Monday, May 29, 2017

Trail of the Molten Land

It's counter-intuitive, really. Oregon was created by volcanoes and in our figurative back yard, sprout some of the more majestic volcanic cones on this planet. As a volcanic byproduct, the same figurative back yard is littered with extensive lava fields consisting of acres and acres of jagged black rock tractoring inhospitable paths through the the forests. You'd just have to figure that the immense lava flows sallied forth from the bowels of the tall snow-covered volcanoes but surprisingly enough, that is not the case. Despite the imposing size and grandeur of our tallest peaks, it's small and insignificant cinder cones that create the massive lava beds dotting our state.

Don't all good things start with a bang?
On the east side of the Cascades, the Newberry National Volcanic Monument was created to protect and preserve some of the lava-based wonders in the Bend area. One of these lava marvels is Lava Butte, a small but perfectly symmetrical cone that burped forth an expansive lava flow. Because of its proximity to busy Highway 97, the Lava Butte area is rather civilized, what with paved trails and parking lots, plus a very modern visitor center with electricity and everything. While the Trail of the Molten Land sports a totally awesome name, this was not your usual Richard Hike, but it did make for a welcome diversion on a 4 hour drive home from the Oregon Badlands.

Lane on the Trail of Molten Land lane
Leaving the Whispering Pines parking area (everything must have a cool name here apparently, it must be like a rule), Lane and I set out on a paved trail skirting the Lava Butte lava flow. Black rock on one side, whispering trees on the other; I couldn't help but wonder what the whispering was about: "Those two hikers stink!", but hey, it'd been a couple of days since either one of us had taken a shower.

It was all Lava Butte's fault
It didn't take long to leave the gossiping conifers behind and enter a world of black rock. Jagged, sharp black rock everywhere: without the paved trail, it'd be nigh impossible to hike cross-country across the surrounding lava fields. When we parked the car, Lava Butte had appeared rather small but up close, it was just the opposite. It would have been work to walk to the top but fortunately (or not so fortunately, depending on one's hiking mood and ambition) our trail was headed away from the butte. 

A veritable Mighty Mississippi River of lava
Gradually climbing upward, the path dead-ended at a viewpoint of the lava flow that emanated from little Lava Butte. The view was jaw-dropping. A wide river of solidified lava, a veritable mighty Mississippi River of black rock, filled up a wide valley lying between us and the snowy Cascades. The Three Sisters were the closest peaks, their whiteness enhanced by the black rock surrounding us. To the south, was Diamond Peak and further yet in the distance was the slender pyramid of Mount Thielsen. To the north was massive Mount Jefferson. Way cool, and Lane and I enjoyed an unhurried view soak on a bench, because we normally don't hike where there are benches.

A trail that can make you seasick
This loop hike was just over a mile long so there really isn't much more to report. The parking lot was beginning to fill as we finished the hike off, and various conversations were taking place in various languages underneath the gossip-mongering Whispering Pines, who probably listened in on every conversation taking place beneath the nosy tree branches.

"Nessie" patrols the lava beds
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. Someplace I've driven by many times, but never visited. Maybe this summer if I'm in the area.

    1. Ha, Linda, I've been driving past Lava Butte for like 20 years and I would have still been driving past it had it not been for Lane's suggestion we stop and take a short walk