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Originally published January 5, 2006 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 15, 2009 at 2:16 PM

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In Central Oregon, geologic oddities abound

If you know where this place is, you probably live nearby. That goes double for Hole in the Ground, just a few miles west. Crack in the Ground...

The Associated Press

CRACK IN THE GROUND, Ore. — If you know where this place is, you probably live nearby. That goes double for Hole in the Ground, just a few miles west.

Crack in the Ground and Hole in the Ground are two of a slew of geologic oddities sprinkled along and near the national Outback Scenic Byway, a daylong diversion from more than 20 golf courses, 71 ski runs and more in the Bend-Mount Bachelor destination tourist area.

Auto access to some sights can be iffy or impossible in winter, but now is a good time for snowmobile or snowshoe tours, or for a little armchair planning for a spring or summer trip.

There are old lava flows and lava caves, the nation's largest flow of obsidian and cinder cones from volcanoes, all with signs to inform visitors of what they're seeing and how it got there. The area was born in fire, and scientists say molten lava is only three miles or so below the surface. Some day, they predict, it will blow again.

It certainly did in the not-too-distant geologic past, leaving calling cards of unusual kinds to poke and ponder along and near the 171-mile Byway.

If you go

Oregon's volcano country


The High Desert Museum, 59800 S. Highway 97, Bend, Ore., is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily year-round. $7-$12. or 541-382-4754.

Newberry National Volcanic Monument: or 541-383-5300.


The Bend area and La Pine have ample lodging ranging from modest motels to sumptuous resorts.

More information

• Central Oregon Visitors Association, 800-800-8334,

• Bend Visitor and Convention Bureau, 800-949-6086,

• National Scenic Byways program,

A good start any time of year is the High Desert Museum a few miles south of Bend on U.S. 97, for an overview of the West's vast High Desert, its wildlife, including wild mustangs and endangered spotted owls, and how settlers fought to survive illness, Indians and the elements.

Typical displays include a room dedicated to frontier medicine, complete with bullet forceps, a tooth extraction key and bone saws.

Medical advice for bullet wounds included chloroform if available and large people to sit on the victim during surgery otherwise.

The treatment for cholera was 60 drops of laudanum, an alcohol and opium solution that likely put the poor wretch beyond caring, which is fortunate because it didn't cure cholera.

"I hope Tom is better. I washed him all over in vinegar water. ... I can't believe the Lord will take him from me," wrote Hannah King, a settler, in an 1858 diary entry. "And have I not already buried four?"

At least when it comes to health care, the good old days are now.

The museum is kid-friendly with carefully reconstructed and furnished settlers' cabins, occasional blacksmithing demonstrations and a working 100-year-old sawmill that operates for visitors from time to time. Call ahead.

A land of lava

It's a short drive from there to Newberry National Volcanic Monument, which includes a 500-foot cinder cone with a road to the top, open to cars only during warmer seasons.

This time of year, the road into the monument is closed 10 miles from Highway 97. Here's where to tackle some snow sports if you want to see the area, which is home to more than 400 "one-shot" volcanoes that spawned miles of lava flows.

During warm months, there is an easy quarter-mile trail around the cinder cone's rim with plentiful signs that explain it all in layman's terms. There is a working forest-fire lookout tower at the top. The Lava Land Visitors Center is open from late April through mid-October.

Within the monument near Paulina Lake is the nation's biggest flow of obsidian, 170 million cubic yards of the volcanic black glass once prized by Indians for knives and arrowheads.

Visitors are not supposed to take obsidian, but there are flows outside the national monument where plenty is available.

Newberry Crater was home to Indians some 10,000 years ago, and a home site there carbon-dated to about 9,500 years ago is believed to be among the oldest in North America.

Lunar landscape

Back on U.S. 97, continue south for a few miles through the town of La Pine and head east (left) on state Highway 31, and watch for a sign for Hole in the Ground after about 22 miles. It is about four miles to the north along dirt roads that can be a challenge to passenger cars in winter. At forks in the road, generally bear to the right.

You will know it when you see it, something resembling a huge meteor crater about a mile across and some 300 feet deep, so otherworldly that astronauts were taken there in 1966 because of its resemblance to a lunar landscape.

Scientists say it probably is a result of underground steam explosions that took place about 15,000 years ago when magma came in contact with ground water, forming a dome that collapsed.

From there return to Highway 31 and continue east or take a more or less parallel unpaved road — also a wintertime challenge — to Christmas Valley, a town named for reasons lost to history.

At the eastern edge is a turnoff for Crack in the Ground, a rare tension fracture some 70 feet deep, a few yards wide and two miles long that formed about 1,000 years ago.

Such fractures are rare as most fill up with rock and other debris within a short time, geologically speaking, after they open. This one has not.

There is a parking area at an outhouse about seven miles in, the only building for miles. Cross the road to a clearly marked short trail to the fissure.

As you edge your way down through the boulders to the bottom the temperature begins to tumble as you get into trapped cold air.

Pioneer diaries recall that Crack in the Ground was popular for community picnics long ago because in a fiery high-desert summer, ice trapped in the bottom could be used to make ice cream.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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