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September 2016 — Geological Tour of Oregon
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Oregon Geological Tour September 2017

My Brother in law Randy along with 18 people, including four youth in eight vehicles wandered around the eastern Oregon desert over the Labor Day weekend visiting some of the unique geological sites the area has to offer.

We spent the night before the trip at Tumalo State Park just north of Bend. While there we hiked along the Deschutes River and found some interesting views, a praying mantis and other signes that animals lived in the park.

The following day the trip started at the High Desert Museum a few miles south of Bend. The museum has displays showing the native cultures that inhabited the area prior to the white man as well as displays on the history of smoke jumpers, logging and early settlers.

Fort Rock

Fort Rock — Photo Galley

After the museum we headed south and east through the Deschutes National Forest to the Fort Rock State Natural Area. The Fort Rock formation is all that is left of a tuff ring volcano that was around when Christmas Valley was an ice age lake. After lunch and a hike around Fort Rock we compared maps to determine the best route to our next destination, Hole in the Ground.

The route we picked headed back into the Deschutes National Forest (NF) on a gravel which turned into hard packed dirt. It eventually led us to the south access road to the Hole. We worked our way around the rim to the west side parking area where we stopped and admired the view of this volcanic explosion crater. The crater is a mile across and about 490 feet deep. It was formed about 15,000 years ago. There is a road to the bottom of the crater but it is closed. If you want to get to the bottom you need to walk down the steep slopes.

After taking in the view and marveling at the craters symmetry we again compared maps and picked a route to what we hoped would lead us to a fire lookout and campground. We followed the Deschutes NF Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) along dirt roads that turned to dust roads through pine forests to where the lookout should have been. It was not there. We turned around and headed back to Cabin Lake Campground north of Fort Rock. Even though it is called Cabin Lake Campground we were not enthused about staying there. Despite its name there is no lake, no cabin and no facilities.

On the way to Cabin Lake we saw a sign that said South Ice Cave and saw that there was camping and facilities. We pulled in and found a nice campground where we spent the night. The next day, after drying out from the previous nights rain, we explored the ice cave. One thing to remember when exploring caves is to bring several pairs of hiking boots. The bat colonies that live in them are susceptible to diseases from other colonies. Wearing different shoes in different caves prevents the spread of disease between colonies.

Derrik Cave

Derrick Cave — Photo Galley

Our next destination was east to Derrick Cave. The route took us through open and closed gates, open range and along forest roads that had not been used in some time. This wandering around eventually took us to the north access road to the cave. Derrick Cave is a 1,200 foot long lava tube cavern that is much larger and longer than South Ice Cave. The larger section is to the left as you go down into the entrance area. There is also a small and shorter section of the cave to the right. A section of roof collapsed sometime int he distant past allowing light to enter the interior illuminating the cave with a soft glow. The cave continues down and gets narrower until a person needs to crawl to get through.

After touring the cave it was time for lunch and once again consulted our maps to find a route that would take us to Green Mountain Lookout and campground. One our our group left to scout a route but was stopped by a locked gate. To keep from backtracking we chose a route that headed north and east on forest roads that while legal to drive on looked like they had not been driven on for a few years. The worst of them led us to a gravel road that took us out of the forest into the sagebrush desert.

Sagebrush is interesting to drive through. It is tall enough to hide the connecting roads until you are right next to them making them easy to drive past. It also hides the rocks that are in the center of the track.We all hit a few hidden rocks while wandering around trying to find the left turn that would take us out of the sage. We could not find the first or second lefts that showed on the geo referenced county map loaded into PDFMaps. The tracks must have been overgrown with sage from lack of use. All we could do was continue following the reasonably fresh tire tracks in the dirt track ahead of us. The third and last left turn finely showed itself. The tire tracks we were following turned left and so did we. We continued to follow the tire tracks. They eventually led us to a gate and the dirt/gravel road south we wanted to get to.

We made it to the campground at Green Mountain a couple of hours before sunset. After setting up camp and eating dinner it was time to watch the sunset. Hiking up the short trail with chair in hand we reached the top and were treated to the sun going down in a blaze of color.

Green Mountain

Green Mountain View — Photo Galley

Monday morning dawned clear and bright. Some of the group had long drives back home and were leaving early. While others were packing to leave Randy and I climbed the 84 steps to the top of the fire lookout tower. What a great view from up there. We could see Diamond Peak 95 miles away sand other mountain beyond it. The man stationed at forest lookout was a wealth of information about the Christmas Valley area. Telling us stories about the arsonists, insurance scams, and wanted criminals that lived in the area both past and present.

On the way back to the campground I stopped at the camp of a couple of Russians who were traveling around Oregon. I recommended that they go up the tower and enjoy the view. They were amazed that it was legal to go up there. They thought it was a secure location. I reassure them that it was all right for them to go up.

Five rigs left for home leaving three rigs that took the short seven mile drive to Crack in the Ground. The crack is actually two volcanic fissures next to each other. One is very easy to hike through and takes you about 70 feet below the surface. It rises and falls along its 2.5 mile length so that you can exit the trail in the several places where it meets ground level and hike back along the trail at the rim. The other crack is much harder to navigate because or its narrowness and jumble of rock at its base. There are several peep holes from the easy trail into the difficult trail.

After exploring the crack we said farewell to another of our traveling companions and his family. They were headed west to LaPine to visit relatives. That left two of us to head north on a mixture of gravel and paved roads until we hit highway U.S. 20. We checked traffic and saw that Bend and Redmond had lots of red on the map so we decided to head to Prineville before turning west. It was a good choice.There was little traffic and the scenery was beautiful. In Prineville we said goodby to the last of our companions as they headed north to Seattle. There was little traffic making for an easy drive home.

Resources County maps Avenza PDF Maps MVUM HEMA MotionX-GPS

Statistics Total miles = 830 Approximate gravel miles = 310 Total gas used 33.8 gallons MPG 18.2

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