Oregon–Newberry National Volcanic Monument
The Cascade Mountains run like a spine through Oregon in a north/south alignment. Volcanic in origin, they are jagged, rocky protrusions rising above the landscape, still holding snowfields on their uppermost shoulders. This was our next destination, as we postponed and bypassed Crater Lake, due to a prediction of imminent rain. We would return to the Lake once the skies cleared. In the meantime, we headed into the town of Bend to wait out the showers, explore the town and visit the national monument.
We were soon to discover that as far as this area was concerned, it would be all about volcanic action . . . lava flows, rocks forged by fire and ancient cinder cones. We got a cram course on the creation of volcanoes, and the resulting aftermath that stands as evidence to this day.
Local concern for this unique geological area and its valuable recreational resources led to the creation of Newberry Volcanic Monument in 1990. Lava Lands Visitor Center, just 13 miles south of Bend, is where we began our introduction to the area. While Chris looked inside for some informational material, Melinda headed down the trail that led out over a lava flow at the base of Lava Butte. Chris caught up with her before she went too far.
It was an awesome landscape, with the lava rocks towering above the path. Difficult to imagine that these rocks have been here for thousands of years. The earliest eruptions date back 400,000 years and the most recent ones a mere 1,300 years ago.
A limited number of vehicles are allowed to drive at any one time up to the top of Lava Butte, a rust red 500-foot cinder cone. One of the many cones that are part of the Newberry Volcano, it erupted, spewed out its lava and is now extinct. We were able to follow a trail around its rim and peer inside. Due to erosion, it didn’t appear to be very deep.
The views looking out from that trail showed more volcanic, snow-covered peaks, many miles away. Bend lies on the eastern edge of the Cascades. The views looking north, south and est all take in more of these volcanic summits.
Many other buttes like Lava Butte are spread across the nearby area, looking like pimples popping out of the densely forested land. Newberry Volcano has almost 400 cinder cones on its flanks, more than any other volcano in the world.
Before the day was done, we took in a walk through a lava tube. Lava River Cave was formed when molten lava flowed down the mountain and as it slowly cooled, rocks began to solidify along the edges of the flow. Ever so slowly, the cooling rocks began to grow and form a bridge over the gushing lava, and eventually came to meet overhead. As the lava ceased to flow, what remained was a hollow rock-lined tube. This particular tube was a mile long, making it the longest one in Oregon. We entered its cave-like opening and walked through a few hundred feet. It was dark in there, very very dark, midnight-with-no-moon dark, which necessitated a handheld light source. Our iPhones’ flashlights didn’t quite fit the bill. We never made it even halfway in. Nevertheless, we got the idea.
We really liked the town of Bend. Maybe it had something to do with the RV Resort we were parked in. Spread out like a well-manicured country club, it had all the amenities one would find at any resort, and more. There was a workout room and yoga classes, outdoor heaters and firepits. Coffee swerved each morning, and a Jacuzzi for the evening. Chris was tempted.
After a couple of days, we left this very civilized place and headed into the heart of the national monument, setting up our base in a forest service campground. Rustic, but part of nature, it was situated right on the edge of the Newberry Crater.
Newberry Volcano covers over 600 square miles, making it one of the largest shield type volcanoes in the lower 48 states. Instead of the pointed peaks of the Cascade volcanoes, here is a large crater holding two sparkling alpine lakes. Very similar to Crater Lake, the mountain that once stood here also collapsed inside its caldera.
Paulina Peak is the highest point on the rim of Newberry Volcano, and looms high over one of those twin lakes. We didn’t have a view of the peak from our particular location, but Melinda headed out that evening in search of a good vantage point. As fortune sometimes becomes a lucky break, she found her spot. Just as the sun was dropping low on the horizon, it broke through the clouds and hit the peak for a few golden moments. She had her shot.
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As luck would have it, there was also a waterfall in the area. What a coup! Moreover, it was a twin falls, and so Melinda had another type to add to her collection. A wooded trail led down to where water emptied from Paulina Lake, flowing over some of those lava rocks.
A 4-mile trail leads to Paulina’s summit, or the same distance can be driven on a rutted,
rocky “road.” When the next morning dawned clear and cold, we took it as an omen to made the drive. We missed the sunrise on that misty peak as clouds blew quickly over. But through the breaks we could look out on a far-away vision of prominent peaks on the horizon. It was cold up there, invigorating and we had it to ourselves.
The slopes of bulky Newberry Volcano are riven with fissures. Vents and cinder cones have lined up along these weak spots. Most of the effluent from Newberry flowed from these vents. The glassy, obsidian flow in the caldera is from Newberry’s most recent eruption, some 1,300 years ago. It is one of the youngest geologic events in Oregon, and we were able to take a trail through its remains.
Obsidian is hard, and scarce, which makes it a valuable commodity. Native Indians figured this out, and came over great distances to collect it. They fashioned tools and arrowheads from the rock. Today, studies have found that the rock can be sharpened to within one molecule of thickness, making it a much sharper instrument than steel.
Now that the rains have passed and the skies are clear, we are ready to backtrack to Crater Lake, our next destination. These last 3 days gave the weather a chance to improve, and increased our knowledge of the formation of these Cascade Mountains. Our brains are filled with seismic events, and volcanic rocks, and calderas turned into alpine lakes.
From the summit of PaulinaPeak,
Chris and Melinda