Are you now or have you ever been a geology nerd?
In my freshman year of high school, I enrolled in an "Earth Science" course and fell for the romantic notion of working outdoors as a geologist. Most of this credit of course goes to my teacher, who taught me the differences between mica and obsidian and gave me a different way to look at the natural wonders our planet has to offer. (Fun Fact: This was also the course in which I met the guy who would become my husband many years later. He spent his time competing with me for the top grade and flipping paper footballs over my head.)
So, if there is any part of you that also secretly or not so secretly loves geology - you better start planning your trip to Eastern Oregon because it's a geology lovers paradise. We based ourselves out of Bend for a little over a week and day tripped out to some of the most amazing natural wonders I've ever seen.
Adventure #1: Smith Rock State Park
Initially formed by deposits of volcanic ash and debris, filled in with basalt lava, and finally carved out by the Crooked River - Smith Rock ranks as one of Oregon's Seven Wonders. We spent our time wandering up the Misery Ridge Trail, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the top, and taking our time walking down the Monkey Face, Mesa Verde, and River trails from golden hour until past dusk. As we walked the last few steps up the trail to the opposite rim of the river carved canyon, we watched planets gleam in the sky and the headlamps of climbers continuing to work their way up the rock. Magical is the best word I can think of to describe the experience.
Adventure #2: Newberry National Volcanic Monument
While researching our adventure options, I read somewhere that if Crater Lake had never existed the area around the Newberry Volcano may have very well been designated Oregon's sole National Park. We took in just a small tidbit of the over 56,400 acres of land to explore, and already have plans in the works to return for a camping trip.
The easiest spot to start in Newberry is with a walk up to the top of Lava Butte; a cinder cone situated alongside the main highway running through the area. From the top you can take in views of the lava fields and even walk the rim trail around the crater. If you have a capable four wheel drive vehicle and the skills to navigate dirt roads, snow, and mud - there are some well maintained Forest Service roads which can bring you up the bases of Paulina and East Lakes before the main road opens for the summer. We drove up to East Lake and marveled in it's quiet volcanic beauty - and then promptly got ourselves just a little stuck in some snow! Thank goodness for a capable car and it's very off-road competent driver!
Adventure #3: Sheep Rock Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
While it's almost two and half hours away from Bend, the area included in the Sheep Rock Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument was fascinating to explore. Around every bend in the road, the most colorful and dramatic rock formations appear out of the hillsides. We walked the 3.8 mile Blue Basin Loop to take in some of the best views of the blue-green clay stone originally formed by volcanic ash.
Adventure #4: Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
I think of the Painted Hills as one of the more well known natural wonders of Eastern Oregon, after all it does rank as one of the Seven Wonders and it is simply stunning. The Painted Hills Unit is a touch closer to Bend than it's Sheep Rock Unit counterpart - coming in at around an hour and half drive. There are a couple of short trails in the park, so less exploring to do, but it's still a photographers dream. We timed our visit to check out Painted Cove Trail before setting up and cooking dinner with a view of the Painted Hills during golden hour. As my husband already said; best dinner date ever.
Adventure #5: The Oregon Outback
We've driven through the Oregon Outback a couple of times before, but being based in Bend, we took the opportunity to focus on visiting some of the absolutely amazing volcanic features out in this high desert plateau. It's a two plus hour drive out to the farthest site we selected, the aptly named "Crack-In-The-Ground." It's a volcanic fissure which reaches depths of 70 feet and runs under the surface of the plateau for 2 miles. Crack-In-The-Ground was hands down the most exciting area we explored on our whole trip to Eastern Oregon. The trail at the bottom is well kept and there's just a little bit of scrambling involved to navigate along the bottom.
Before heading back to Bend, we walked around the interior of Fort Rock - a tuff ring from a long ago era when this area was filled with a lake and active with volcanoes. There's a spot towards the middle of the rim with an easy walk up to a high section to really take in the views of how large the formation is.
To keep up to date on future adventures via Instagram, you can follow me here.