The Three Sisters volcanoes in Oregon are beautiful but one of the three is dangerous. The photo above shows Middle Sister, a dormant volcano, and North Sister, an extinct volcano. Their other sibling, South Sister, is the troublemaker. This volcano last erupted about 2,000 years ago and research in 2000 indicated uplifting activity so it could blow again. See all three Sisters in the photo below. South Sister is on the left – some distance from her siblings.
Weekly Photo Challenge – Danger!
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.
You can get to the top in a few different ways. The Nature Trail is a 0.8 mile hike and the Summit Road Trail 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.
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.
At the top of the butte there is a peak finder and several informational panels. You get spectacular views of several Cascade Mountain peaks to the west and north. You may be able to see Mount Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, Mount Washington, the three Sisters, Broken Top, Belknap Crater, Black Butte, and Mount Bachelor. To the south you get a great look at some of the 400 cinder cones that are a part of the Newberry system. Newberry volcano blew about 400,000 years ago and its lava flows covered 1,200 square miles in this region. To learn more about Newberry, click here to read one of my previous posts. To the east, you’ll see Powell Butte and the Ochoco Mountains.
You get great views of the city of Bend and the Deschutes River. You will also see the irrigation canals cut across the city on their way to the east and north.
The property where the butte is located was owned by the Foley family and was donated to the state in 1928. Pilot Butte State Scenic Viewpoint is the most visited state park in eastern Oregon.
There is a local tradition of setting off big fireworks from the butte on the Fourth of July. It is not uncommon for fires to start from the falling embers. Firefighters are up there ready to put them out. Since the butte rises nearly 500 feet above the land below, it is easy to see the fireworks display from many locations in and around Bend.
The Lava Lands Visitor Center has interpretive exhibits that focus on local volcanology, geology, ecology, and archeology. As I entered the exhibit area, the red “lava flows” in the carpet guided me you through the center. Display boards are big, bright, and bold. They contain A LOT of information.
This small center is a great place to start a visit to the 54,000+ acres of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument near Bend, Oregon. The Monument was created in 1990. It encompasses unique geological features, lava flows, and many lakes.
Newberry Volcano is a 600-square mile shield volcano that erupted twice and part of it collapsed. The 17-square mile Newberry Crater is a the collapsed volcano – a caldera. You can drive to the highest remaining part of the caldera’s rim. Known as Paulina Peak, it is 7,985 feet high.
Temperatures beneath the caldera reach 500 degrees Fahrenheit. The area is being explored as a source of geothermal energy. Though drilling cannot occur within the boundaries of the Monument, nearby wells have shown potential. Proposed power plants could produce enough energy to supply 30,000 people.
Newberry is covered with many lava flows. There are 400 cinder cones on its northern and southern flanks. Newberry volcanoes likely erupted hundreds, if not thousands, of times in the last half-million years.
This area is a part of the “Ring of Fire” due to the presence of volcanic activity and features. Signs of an impending volcanic eruption in this region include gas emissions, steam eruptions, uplift, and earthquakes. Local environments and human populations may be affected by ash fall, lava flows, and lahars. Lahars are fast moving mudflows consisting of ash, soil, and water. Three Oregon volcanoes show the most potential for activity. They are South Sister, Newberry Volcano, and Mt. Hood.
Mount Mazama erupted relatively recently in geological time. About 7,700 years ago its major eruption spread ash northwards into western Canada and eastward to Nebraska. The ash produced by that eruption was about 100 times that produced by Mount St. Helens in 1980. The explosions emptied the magma chamber beneath the summit. It collapsed and later filled with water. The resulting lake, Crater Lake, is the deepest lake in the U.S. The lake is at least 1,949 feet deep.
You can see obsidian, pumice, rhyolite, basalt, welded tuff, basalt, cinders, and ash. There’s a big piece of obsidian in an open display case and a sign encouraging you to touch it. Its smooth, glasslike surface reflects every ray of light.
As scientists studied the area, they learned about the people that lived here thousands of years ago. Archeologists discovered a fire hearth containing obsidian points and other clues about the former residents on one site. Examples of obsidian points are in another part of the exhibit. The art of flint-knapping, where chips of stone are flaked off to form useful tools from stone, is more than 10,000 years old. Another display shows handcrafted items made by Native Americans today using local rushes and other materials. Patterns displayed have passed down over thousands of years. The exhibit mentions the adaptability of Native Americans as they dealt with climate change, volcanic activity, and an influx of settlers. They incorporated explanations for some of the volcanic events into their mythology.
Be sure to check out the small gift store next to the exhibit area at Lava Lands Visitor Center. There is a large 3-D map of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. It not only shows you the scale of the Monument, but also some of the geological features. Can you see the many cinder cones? It’s a better than average gift store and it contains books, maps, art prints, t-shirts, mugs, and toys.
Note that the Visitor Center is only open for part of the year. It closes in mid-October and opens again in the beginning of May. For more information about the center, go the Lava Lands Visitor Center site.