Big Obsidian Flow

Bend, Oregon ~ Day One

*photos mine unless noted – thanks Alan!

Mounds of lava pile up near Oregon’s eastside rivers and roads, a bleak barren sideshow alongside all the greenery. Imagining the scene of steaming flows and chunks spewing out from otherwise serene mountains is a bit nerve wracking considering it could happen again any time – the local volcanoes are only sleeping. But my mind can’t linger there; I move on instead to the raw beauty.

Juxtaposition photo by Alan

The many reasons to visit the Bend area read like a tourist brochure: an endless string of Cascade mountains, serpentine rivers and inviting lakes, hiking trails that wind amidst waterfalls and rapids, a profusion of colorful wildflowers, stark high desert forests, breathtaking altitude and accompanying cerulean blue skies, and in non-fire / non-snow seasons, views that go for miles. Not to mention the variety of microbreweries (though they all taste the same to me – is that sacrilege?).

Lake Paulina and Mt Bachelor? beyond

I hate to say too much good about it, but the secret is out – it’s one of the fastest growing cities in the country. The outdoor activities my brother and sister-in-law (who we’re here to visit) have at hand is, well, exhausting. Rivers, roads, slopes, and trails beckon to be explored year round on fiberglass, steel, rubber, and plastic.

On this visit, Day One took us to the Newberry Volcano’s Big Obsidian Flow, central Oregon’s most recent eruption, 1300 years ago. Standing in the midst of it is to be in another world, mind swept clean.

The half mile loop trail winds through piles of pumice boulders in shades ranging from ashy to coal grey amidst tottering mounds of jagged jet black obsidian glass. The shards and rubble reflect sunlight like a black mirror, but are slippery and precariously mounded up, so I pick my way up the trail with care, stopping frequently to look up and take in the dark mile-wide flow juxtaposed with encompassing deep green forests and blue Lake Paulina below.Native peoples traveled from miles around to collect obsidian for weapons, tools, and jewelry. An archeologist made an obsidian scalpel to be used on him in surgery, leaving barely a scar. The things that rocks will make us do! Now it’s illegal to collect it, but… once a scofflaw, always a scofflaw.

Signposts along the path explain the eruption with words that would be hyperbole if it weren’t true, with evidence all around: roasting, trapped and escaped, billions of bubbles, gas-charged, explosive, blast, tremendous speed, swept away, gray plains, violent, stiff, sticky, slowly and sluggishly, frothed and foamed, giant bubbles, wildly contorted, folded and refolded, shattered and sheared.

Paulina Falls, photo by Alan

We stop on the way out for a short hike to Paulina Falls as temperatures rise and haze builds from the few fires that recently popped up. Chief Paulina was a Northern Paiute warrior and fierce protector of his people and land in the mid-1800s. Once demonized as a murderer of white men, I guess he’s been forgiven by some, and now we can’t say his name too often – the falls are named for him, plus a lake, a mountain, a town, and a host of other entities. Too little too late for him though, and I wonder what he would think if he could see his name plastered everywhere. Probably pretty smug for a moment, then sitting back, he’d enjoy the peaceful views.

Paulina Falls, photo by Alan

6 thoughts on “Big Obsidian Flow

  1. Great post ! Love the history, too. I drove through Bend last month and was gobsmacked by the place. I drove the road to the top of Newberry, as well. I had no idea what I would find in Central and Southern Oregon. Thanks for sharing !

    Liked by 1 person

    • I went up Newberry once, must have been in late fall I think, when the views were amazing. I’m realizing summer in Bend isn’t that kind of view gazing (nor in Portland either, perhaps nowhere anymore…) But yes, it’s a gobsmacking kind of place! Thanks for being here.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s