In the Lava Cast Forest in Central Oregon, grave-like hollows mark where trees were engulfed by lava 6,000 years ago from the nearby Newberry Volcano.
Located off Highway 97 south of Bend, the Lava Cast Forest Geologic Area covers five square miles and features a one-mile asphalt hiking path.
The beginning of the trail is marked by giant 300-year-old ponderosa pines — mere babies in the ancient volcanic landscape.
Most of the area is covered in dark, porous rock that is left over from lava that poured out of fissures.
Here and there, bright reddish-orange Indian paintbrushes stand out against the almost black rock, providing splashes of color.
It doesn't take long to reach the first hole along the trail that marks where a tree was torched by flowing lava. All that remains is a formation that looks like a chimney that begins underground, then rises to the surface, with hardened lava piled around the opening.
Some of the holes are vertical, while others are horizontal, marking where lava pushed over and burned up once-standing trees.
Various features along the trail — including the holes, plant communities and living trees — are marked by numbered signposts. Brochures available at the beginning of the trail explain the features.
About half a mile into the walk, visitors can gaze out on a sea of hardened lava that surrounds an island of living trees. The island is made up of old cinder cones that were encircled by the newer lava flow, according to information provided by the Deschutes National Forest.
Views of Mount Bachelor and other Central Oregon volcanic peaks are visible in the distance from the last half of the trail.
The walk through the Lava Cast Forest takes only about 45 minutes, leaving time to explore other Central Oregon attractions. In the summer, plan on exploring the trail in the morning to avoid the afternoon heat, especially since there is little shade along the way.
To reach the Lava Cast Forest, travel on Highway 97 and take Exit 153, which is also the exit for the resort town of Sunriver. Travel east about nine miles to the Lava Cast Forest. Signs mark the way.
The paved road quickly turns to dirt, but is still accessible with a two-wheel-drive car. Display your annual Northwest Forest Pass in your vehicle at the Lava Cast Forest parking lot or buy a $5 day pass.
Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or email@example.com.