By Chuck Woodbury
The Earth threw up lava in the Cascades near present-day Sisters, Ore., and today, scenic Highway 242 passes through a swath of the 65-square mile, surreal landscape. At the summit, a paved walking trail meanders through a half-mile of the flow. If you have never seen a lava flow, be prepared to be impressed!
This flow burst forth violently from Earth a mere 1,800 years ago — “yesterday” in geologic time. Lichen now grows on the lava, slowly forming the building block for more significant vegetation. Return in 50,000 years and the scene will look pretty much like everywhere else in Oregon.
THE FIRST ROUTE through here was an 1860 wagon route. Today’s paved, two-lane highway travels along much the same path. Signs at both ends of Highway 242 warn that vehicles and vehicle combinations longer than 35 feet are prohibited. Personally, I think anything longer than 28 feet is too long. The road is typically closed November to July due to snow.
The Dee Wright observatory at the summit is made of lava. It was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps; workers named it after their foreman who had died a year earlier. An easy walk leads to the observatory, where the magnificent view reveals a panorama of lava, in some directions as far as the eye can see, as well as stunning views of nearby mountains and volcanoes, including Mount Jefferson and two of the Three Sisters.
There is no admission fee. Don’t miss this if your travels take you to Bend or Eugene, where a drive to the pass makes for an easy day trip. Stop in Sisters for lunch and to visit the many tourist shops.