Lava Lands

Newberry National Volcanic Monument Celebrates 25th Anniversary

1990 – 2015

Ninety-eight percent of the world’s volcanic features are found in Oregon throughout Newberry National Volcanic Monument. The Monument includes Lava River Cave, Lava Cast Forest, and Newberry Volcano with its Big Obsidian Flow.

Lava Lands SignSeven miles south from Bend on Highway 97, Lava Lands Visitor Center sits at the base of 500-foot Lava Butte Cinder Cone. Inside the Visitor Center (open the end of May through September), see a 5-foot by 9-foot scale model 3-D topographic map of the area, geology and archaeology displays, historical exhibits, and educational materials in the bookstore.

Outside, listen to an informative talk about lava lands.

Hike the Trail of Molten Land, a paved, one-mile loop over landscape similar to that on the moon. Interpretive signs assist your self-guided walk.

Follow the Trail of the Whispering Pines one-third mile through ponderosa and lodgepole. Inhale the spicy fragrance of white, spring blossoms of snowbrush (ceonothus velutinus), also known as “sticky laurel” and “mountain balm”. Native Americans made soap from the flowers and fruit and astringent from the bark and roots.

Pink, urn-shaped clusters of flowers bloom in late spring on the green-leaf manzanita. Natives made juice from the berries and ground seeds into flour.

Bitterbrush is a favorite food of deer, elk, and antelope. Its yellow flowers in spring fill the air with a sweet fragrance Natives made violet dye from the ripe seed coats.

Black Rock Trail mountain bikers ride a portion of the J.P. Huntington Trail constructed by the Superintendent of Indian Affairs in 1867. This cattle and wagon route from The Dalles to Fort Klamath paralleled the impassable lava flow.

Drive the spiral road to the top of 5,000-foot Lava Butte. Walk the quarter-mile interpretive trail around the summit. A 360-degree view unfolds of the Cascade Range, including Mt. Bachelor, Broken Top, the Three Sisters, and Mt. Jefferson; nine square miles of lava flow; 400 cinder cones dotting the basin, and Newberry Volcano.

Newberry is named for Doctor John S. Newberry, a physician and naturalist with the Pacific Railroad Survey through central Oregon in 1855.

Follow the road exiting Lava Lands Visitor Center under Highway 97 through the wildlife passage underpass. The first in Oregon, it is landscaped with native plants, boulders and logs to encourage wildlife to safely cross their summer-winter migration route under the busy Highway 97 corridor. A second underpass, for wildlife only, is located two and a half miles south. Four miles of wire fencing line each side of Highway 97 between Lava Lands and South Century Drive to help funnel animals to the passageways.

One-mile long Lava River Cave is the longest lava tube in Oregon. Thousands of years ago, a river of molten lava created a channel, and the sides crusted over to form the roof. Hot lava continued to flow out of the channel, leaving the tube hollow.

Cave temperature is a constant 42 degrees Fahrenheit. Wear warm clothing and sturdy shoes and carry flashlights or propane lanterns. Rental lanterns are available.

Descend 150 steps to the Collapse Corridor where piles of volcanic rock fell from the roof and sides.

The volcanic rock ceiling in Echo Hall reaches 58 feet above the floor and measures 50 feet wide. Near the end of this hall, Highway 97 passes 80 feet overhead.

Lava River CaveIn Low Bridge Lane, the ceiling dips to five and a half feet.

Volcanic stalactites found throughout the cave are also known as lavacicles.

Sand covers the cave floor in the Sand Gardens. Approximately 310 feet from the end, sand reaches to the ceiling.

On your return trip to exit, sunlight at the entrance is a welcome sight.

Five-square mile Lava Cast Forest is more than 6,000 years old. Lava from vents on Newberry Volcano surged through an ancient ponderosa pine forest. Engulfing the trees, lava quickly cooled around the trunks to form molds. The trees eventually burned to charcoal or ash. A one-mile, self-guided trail with 12 interpretive signs, winds over the lava flow where rock penstemon and Indian paintbrush grow among young ponderosa pines.

Tree CastThe highest point in Newberry National Volcanic Monument is 7,984-foot Paulina Peak. From a distance, Newberry Volcano resembles a mountain range rather than a peaked volcano.

Originally more than 10,000 feet high, the 500-square mile shield-shaped volcano collapsed through violent eruptions to form Newberry caldera. A caldera is a depression caused when the center of a volcano collapses. A crater is caused when the volcano blows its top.

Newberry CalderaSee the Cascade Range from California to Washington, the caldera lakes (Paulina and East Lake), eastern Oregon basin and range, and the Big Obsidian Flow all from Paulina Peak.

Millions of cubic yards of obsidian and pumice, roughly the size of 640 football fields, resulted from Oregon’s most recent lava flow 1,300 years ago.

Climb 78 steps to walk a half mile interpretive trail on rugged landscape of crushed, natural glass. Wear sturdy shoes, and do not take dogs on the trail.

Native Americans used obsidian for tools and trade. They shaped obsidian into razor-sharp arrow points, knives, jewelry, sculptures, and ceremonial objects. Used as money, obsidian bought fish, shells, and roots from other tribes. Each obsidian flow has a distinct fingerprint. Big Obsidian Flow artifacts have been found hundreds of miles away.

Some surgeons use obsidian instruments because it makes a cleaner incision that heals with little or no scarring.

NASA scientists came to the Big Obsidian Flow in the mid 1960s to squeeze water from the rocks. They heated pumice and obsidian to very high temperatures, condensed the water vapor, and drank the water in preparation for surviving on the moon.

Life continues today on this barren, glassy landscape. Thousands of frogs migrate up the flow in August. Lichen catch dust creating moss and soil for grasses and plants to sprout. Penstemon grows well in rocky areas. Their sweet fragrance and brilliant color attract insects, and rodents eat the seeds. Pine seeds grasp a foothold in cracks and crevices and slowly grow into trees.

Deposits of pumice and lava divided the crater into two separate bodies of water thousands of years ago. Paulina Lake, 249-feet deep, named for Paiute Indian Chief Paulina, contains rainbow and German brown trout and kokanee salmon. East Lake, fed by Hot Springs from its 185-foot depth, is stocked with trout and Atlantic salmon.

Paulina Creek, the only surface outlet from Paulina Lake, tumbles over an 80-foot volcanic precipice to create Paulina Falls.

When lava flowed from Lava Butte, it changed the course of the Deschutes River. Hikers, bikers, and equestrians see the distinct alteration from river trails.

Recreation on the Deschutes varies from fishing and floating on calm stretches to kayaking and rafting near Benham Falls, Dillon Falls, and through the Big Eddy rapids. The Deschutes River, a federally designated Wild and Scenic River, borders the west boundary of Newberry National Volcanic Monument.

Big Eddy

To order a copy of the 10-minute DVD narrated tour of Newberry National Volcanic Monument, click


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