Lava Butte – Bend, OR

Vista from the top

There’s a cycle to life that is evident all around us. Nowhere is it more obvious than nature. I think that’s one of the things I love about getting away to a purely natural and preserved area and remaining aware of all that’s around me. There’s lessons to learn. Life speaks of abundance and rhytmn and survival.

At first glance, Lava Butte and the surrounding result of ancient (7000 years old) volcanic activity, appears to deny this. Harsh lava surrounds us, sometimes up to six miles away. But as we drive higher, to the top of the cinder cone, the signs of life stand out in stark contrast to the huge expanse of lava. Trees, flowers and chipmunks greet us with a cheery reminder that life does go on. There’s even one huge expanse of trees that had avoided destruction in the cataclysmic eruption. Imagine standing, an island, surrounded by 3000 degree molten lava flowing around you.

At 500 feet, the vistas from the top of Lava Butte are breathtaking – the Cascade Range and Deschutes Plateau in the distance. There’s a quarter mile treak around the cinder cone with informational signposts to fill you in on the natural landscape and history, if you’re into that. Long dead, petrified trees remain as a stark reminder of the destruction, now they’re a thing of beauty – knarled and sun-bleached.

At the time Newbury Volcano erupted, it filled the Dechutes River and formed a natural dam that formed Lake Benham. Over the years the river flowed over the dam and eroded the surrounding area forming Benham Falls.

We drive the four miles from Lava Butte to the banks of the Deschutes River where the trailhead to Benham Falls begins. It’s a half mile through spectacular long-needle pine forests – cliffs on one side and river on the other. I hear the roaring cascading falls long before I see it. I take a side trail closer to the water and follow the falls (which meander downhill rather than dropping steeply) but there’s no denying the thrilling spectacle of whitewater rapids gradually descending in a long series of steps for more than 500 feet. A fenced boardwalk leads to an observation point at the base of the falls.

At the days end I feel more alive. More in touch with what it means to be human. I’ve sensed the harmony of all things and am back in touch with the desire that everything co-exists together. There’s a balance to life, if we but find it.

A portion of Benham Falls

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