On a recent trip to Bend and Sunriver, Oregon, we spent an afternoon visiting Lava Butte, a cinder cone on the northern border of the massive Newberry Volcano (stretching 20 miles in diameter!).
From the Lava Lands Visitor Center entrance, we walked the “Trail of Molten Lava”, about 1 mile round trip (lots of ups and down) with kids in tow, and found it to be the perfect length for our family, with lots of interesting sights and interpretive signs to stop at along the way. We were there on a clear day, and could see Mt. Bachelor and the Three Sisters mountains in the distance as well.
Extensive walking paths around the area like these are paved, and some are suitable for biking as well.
Cinder cones like Lava Butte appear like a small volcano, but don’t have enough power to produce a fountain from the top when they erupt. Instead, lava issues from the side or base through a fissure. This was the case for Lava Butte at its one (and only) eruption, which produced an enormous river of molten basalt that covered the surrounding area with volcanic rock and, as its flow proceeded, created the mile-long Lava River Cave.
The vast field of lava rock is impressive to see, and it’s interesting to see how a bit of vegetation has managed to spring up here and there along the otherwise barren landscape.
Next, we were able to drive up to the rim of the crater, rising over a thousand feet, looking down into Lava Butte. (The crater is formed by earth settling over time after the layer of basalt rock underneath flowed out and created a void.) This is a popular spot to drive up to, and so timed passes are provided when you enter the park to ensure that the parking area at the top does not get over-full.
There’s no way to do a view like this justice in photos… (in the background you can see how far the lava flow extends before the forest begins growing again.)
Getting up close and personal with Lava Butte was a unique experience, and one I’m very glad we took the time to do as a family.
Cool trivia fact: In July 1966, twenty-two astronauts trained in Central Oregon for the upcoming Moon landings around the site of Lava Butte.