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Newberry Crater National Monument Adventures

Sarah S HeadshotSo here I sit in the camp trailer after two great days of volcano exploration. For those of you not familiar with Oregon, our state is located on what is called the Ring of Fire – a line of geologic activity that roughly circles the Pacific Ocean. The Cascade Mountains of Oregon and Washington are made up of volcanoes in various stages from active to extinct. Central Oregon is a great place to visit to learn about volcano activity because there are so many different evidences of activity. Everywhere you look you see lava rock and pumice. 

Lava Cast Forest 

Staycation is a big buzz word these days and while we aren’t exactly in our home-town, we acted like tourists in a town we have lived in and know well. For a total of $10 we had two days of exploration and education. The best place to start is Paulina Peak in the Newberry Crater. This gives a great overall picture of the area. You get a great view of the caldera (collapsed volcano with lakes inside) the Big Obsidian Flow and the lava flow.

Big Obsidian Flow at Newberry Crater  

Next we went to the Lava Cast Forest. For some reason I was thinking this would be petrified trees sticking out of the lava flow. I was wrong. We took a mile long loop hike on the lava flow and found instead strange holes that look remarkably like old fashioned hand dug wells. In fact, they are where trees stood when the lava flowed through the little valley. The trees survived long enough for the lava to cool around them and make these really neat holes. 

Lava Cast 

Throughout Central Oregon are lava caves. In the old days, locals used to cut their ice out of the caves, have picnics and even baseball games below ground. Now many of them are closed for protection of bats habitat and prevention of vandalism. However, the Lava River Cave is open to the public through the summer. It has a sandy floor and “fairy castles” made from the pumice sand that drips down through the roof. 

Lava River Cave entrance 

On this part of the trip we learned about white nose syndrome. From what I understand its killing bats in the east and agencies are trying to prevent its spread to caves in Oregon and Washington. I wasn’t sure how Little Man would do walking down a mile long cave in the dark. He was an absolute trooper! He put his head lamp on his hat and was ready to go. At one point we all turned off our lights and stood in a dark cave. He didn’t last long, but it was an amazing experience. 

Little Man also wanted to visit the top of Lava Butte, which is where we’re currently working. We went first thing this morning and the wind was brutal. But, the skies were clear and we could see Bachelor Butte, the Three Sisters and the numerous cinder cones that surround Bend. We followed the lava flow down to the Deschutes River and walked the half mile to Behnam Falls. By west-side standards this isn’t a spectacular water fall. It’s more like a long rapid where the Deschutes had to make it’s way through after the lava flow blocked it’s path. There is some beautiful white water through the canyon. 

Benham Falls 

Our final stop on the tour was to drive to Bachelor Butte and look back towards Newberry. We saw more examples of obsidian flows and cinder cones as well as several beautiful Cascade Lakes - all in all a gorgeous homeschool adventure.  

Of course one of my outdoor adventures wouldn’t be complete without a botany/dendrology lesson. So while we dodged pine and fir cones being dropped by pine squirrels, Little Man identified aspen, ponderosa and lodgepole pines, big sage, rabbit brush, bitter brush, snow brush and manzanita. We also did a sample of gooseberries and rose hips with a discussion about edible in an emergency versus actually good to eat. 

rabbit brush 

All in all this was a wonderful high desert fix for me. I love living on the west side with all of the green the rain brings, but the desert has an entirely different beauty that beckons me every fall. And having the adventure with my two favorite people makes it all the more special.

Happy Trails.

Hubby and Little Man seeing if anyone lives in the lava tube 

nebraska dave
10/5/2011 5:25:24 PM

Sarah, it sounds like you had a great family vacation. It would be one of my vacations if I ever went on vacation. The first hand touching and seeing of the volcano activities and plant identification is a better lesson in science and botany than any book learning class room can provide. I can see that your little man will be much more educated than any traditional school system graduate can be. It must be the greatest adventures ever for him. Have a great learning adventure day.