The part of scenic Oregon with the most attractions concentrated in one place is south of the city of Bend. Visitors, especially those with children, should begin their journey in the High Desert Museum and then go another 10 miles south to the Lava Lands Visitor Center for the best overview of the entire area. To the west are the Three Sisters, close-together mountains exceeding 10,000 feet, the Mount Bachelor ski facilities, miles of eerie lava beds, etc. Vacationers can go down into the Lava River Cave, see a waterfall, hike to the top of Lava Butte, etc. Lava Butte erupted 7,000 years ago and changed the topography forever. However, Newberry is not a single volcano. This landscape is the result of hundreds of small volcanos erupting over a million years.
Over the Labor Day weekend Ruth, I, and 2 friends from Texas explored what quickly became my favorite place in this varied area–the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. A visit to Newberry allows everyone to explore the largest volcano-affected place in the Cascades. Newberry has been erupting for 400,000 years, most recently 1,300 years ago. Since then the land healed and vegetation occurred., especially Whitebark Pine. The tumult left a 249-feet-deep hole for a huge lake to fill. It has since become 2 lakes, Paulina & East. Both are natural, incredibly beautiful, and well-stocked with Rainbow trout, etc. There are 6 campgrounds, a lodge, an RV Park, and a resort in this National Monument.
This almost 55,000 acre National Monument dates from 1990 and required George H.W. Bush’s signature. Its highest elevation is Paulina Peak at 7,984 feet. The road to its top is not paved all the way but doable in a passenger car. This is a must unless twisty roads make you very nervous or ill. Not only is its summit breathtaking, it also provides an overview of the entire area. Paulina was a tribal chief, not a beautiful Indian maiden. Both lakes and the star of the area, a dramatic obsidian lava flow, can be clearly seen from up here.
Obsidian is naturally formed volcanic glass. It’s generally black in color and sparkles in the sun. It results when cooling lava provides little time for crystal growth. It occurs in many places, and here it’s part of the youngest lava flow in Oregon and embedded in a not-so-beautiful lava mound of epic size. Visitors are not allowed to haul it off, at least not here, but samples can be bought at both the Paulina and Lava Lands Visitor Centers.
Newberry can, and probably will, erupt again. But for now it’s just part of a quietly beautiful, 5 Compass area where campers and hikers will want to spend several days.