Saturday, August 16, 2014

Lava Days #1

Lava Days #1

View Lava Flows in a larger map

I am going to be doing some Lava Flow exploring with my partner and son over the next few days and I thought I would get a jump on the formal blogging. Yesterday, on our way to Bend for some much deserved vacation, the Action Adventure team stopped at a Target of Opportunity outside the little community of Sisters.

Very Artsy in sisters

Sisters is a quaint little town right on the other side of the Cascades between Black Butte and the Sisters volcanic peaks. It is out on the edge of the high plains and has a wonderful view of all the snow capped mountains around it. Sisters used to be a sleepy little place noted for it's dedication to quilting  but it has been rapidly becoming a go-to spot for tourists off all types and there is now a thriving gift and restaurant community there. They seem to be doing some nice things with the town, rustic looking (but new) buildings with new sidewalks and streets. Lots of potted flowers and art everywhere you look. A very attractive place to stop for lunch on your way to your condo in Bend.

Today we are using Sisters as a place to score a quick lunch and as a jump off point to our first lava adventure down the McKenzie River road through the McKenzie pass. This road starts off as a straight and level 2 lane through Ponderosa Pine (many places with fire removed underbrush) but soon begins a winding path into the pass. There are many signs warning that 30 foot long “combination” vehicles cannot continue and must turn back. You don't really find the reason for this until the last hundred yards of the accent, so pay attention. As you wind up the hill you catch occasional glimpses through the trees of a wall of lava sort of hanging out back there. Then as you turn a corner, it jumps you. There is the lava. Miles of it. It looks sort of like we were doing underground nuclear testing and the entire area got blown up into the sky and dropped back down a broken rocky mess. This is A A (pronouced Ah Ah) lava. Made of millions of sharp broken rock of head size to chair size. Just heaps of it everywhere. This kind of lava is created in a slow moving flow where the top of the lava cools and is then pushed up and broken by the still moving flow beneath. Must be a rather common occurrence since you see it in many of the flows around Oregon.

The road we are on is carved out of this jumble at the place where the dirt meets the lava wall. A very narrow made canyon that snakes up to the top of the flow. This is why the 30 foot long combination vehicles are not allowed. They may be able to make the sharp turns, but the steep walls on either side would force them to take up both lanes of the road, and cars coming the other way would come around the sharp blind corner and Wham !!.

When you get up to the top of the lava flow there is a little parking lot and an interpretive trail.  You known, the kind of trail that has informative signs every few hundred meters. I had this dream once that I was one of the first astronauts to explore the dark side of the moon. We landed our LEM on the rocky airless soil, climbed down the lander ladder, and there was a sign that said, “Did you know? The Dark side of the moon isn't really dark. It is just hidden from the view of the earth by the tidally locked Moon?”.

So much knowledge can be gained just by reading the signs. There is a book in there someplace. The other interesting feature to this little park is that the forest service decided to build a fort of lava bricks up on the top. A way cool fort. You can follow the nice paved path up to it go inside to get out of the instense 5000 foot high sunshine. Inside there are a lot of different shaped little windows. There is a plaque below each window that describes what you will see when you look through it. Mt. Washington, North Sister, Black Crater, etc. Up on the top of the building is a large brass round plate that points to all of these features. There will also be a photographer and some strangely dressed young women musicians. Just go with it.


The Direction Wheel on the top.

Wow, from up here I can tell that there is a paved trail winding through the chaos that is this lava field. Thank goodness, another interpretive trail. I have seen interpretive trails built up on boardwalks to keep the citizens out of (and off of) the sensitive flora and landscape. To preserve the natural beauty. This one is there to preserve the citizens. Walking on that sharp and jumbled rock would cut your shoes and feet to shreads and make the whole area generally unaccessible. So I like. Good signs too.

For instance: This lava flow is actually the result of 3 eruptions. The one we are walking on is the most recent. It is from the Yapoah eruption and occurred perhaps 1300 years ago. But all of this lava came spewing out over a couple hundred years. There were people living in the region at that time. I am guessing that must have been a pretty exciting century or so, with liquid rocking coming out of the ground all over the place. Forests burning, Rivers changing their courses. Traditional trade routes and hunting areas destroyed or unusable. Imagine during the winter. They usually get a lot of snow up there. You have this molten rock coming out of the earth and the weather really wants to snow. Perhaps the heat of the eruption changes the local weather patterns enough to stop the snow, but if it doesn't, it will be falling and turning to steam. The resultant steam cloud could result in super-heated clouds of water rushing around and killing things. Maybe it would all just go up and then fall again as snow someplace else. Either way, living in the vicinity of the eruption was probably not an easy thing. This sort of thing is probably going on in Hawaii right now. I bet people are not building condo's out on the shore to watch the lava flows at night. Let me check Wikipedia...... Oh OH. Results of a Google search for Lava Flow Condo.

The walk along the interpretive trail is an easy half mile (or so) loop. The lava formations and stunted flora or fascinating and beautiful. I provide some pictures for you.

Island of life in the middle of lava flow. It has a Hawaiin name.

This the collapsed tunnel over the central flow

Unfortunately, she couldn't get back down and we had to leave her there.

This is one of those twisty trees !!

I see from the map that the Pacific Crest trail winds right though the middle of this flow. Now that would be a cool trail to hike on. I wonder if it is build up and filled with sand or something or if you just walk out across the knife like boulders. That would do a job on your new hiking boots.

In the upcoming days we will be doing additional exploring of:
  1. Newbury Volcanic Monument
  2. Lava River Lava Tube
  3. Lake Paulina (the Newbury Crater and obsidian flow).

See ya.

Post Note: As it happens I have wandered off and had a life for a month or so and am very behind on my blogging. I may need to skip ahead a couple of adventures, but will try and get back to more lava days. I will say that Lava Tube got cancelled. Perhaps I will point you at Ape Caves as a diversionary  tactic.


  1. Great blog Jon, where are Lava Days #2 and #3?

    1. Dear Anonymous. Thanks for commenting. You are as observant as your are beautiful. I was thinking about writing part 2 just a few minutes ago.......