Big Obsidian Flow

The 5,500-acre Newberry National Volcanic Monument protects the area around the Newberry Volcano, a shield volcano in central Oregon.  Newberry Volcano is 20 miles in diameter and has a 4-5 mile diameter caldera.  One of the highlights of the monument is the Big Obsidian Flow, which is Oregon’s youngest lava flow at 1,300 years old.  Over 170 million cubic yards of obsidian and pumice erupted from a vent within the Newberry Caldera.

  

  

Obisidian boulder

Obsidian is a naturally-occurring volcanic glass that is created when lava cools rapidly with minimum crystal growth.  Obsidian is quite rare and found only in a few places in the world.  The hard and brittle rock is used to make jewelry, tools, weapons, sculptures, and ceremonial objects.  Ancient cultures that were fortunate enough to have access to obsidian often used it as currency.  Obsidian blades are the sharpest objects in the world because they can be sharpened to a width of just one molecule! 

  

   

Timm standing next to a pile of obsidian

In 1960, NASA scientists came to the Big Obsidian Flow and extracted water from these rocks.  They were testing to see whether astronauts might be able to extract water from similar rocks on the moon.  They heated the obsidian to very high temperatures, extracted the water vapor (obsidian contains 0.2% water), and drank the pure water.  Seems like a lot of work for a very little bit of water.

  

  

Lava Butte

Lava Butte is a cinder cone just off Highway 97 in the northern portion of the national monument.  Like most cinder cones, Lava Butte only experienced a single eruption, believed to be about 7,000 years ago.

  

  

Theresa and Shadow on Paulina Peak with Paulina Lake, East Lake, and the Big Obsidian Flow in the background

Within the Newberry Caldera, there are two lakes—Paulina Lake on the left and East Lake on the right in the photo above.  Both lakes have hot springs that attain temperatures in excess of 540 degrees Fahrenheit a half-mile below the caldera floor.  This is the highest temperature ever recorded at an inactive volcano. In this photo, Shadow is giving Theresa some love atop Paulina Peak, the highest point on the rim of Newberry Volcano at nearly 8,000 feet elevation.  In the photo you can see the caldera rim in the background, the two lakes on the caldera floor, and part of the Big Obsidian Flow.

  

  

Flock of ducks on East Lake

There was a large flock of ducks on East Lake.

  

  

Paulina Lake

Paulina Lake (shown) and East Lake may originally have been one large lake, similar to Crater Lake.  But lava deposits eventually created a dam that split the larger lake in two.  

>> Next Stop: Crater Lake National Park >>

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