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Tip #34: Say "A’a" in Central Oregon

Home » baby » Tip #34: Say "A’a" in Central Oregon
Newberry National Volcanic Monument, OR – Approximately 10 miles south of Bend, Oregon on Highway 97, you’ll drive past one of the most newly named national monuments in the U.S.: Newberry National Volcanic Monument.

As it happens, one of the best sites for viewing and accessing the monument is also a terrific place to stop and stretch your legs during road trips–especially if you have energetic children in the car. The Lava Lands Visitor Center is just off Highway 97 roughly 13 miles south of Bend. Be sure to make a note of it if you’ll be traveling through Central Oregon.

While the Lava Lands parking area is situated in a forest of ponderosa pines, you will find an almost Mars-like field of jagged a’a lava (pronounced “ah-ah”) beginning just on the other side of the visitor center, rising up to the Lava Butte cinder cone, which looms 500 feet above the visitor center. Lava Butte is just one of hundreds of cinder cones found throughout the Newberry Crater area, but it’s one of the few you can drive to the top of for a great view of the area.

Newberry Volcano remained active for more than a 500,000 years, right up to its most recent eruption in approximately 600 A.D. Today, you can see the resulting cinder cones, pumice cones, lava flows, a lava cast forest, underground lava tubes, lakes, streams, and waterfalls throughout the 55,000 acres set aside for this national monument.

Inside the Lava Lands Visitor Center, you can learn more about the area’s geological and cultural histories before setting out on the “Trail of Molten Lands,” an interpretive walk through the a’a and giant “lava balls” to the base of Lava Butte. This trail is .75 miles long and is paved the entire way (as shown above), so it provides an easy opportunity for little ones to stretch their own legs as you explore the loop together–though you’ll want your child carrier or your shoulders ready in case their legs tire out along the way. Note to the stroller set: while you could technically push a buggy along this trail, it gets a little steep in places and you might prefer to have your baby in a carrier or sling.

Good to know:
If it’s too hot to spend much time out among the lava rocks, just do your viewing from the visitor center’s patio, then take a stroll down the shady .03 mile “Trail of the Whispering Pines” and watch for chipmunks instead. Back at the air-conditioned visitor center, you’ll find clean restrooms with flush toilets, drinking fountains, and a small gift shop with books, T-shirts, and hats. As there is no food or drink available for purchase here, be sure to bring your own lunch or snacks with you. There are a few picnic tables tucked between pine trees beside the parking area, and it may work out well to take advantage of them while you’re here.

When you go:
The Lava Lands Visitor Center is open from from late April (and sometimes not until early May) through early October. In spring and fall, the center is only open Wednesdays through Saturdays, so visit the website or call if you have any questions about dates of operation: 541-593-2421. You will need either a $5 Day Use pass (purchase at entrance), a $30 annual pass, or other valid recreation pass to visit Lava Lands.

Explore some more:
There is more easy hiking/walking nearby if you have the time and inclination. Here are some highlights that are easy to explore with children, and/or using a baby backpack or child carrier for babies and young toddlers. You’ll need your $5 Day Use pass at each of these sites.

Big Obsidian Flow is another fascinating stop where you can follow a 0.8-mile interpretive trail up and into the mounds of black glass-like obsidian rocks and sprinkling of pumice stones.

Lava River Cave hike takes you on a 1-mile subterranean tour of ancient lava tubes by the light of your own flashlight or rented lantern ($3). Be aware that you will begin with 126 stair steps down, so plan accordingly (child carriers strongly recommended for visitors with babies and toddlers). Bring your jackets, sturdy shoes, and get there before 3 p.m.

Lava Cast Forest hike is an easy 1-mile loop along lava casts of ancient trees created during an eruption 7,000 years ago. The wildflowers here can be lovely in early summer.

And if you’ve got an extra 3 or 4 hours to spare, take your kids to visit the bobcat and other wild animals (and of course other numerous cultural and historical exhibits) at the High Desert Museum just up the road toward Bend.

Stay and play:

There are seven campgrounds within the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. Each varies in terms of features and facilities, including availability of drinking water, RV hook-ups, horse stalls, and so on, so check here for details (select from list on right). There are also two “rustic” lakeside resorts with cabin rentals within the monument: East Lake Resort and Paulina Lake Resort. Each offers boat rentals, a general store, and a restaurant. East Lake Resort also has an RV park with water and electricity hook-ups.

Many other campgrounds and resorts can be found throughout this part of Oregon that are not part of the monument. Visit www.recreation.gov to search for additional campgrounds (and cabins, and resorts…) near Bend. The Central Oregon Visitors Association site will also help you locate hotels, vacation rentals, B&B’s, houseboat rentals, cabins, and resorts throughout the area.

Safe journey,

Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning guide Travels with Baby
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