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Lava Lands
posted by John : July 26, 2013


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Grandpa/tour guide


Remember back when Central Oregon was a hellscape of heat and smoke. No, I mean the time before this summer. Way back when the Newberry Volcano was still pumping out lava and the cinder cones, 400 of them, were oozing molten rock.

Well, we didn't remember so we went to see the remains for ourselves. When I was on the high point of the Newberry crater in 2006 everything looked so peaceful. Of course, it was covered in snow and everything looks peaceful when it's covered in snow.

This trip, in the heat of summer, showed us just how destructive the volcano had been. We didn't go to the Newberry crater itself. Instead, we went to the Lava Lands Visitor Center and the Lava River Cave.

We started in the Cave. We were a small party of four adults, six kids, and one grandfather. (I'm not sure whether my father falls into the kid category or the adult category so he gets his own category.) To get into the cave you must first talk to the bat conservation ranger. They gave us cool bat stamps on our hands after we stated the last cave we'd been in was the Mammoth Caves in Kentucky in 2003. Then it was down, down the steps. Into the dark.

It is true there's not a lot to see in a dark cave. Generally, you can see a small amount where your light shines. For those in the group with weak flashlights or lanterns (available for a $5 rental fee) that meant they could see about five to 10 feet around them. For those of us (me) with the power of the sun mounted on their heads that meant I was asked to look over here. No, look over here. Don't look in my eyes. Look over there!

We could see that the cave was really big, but narrowed quickly. In some spots the walls were rubbed smooth. The path was easy walking, but a fine dust (ash?) clouded the air. And it was cold. 42F compared to about 90F on the surface.

There was only a single exhibit in the cave so we ventured no further in than about three quarters of a mile. Based on what we heard from others, the cave continued to decrease in size until it was impassable. I don't think we missed much.

Back on the surface (that sounds so cool) we quickly warmed up and headed up to the top of Lava Butte for a commanding view. They allow only 10 vehicles up to the lookout and only for 30 minutes at a time. The ranger told us they had called in a fire earlier that day, but not a wildfire. The house that burned had no fewer than 10 fire crews respond to ensure it didn't spread.

We walked the short quarter mile loop around the cinder cone's crater and got views of the lava fields below. The forest grew right up to the edge, but was stopped cold by the thick, black rocks. The kids loved being up above it and getting to see how the lava had spread out from the cinder cone.

We didn't have time to walk the mile-long Trail of the Molten Land, but if/when we go back that will definitely be traveled. We found a letterbox along the Trail of Whispering Pines and made time to get Junior Ranger badges for the kids, too.

The kids were thrilled by the opportunity to go underground, "climb" a "mountain," and get badges. And since we had a NW Forest Pass it was all free. Gotta love the Forest Service!

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