A route was found in 1859 by connecting old Native American trails to a route discovered by Hudson’s Bay Company trapper, Thomas McKay. It became the main route across the Central Cascades from 1865 to 1939. In 1939 the Santiam Highway opened.
The road was maintained by the Willamette Valley and Cascade Mountain Wagon Road. Local ranchers formed the company with Andrew Wiley, John Gray, and John Brandenburg. These pioneers originally proposed the road and scouted a route. Tolls were collected along the route. Settlers used the road to move their livestock eastwards to pasture lands and markets. The new road also enabled trade, commerce, and communication between areas East and West of the Cascades.