Big Obsidian Flow
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The Big Obsidian Flow in Oregon USA is a remarkable natural phenomenon. 1300 years may seem like a very long time, however when it comes to volcanoes and their eruption this is quite the contrary, making the Big Obsidian Flow, the youngest lava flow in Oregon to be exact.
Located in Newberry Oregon, the Newberry Volcano has a unique geological history dating back 500,000 years. Covering an area of 500 square miles, at 3,600 feet the Volcano towers above the surrounding area. Throughout the eons, multiple eruptions have lead to the volcanic geology we know today. While the last eruption, creating the Big Obsidian Flow, happened in 640 AD, the volcano is still very much active today. The Big Obsidian Flow is located within the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, through which the Newberry Crater Trail, passes, before connecting to the Lost Lake Trail. The Newberry Volcano was recognized as a national historic monument in November 1990.
A mile long trail leads visitors to the unique Obsidian flow, a natural geological process whereby lava flowed and cooled down very quickly forming volcanic glass of dark hues with very little crystals. Along the trail visitors will also see pumice, a frothy, light and textured igneous rock that formed when gas rich lava solidified quickly. While the Big Obsidian Flow trail is not a particularly long one, with 197 feet of elevation gain and reaching a maximum height of 6,600 feet it can be quite challenging.
The trail moves through different terrains so it is recommended to allow at least 30 to 45 minutes to complete the trail. From the trail head visitors will make their way through a small forests, before proceeding to hike on a dirt road. A metal staircase leads visitors up to the Obsidian flow. The trail is inaccessible to wheelchair users and it requires a good level of mobility and stability. On a positive note half way through the climb, visitors can make a pit stop on the observation deck and soak in the incredible views. Note of caution, the terrain surrounding the Obsidian Flow can be treacherous and slippery when wet.
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On the eastern side of the Obsidian Flow there are three small lakes, referred to as the Lost Lakes, which require an additional mini hike to reach. Visitors can also follow the Paulina Lake Road, which passes through the monument, making stops at a number of spots. Visitors can also visit the Paulina Falls Trails, a 0.5 mile hike passing by stunning falls.
Along the trail it is advisable to wear appropriate footwear as well as carry sun screen at all times, as the shiny volcanic surface heightens the temperatures. At peak season the trail can get busy, and given that some of the paths are very narrow, visitors will be required to stop and give way to other visitors. To avoid the rush and getting stuck in traffic, arriving early or late during the day is recommended, not to mention this avoids unnecessary sun exposure.
Throughout the trail, visitor should keep an eye out for the seven interpretive signs, explaining the areas geology, history, biology, archaeology and the Big Obsidian Flow. The interpretive signs, also give informative background information about the flora and wildlife of the area and its colonization. Another sign looks at the Obsidian Flow glass and how it was used in history to the advantage of native tribes, as well as how it made its way to the west. From Archaeological finds, there is proof of civilizations occupying the area as early as 10,000 years ago. The obsidian was even used to create tools and weaponry for hunting including arrow heads and knives. Paulina Creek was mentioned in official writings as early as 1855, during the Pacific Railroad Survey Expedition. In fact the name Newberry, was given to the area in honor of Dr. John Strong Newberry a geologist who worked on the expedition.
The Big Obsidian Flow, Paulina Peak, Paulina Lake and East Lake are all encompassed within the Newberry Crater Area. Similarly the Caldera is a result of part of the volcano collapsing at some point in history. While the ash-flow tuff and Newberry Tephra all date to the same eruption, the eruption actually happened in three phases. The eruption started off with the the gas rich eruption phase, that has resulted in the production of the Newberry Pumice which made it to the southern side of the caldera as well as the tall column of Tephra close to the vent. This was followed by a less explosive eruption that led to the Paulina Lake ash-flow, connecting Big Obsidian Flow and Paulina Lake. Lastly as the eruption subsided and the gas in the magma reduced significantly and the Big Obsidian Flow was formed.
Entry to the area is possible at a $5 per vehicle charge or by purchasing a recreational pass, alternatively visitors can also opt for a tour bus. Parking requires a permit, which can be purchased from the Forest Service Offices, There are even special rates for education groups. Visitors can also make a stop at the Paulina Visitor Center, which is 2.2 miles away from the Big Obsidian Flow Trail-head. In Summer ranger talks are organized at the Big Obsidian Flow Amphitheater, a schedule of which can be obtained at the Visitor Center. The area, managed by the U.S Forest Services is equipped with picnic tables and vault toilets.
Part of the Newberry Crater and Newberry National Volcanic Monument, the Big Obsidian Flow is a unique phenomenon and definitely worth visiting. Regardless of being a short trail, its difficulty is not to be underestimated, however the views and the experience of walking on an active volcano are highly rewarding.