In the late 1960s NASA looked for a place to send astronauts who were training for a mission that would change the world. But before the mission could happen, NASA needed a place to mimic what they believed those astronauts would find on the surface of the moon. Because, after all, nobody had been there before so nobody really knew what the surface of the moon was like.
Enter the barren landscape that is Lava Lands in Central Oregon.
Located on the north flank of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, what is now Lava Lands was created about 7,000 years ago after a volcanic explosion of Lava Butte. A miles-wide sea of jagged lava rock was left behind creating a unique geological landscape that served as that training ground for moon-bound astronauts.
Today, the Lava Lands Visitor Center is the interpretive hub for the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, which covers some 56,700 acres of lakes, lava flows, and spectacular geologic features near Bend and Sunriver.
The Visitor Center is a great place to learn more about the violent history of the area with the help of U.S. Forest Service Rangers. Inside there’s a book store, 3D topographical map to help orient you to the area as well as daily films and exhibits on the geological history of the area. (It’s closed during the winter, but you can still explore Lava Lands. Just hang a left at the gate and park in the adjacent parking lot.)
To get an up close and personal look at the lava, walk the Trail of Molten Land and the Trail of Whispering Pines. It’s a short little 1 mile walk through the lava field and includes a few viewpoint areas with interpretive plaques. To get a bird’s eye look, you can walk or take one of the shuttles up to the top of Lava Butte where you can see just how far the lava field stretches – and where it abruptly turns back into a lush forest of Ponderosa pines.
There’s also a paved 5.5 mile bike path that connects Lava Lands with the resort community of Sunriver.
In 2015, Newberry will celebrate 25 years as a national monument with events planned all summer long. Here’s some more info on hikes and activities at the monument and a video of Paulina Falls, located within the park.