Falls and Flows (and Falls Again)

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On an unusually seasonable day last weekend (imagine having to wear a jacket in October!), we headed out to visit two of Oregon’s lesser known but nonetheless spectacular natural wonders. Nana Five had just arrived for a visit, and we thought a trip to Salt Creek Falls and Newberry National Volcanic Monument would be a great way to experience the wonderful variety of landscapes in Central Oregon.

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Heading east on Highway 58, we first came to Salt Creek Falls. Descending the observation trail from the parking lot, we could feel the mist almost immediately. At 286 feet, this waterfall sends out plenty of water into the air, creating a fairly steady rainbow at the base of the falls. We enjoyed the different viewpoints from the trail and marveled at how unassuming the creek looks just before it plunges downward.

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Next stop: Newberry Volcanic National Monument, just south of Bend. We were pleasantly surprised to find the Paulina Visitor’s Center still open (warmer temperatures allowed it to open several weeks early this year and remain open two weeks later), and even more excited to find they had a Junior Ranger program. We all got a hands-on feel for the different kinds of volcanic rock found at the monument, and the park ranger gave us plenty of tips about what to see during our visit.

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We knew the highlight of our day would be the Big Obsidian Flow trail, just a few miles past the visitor’s center. This expansive landscape of obsidian and other volcanic rock is the result of the Newberry Volcano’s most recent eruption 1,300 years ago. As we wound our way through the mounds of volcanic glass, we felt like we were in another world, and it was not too shocking when the Younger Fives read to us from their Junior Ranger booklets that astronaut Walter Cunningham tested out a moon suit here in 1964. The view from the top was limited by clouds sending flurries downward, but we could make out the shores of Paulina Lake. If the weather had been clear, we likely would not have been able to see past the rim of the volcano’s caldera, the large depression at its summit formed during a large explosion 75,000 years ago. Newberry Volcano covers an area the size of Rhode Island, and it is carefully monitored for signs of future activity.

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We decided to end our day the same way we started, this time feeling the mist from Paulina Creek Falls (80 feet high). Located just on the other side of the Paulina Visitor’s Center, it was a nice contrast from the volcanic desert we had seen just minutes before. As we relaxed at the edge of the falls for a final snack before heading back, we definitely felt like we had made the most of our daytime hours. We hadn’t made it to the National Monument’s other sections (including Lava Cast Forest and Lava River Cave), but those would just have to wait for another day 🙂

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