Lava Butte Cinder Cone

6 07 2013

IMG_4688Oregon’s eclectic culture is no match for the diversity of its landscape. This wonderfully diverse state contains the coastline, mountain ranges, valleys, volcanoes, deserts, farmlands, rivers, lakes, small towns and metropolises. Terrain not only varies but each area has a distinct fragrance from the salty coast, to the sweetly scented valley, to the aromatic pine and juniper east of the Cascades.

Nestled near the middle of the state sits Lava Butte, a 5,000-foot high cinder cone or vent of the Newberry Volcano, that formed about 7,000 years ago in central Oregon. Lava Butte erupted once at that time and a hot basalt river flowed from its base, smothering 6,000 acres that still lack some vegetation today. That lava seeped to the Deschutes River, changing its course and forming Benham Lake and Benham Falls. A lop-sided crater caps Lava Butte where 22 astronauts trained for moon landings in 1966. Newberry is the largest volcano in the Cascades measured in miles. Newberry Volcano is geologically still active, geothermally and seismically, but last erupted over a millennium ago.

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Lava Butte is part of the Deschutes National Forest’s Newberry National Volcanic Monument and is part of a system of cinder cones. It is located off Highway 97 between Bend and Sunriver. Stop by the Lava Lands Visitor Center to purchase a $5 per day Northwest Forest Pass parking permit and to gather information to plan your activities. A steep, winding road gets you to the top of the cinder cone where there is limited parking and a time limit depending on the day. The summit provides a breathtaking view of various Cascade Mountains, the entire lava flow, and miles of pine trees.

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Set out on foot from the visitor center on one of the many trails for an up-close experience. Most are fully accessible and dog-friendly, however, bicycles, motorized vehicles, and horses are not permitted. The paved Trail of the Molten Land takes you on a short trek right through the 7,000-year-old lava flow. The Trail of the Whispering Pines shades your hike with a young Ponderosa Pine forest. The Black Rock Trail leads you over four miles along the lava flow to the Deschutes River. Lava preserved some mature pines to be admired in the Lava Cast Forest. The mile-long Lava River Cave, a mile south of the visitor center, is the longest lava tube cave in Oregon.

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The Lava Lands Visitor Center offers restrooms, picnic grounds, exhibits, educational films, maps, the Discover Your Northwest Bookstore, and helpful rangers. You will find it at 1645 Hwy. 20E, Bend, OR 97701, #(541) 593-2421. Also, a fire tower and an informational visitor rest area greet you at the summit of Lava Butte.

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