Thursday, October 20, 2016
Day Two and Three of the Bend, Oregon
October Fogged-Out Ride
(Next time we’ll do this in September!)
I live on the eastern edge of the Pacific Ring of Fire, that great and ever-changing zone typified by volcanoes and earthquakes brokered by pressure from the mid-Atlantic Ridge a half a world away. It pushes the North American continent over the Pacific plate creating everything from the ice-capped Sierra Nevada to the deep and frequently devastating San Andreas Fault. And it’s wonderful.
Ranging from far northern California to Alaska, the Cascades have risen through cracks and fissures caused by this slow motion collision. Central Oregon offers some of the best examples of volcanism’s many signatures. And Bend, Oregon was to be home base for several explorations of this fire formed region.
I arrived at Bend by traveling the new-to-me Oregon Route 62 out of Medford. This lovely highway ascends to the crest of the Cascades following the course of the Upper Rogue River. The Rogue has carved a narrow canyon through seemingly impenetrable rock.
Just west of Union Creek, a short interpretive trail walks one through the eons-old processes that resulted in the dramatic gorge. “You should see this after a big rain or the spring thaw. The canyon can’t contain it. You could stand right here ‘cept you’d be swept away,” reported a fellow hiker, showing out-of-town guests his treasure. “Once a guy tried to go down in a kayak when the flow was up outta the banks. Poor fool.”
Further up the road – now OR 230 – dramatic Mount Thielsen, an ice-carved arête reaches skyward. A roadside scenic turnout offers insight into the mountain’s origins and how it continues to be an active member of the Cascades.
Oregon’s state highways are delightful. Well manicured, in combination routes 234, 62, 230 and 138 stair step from valley pastures through stands of pines and fir to high country meadows with sweeping curves toward ever greater vistas, skirting around the western and northern flanks of Crater Lake. Out east, we experience the rain shadow that portends the high desert. Sage offers the west’s iconic fragrance.
Long on my list has been a visit to the caldera at the Newberry National Volcanic Monument.
Beneath the pristine pine and sage surface of the far western US, molten rock boils. In places it leaks (or blasts) forth producing fields of basalt or pumice or obsidian.
In other places, huge plugs of viscous lava have been extruded left to cool and then weather through millennia of wind, snow and ice.
In still other places cinder cones, huge red or gray piles of tiny rock and dust, look as if they’ve just been sent through some gigantic flour sifter.
The Newberry formation appears to have been a subsurface caldron of molten rock and gas that expanded and then collapsed. What remains are two glorious high country lakes separated by a growing dome and flanked by one of the largest obsidian floes anywhere.
Nearby – but easy to pass by – is the “Big Obsidian Flow.” Shouldn’t it be spelled “floe?” A trail leads us from the parking area through vast acreage so depleted in nutrients plant life has failed to yet take hold.
Where silica flows, it seems nothing grows. Signage tells us that the chemical basis for obsidian and pumice is silica. Wildlife is sparse in the floe, but occasionally, you may see something unusual, something Big-Foot like.
A wonderful stretch of pavement unlocks this area. About twenty-three miles south of Bend on US 97, turn eastward onto County Road 21 and enjoy eighteen miles of sweeping turns and expanding horizons.
The lucky among us may scale the route on a comfortable touring bike like my Thunderbird, and descend on a corner eating three-cylinder screamer like my riding buddy’s Triumph Trophy. His black beauty begs to have the edges of its tires challenged. Crack the throttle and the engine sings soprano. Nicely.
Returning north on US 97, we pause for a little education at the Newberry National Monument Interpretive center. It offers great graphic displays and trails into a rugged and foreboding lava floe.
Icing on this ancient, tumultuous cake would be the corkscrew drive to the summit of Lava Butte, a red cider cone upon which an active fire lookout is perched.
(Curiously, visit a fire lookout and you’ll always enjoy an amazing view. Go figure.) The cone has a crater at its summit and a ten-minute walk around its rim affords great views of the lava fields stretching in all directions and, to the west the Three Sisters.
There’s simply so much to see!
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