If it wasn’t for Mount Mazama’s collapse from a major eruption approximately 7,700 yeas ago–which ultimately formed Crater Lake in Oregon’s Cascade Range–
then surely the Lava Lands surrounding Newberry Caldera would have become Oregon’s sacred National Park.
There actually was a fierce debate at the start of the 1900s on which natural wonder deserved this special status. Ultimately, Crater Lake was established as a National Park in 1902, and the Newberry Volcanic arc within Deschutes National Forest was eventually protected through Congressional legislation in 1990, and has been managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
That’s good news for any visitor who may be interested in the widest array of volcanic features of any U.S. National Park or National Monument.
Especially striking is the perimeter trail around Lava Butte–one of over 400 volcano cones and vents scattered over a 1,200 square mile area that’s equal to the size of Rhode Island…
and offering panoramic views of Oregon’s High Cascades,
and the surrounding lava fields and forest.
The current observation tower that rises atop the cinder cone’s rim is an active fire lookout that’s been staffed by the Forest Service since the original structure was constructed in 1913.
Aside from staring endlessly at Paulina Creek Falls as it cascades 80 feet…
from the lip of Paulina Lake,
no other park experience can compete with visiting the Lava River Cave, and taking a plunge into total darkness.
But first, there’s a mandatory briefing...
After listening to Ranger Dan’s orientation on white-nose syndrome and bat health awareness, he lectured us on what to expect inside the cave and cave etiquette.
For instance, Ranger Dan highly recommended that we pee before entering the cave.
“There are no facilities in the cave, nor is the cave to be used as a facility,” he announced. “It will be one-mile in and one-mile out. You’ll know when to turn around because you’ll come to a stop sign. Expect the hike to take two hours. The temperature inside the cave is 42o, so dress appropriately. Also, there is no electricity inside the cave, so take a reliable and appropriate light source with you that is NOT a cell phone. Watch how you step, because you will be walking on uneven surfaces, so I recommend footwear that are NOT flip flops. And remember to duck in low places, because you will come to a low ceiling halfway into the cave called Low Bridge Lane. Lanterns are available to rent at the gatehouse. Any questions before I let you go?”
A young voice from one of the 20 attendees seated behind asks, “Has anyone ever died inside the cave?”
“No human remains have ever been discovered inside the cave, and today is no exception,” predicts Ranger Dan. “So enjoy yourselves as you walk through something special that happened 80,000 years ago.”
First, we peed.
I returned with my flashlight, and Leah took my hand as we started down the first 50…
of 150 steps into darkness,
descending deeper and deeper into the abyss.
That’s when I realized that sharing a flashlight was an obvious mistake. It was a daunting challenge, trying to take photos in total darkness…
while navigating the terrain and guiding Leah simultaneously.
So I enlisted her as my key grip–coaching her to direct my flashlight beam where I needed it most–while I composed the shot, and prayed she wouldn’t run off, leaving me stranded with my cell phone.
Eventually, we reached the end…together,
where I stopped to reflect on our tandem accomplishment before u-turning…
Inevitably when hiking together, Leah walks ahead, as I’m more inclined to go at my own pace, taking photos. It drives her crazy that I’m deliberately slow at times: either waiting for the light to improve; or I’m busy framing an image; or I’m manipulating settings on my camera. However, Leah has come to accept my pokey photography habits. She realizes that she can explore ahead of me instead of waiting for me. Besides, I always catch up to her.
But this hike was different. With only one light source between us, we were forced to stick closely together and work as a team. And that made all the difference getting back to start.