Lava Cast Forest – La Pine, Oregon - Atlas Obscura

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Lava Cast Forest

A rugged lava field dotted with molds of the ancient pines that were growing when the volcano erupted.  


Just below Bend, Oregon, lies a 5-square-mile lava field formed more than 6,000 years ago when the nearby Newberry Volcano erupted, causing a flood of molten lava that devoured the surrounding forest.

These forests were mostly made up of ponderosa pines that were knocked down when they came in contact with the lava. However, some especially large trees were surrounded by the fluid rock and then burned away internally, leaving behind massive casts of their trunks.

Today, these casts dot the Lava Cast Forest like strange, ancient pockmarks. At one point, the molds were thought to be gas blowouts, however, discovering the tree rings proved the true reason behind the chimney-like structures. Along with visible tree rings, ancient charcoal and newer lava “drippings” can be seen inside the molds.

In 1963, astronauts trained on these lava fields as NASA believed their lack of erosion was a similar surface to that of the Moon. To commemorate this landscape, James B Irwin, carried an igneous rock from this site to the surface of the Moon.

Though the landscape is somewhat alien, nature is reclaiming the area. Ponderosa pines, Indian paintbrush, wildflowers, and junipers have snuck their way back into the scorched earth that was taken from them many millennia ago.

Know Before You Go

These forests are accessible by a steep, winding walkway with informational signs about the geology and history of the site.

Depending on snow, the parking area can be reached from mid-May to mid-November. Day use passes for the monument are $5 and can be purchased at the visitors center.

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