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Volcanoes and Hot Springs

Saturday, 25 October 2003
written by Teresa

Being in close proximity to a number of active volcano systems certainly adds a little spice to life. If the saying "out of the frying pan into the fire" was ever appropriate then I think that camping in the caldera of Newberry Volcano is probably that time. Newberry Camp Donít misunderstand me, this is not the stuff of flying volcanic bombs, spewing lava or clouds of steam and ash but it is nevertheless one of the largest shield volcanoes in the States, covering an area of fifty thousand square miles and still active. The most recent and obvious evidence of this is the appearance of a ten-mile diameter bulge in the earths crust that admittedly is only six inches high at present but is growing at over an inch a year. Before you scoff, bear in mind that it is being created by a reservoir of magma slowly increasing in volume some two to three miles beneath the surface. All big things start small.

Now I can hear my sister Solanna exclaiming at my sensationalism and certainly for a woman who gathered samples for her doctorate by dangling down the crater of Mount Etna, kitted out in a protective suit, such things must seem passť. However, having never diced with the elemental forces of the earth in quite the same way, I still find our little adventures rather exciting. I digress.

We came to Newberry National Volcanic Monument almost by fluke, having left Washington and headed towards central Oregon in pursuit of beer, hot springs and holes of various shapes and sizes.

The Deschutes Brewery in Bend had been beckoning for some time with promises of delightful brews straight from the horses mouth, so as to speak. Bend proved to be somewhat of a surprise, quietly harbouring a second brewery that we had not heard of. The initials BBC will have a particular relevance for many people reading this log, but itís true meaning was revealed to me in the course of our visit. It actually stands for Bend Brewing Company and I can only report that while it is nowhere near as famous as its counterpart across town, we found their beers and food of a much higher quality. The ambience at the BBC was much more to our liking and thankfully lacked the packed noisy feeling of the trendier Deschutes.

We had also come in search of Arnold Ice Cave but it proved to be elusive. Having gone to the trouble of asking for directions from a National Forest employee and buying a guidebook it none-the-less took us two hours to find it. This was not time spent traveling to the appointed spot but trying numerous dirt tracks leading off the most wash-boarded road this side of Outer Mongolia. If we had false teeth they would have been lost somewhere along the way. The cave was reportedly in the Deschutes National Forest but the singular lack of any directions, in spite of the guidebooks assurances that this most famous of holes is signed from all points of the compass, led to a protracted and merry dance. In the course of our endeavours we managed to find Boyd Cave, sans ice, but another example of a lava tube cave. Now you might be wondering why we went to so much trouble in our pursuit and I can only defend us by telling you that Arnold is the sole cave in the area that has ice year round and while the depths to which it fills the cave is in debate, there is clear evidence that the surface of the ice is rising. Arnold Ice Cave We had of course conjoured up all sorts of wonderful images involving twinkling icicles, clear blue hue ice in a chilly underworld setting. We were sorely disappointed. Having tracked it down we scurried into what looked like a promising hole and sure enough set against the back wall is Arnold. In 1963 the Forest Service kindly built a wooden stairway down into the cave from the entrance but within ten years it had been consumed by the advancing ice and all that is visible today is the top couple of rungs and a bit of handrail. What looks like the earth floor of a small hole in the rock face turns out to be the dirty blackened surface of the ice, but I have to tell you, if we hadnít known we would have been easily fooled. On the whole, Iíd say it was only worth it in terms of an orienteering exercise.

The other remarkable observation during our search was the sheer amount of rubbish and vandalism evident in this part of the forest. It is unlike anything we have seen anywhere else and is a little difficult to understand given that Bend is the only place of any size in the area. Lava Butte This is an open high desert area of the National Forest and would certainly have been somewhere we might have stayed the night but the feeling of wanton disregard for the environment made us wonder how safe it might be and so we moved on.

The landscape south of Bend is dotted with cinder cones built on the flanks of the volcano interspersed with lava beds and swathes of evergreens. The black rock of the beds lie in a broken jumble, bare save occasional patches of lichen and the odd stunted pine struggling to reach eighteen inches. The visitor centre for the Monument lends access to a short road spiraling up Lava Butte, a large red and black cinder cone. A short walk at the top follows the edge of the crater, the crunch underfoot characteristic of the small pieces of cinder making up this impressive mound. On the south side, the breach point on the cones flank is visible and from this point, lava poured forth, creating Ďguttersí to facilitate its own progress out across the valley floor.

Obsidian Having stumbled upon Newberry, we felt obliged to go up and see the caldera of this enormous volcano. The wind was howling, bringing in small flurries of snow as we made our way up onto the Obsidian Flow. High silicon content in the lava has produced this jet black, shiny rock that cleaves to produce edges sharper than broken glass. Native Americans traveled over great distances to collect pieces to be skillfully shaped into arrowheads and cutting implements. It is reported that a geologist in need of surgery made scalpels of Obsidian and that the resulting scars were virtually invisible compared with those made by surgical steel.

In another area of the caldera is Paulina Lake with a campground spread around its shore. The wind and snow had abated and the views across the water to the main crater persuaded us to stay the night. Before we had even had time to walk back to the pay station, the weather had closed in, and first the mountain, then the opposite shore followed by the lake itself and finally anything beyond two feet of the camper disappeared in cloud and horizontally driving rain and snow. Plans to go for a walk on one of the nearby trails had to be put aside although Sterling took some persuading. What is wrong with the man?!

En route out of the area of volcanic influence, a feature on the map labeled "Big Hole" attracted us. How could we resist? Luckily, the GPS was helpful on this occasion and we found it with relatively little trouble, only requiring one twenty seven point turn at an extremely precarious angle, but this proved to be the most exciting aspect of this little detour. The definition of the hole is too compromised by the thick growth of conifers to have been worth the effort.

Our final destinations were two hot springs both in the southeast corner of Oregon. The first proved a delight. Summer Lake Hot Springs is a quirky place in the middle of nowhere on the edge of open high desert backed by the hills of Winter Ridge. Dust Storm in the Oregon Outback The RV hookups are rudimentary but functional and the entire area looks something like a tastefully arranged, neat junk yard but on closer inspection proves to be all manner of interesting artifacts. An old Caterpillar tractor, numerous bird boxes made of empty food cans mounted on tall poles and various wooden carvings. The Springs themselves are in a bathhouse built in 1927 and used to be where the local cowboys came to bathe, shave and wash their clothes. The building is in the style of a little barn, built of corrugated metal but clad inside with wood. The pool is small in comparison to either at Glenwood but the water is at a very pleasant temperature of 104 degrees and is sweet tasting like that at Thermopolis, not salty like Glenwood. The wooden cladding is covered in engraved names with an inordinately large number of Russian patronyms, for some inexplicable reason. This is not the place of posh resort or spa but very informal and relaxed and a must if we pass this way again. One final quirk: an Australian working on the water system in this area known as the Oregon Outback.

The Lakeview Man The second, in Lakeview, was Hunters Hot Springs but we arrived to find it closed for repairs and refurbishment. This resort is also home of "Old Perpetual Geyser" which was struck in the process of creating the Springs in the 1920ís and has blown every ninety seconds since then. We had also read that the geyser pool is home to blue fish living in the mineral rich waters but they were as elusive as Arnold and no repetition of

would draw them out.

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