Posted by: Sally Ingraham | March 19, 2013

Lava Tubes and Cinder Cones

Geological niftiness abounds in Central Oregon. The landscape around Bend is peppered with buttes, volcanic craters, cinder cones, and lava tubes. Nearby Newberry Volcano was active as recently as 1,300 years ago, and it’s prolific activity then and before that is evident in huge calderas and a mile long obsidian flow.

Such geological features thrill me and I can’t wait to explore every nook and cranny of the wilderness round my new home. Being on foot and bike has made my adventuresome pace significantly slower than usual, but this week I have access to an acquaintance’s car and have been making use of it!

My friend’s dog checks the perimeter

With a friend I found my way to a cave last Friday and was totally blown away by the bizarreness of these underground tunnels formed by molten lava (as the surface of the lava flows cooled the hot stuff on the inside kept flowing until eventually the tubes drained out and long, narrow tunnels were left behind.) There are over 300 such caves in Deschutes Nat’l Forest, and more riddle private lands. The one I visited was near Big Sky Dog Park and was hard to find. Even the entrance surprised me – it was more or less a huge hole in the ground, and if we hadn’t been searching high and low for it, we’d have surely missed it.

It was dark and quiet and cool inside this cave (45 degrees or so year round). The floor was sandy and the roof varied in height from high above to so low we had to crawl. Graffiti and bottles and other evidence of human mischief was a common and unsurprising sight. The walls curved and we had to pick which passage to explore at a fork. I started to feel like I had wandered into Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth and suspected a prehistoric critter around every corner. Sadly (fortunately?) we didn’t even see a bat, and although it felt like we ventured deeper and deeper underground, in reality we probably went less than a 1/8 mile and probably not many feet. Still, it felt EPIC. I’m eager to check out another cave soon!


Yesterday I took advantage of the early evening sunshine and drove out south of town into Deschutes Nat’l Forest, to catch the sunset from Bessie Butte. (A butte is a pretty specific land formation, but out here it gets applied liberally to isolated hills – or in this case, an extinct cinder cone.)

The Cascades from Bessie Butte

I love the orange light of pre-sunset and was delighted by how it set the green hillside of manzanita bushes glowing. This area burned in the 18 Fire of 2003, but has been replanted with little trees and is looking far from devastated at this point – although some rather dramatic reminders of the fire still exist.

What remains of Lodgepole Pines

The 3/4 mile trail wound up Bessie Butte offering great views of the Cascades, the city of Bend, and the surrounding area in all directions. Sunset behind Mt Bachelor was lovely and the purple twilight (it really was purple!) followed me back down to the car, where I lingered for awhile watching the stars come out, looking at the moon through my binoculars, and searching for the comet PANSTARRS (I’ve been looking for it since the 11th with no luck still…and running out of time. *sigh*)

And now it’s high time I scooted out of the house and set off on another adventure! Where have you been hiking lately?


  1. To get to the cave behind BIG SKY dog park. Follow the white fence until it ends. Crawl over the dog park fence and the opening is 30 yards past it toward the power lines.

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