THE FALL CLASSIC
Traversing Oregon’s Outback In The Fall Chill
Editor: Eric Bewley Photo: S. Bewley, D. Arnold, K. Eshelby
FT. ROCK, OR – The “Fall Classic” more than just delivered on expectations with cold weather, open trails, and spectacular views it overwhelmed us with great views, extremely open trails and very cold weather. We were fortunate enough to have our good friend Zig along for the trail ride as well. The Christmas Valley dunes were quite welcoming as always and for the first time we were able to take the trail down to the center of the “hole in the ground” geological feature.
For those not familiar with “the Fall Classic”, let me explain. A few years back a group of us decided to get out of Dodge, we needed to escape the daily grind really bad, unfortunately it was late fall and the weather ‘out there’ wasn’t that good. So what!, we said and headed out anyway. What we experienced in Oregon’s outback on that first trip was genuinely magical. It was a truly religious experience that we celebrate every fall by inviting a few friends and heading out in that general area for a new adventure every year. The group met in LaPine mid-day Friday and headed out toward the great openness that defines central Oregon. Out first night’s camp was Cabin Lake campground. A camp that is on the edge of a bird sanctuary which boasts excellent viewing of feathered wildlife most of the year. Arriving at camp at dusk we setup camp and built a large fire to help stave off the upcoming cold evening.
Sure it’s cold sometimes. Yes it is dusty once in awhile. The only true problem with going out this time of year is the lack of sunlight. The Sun seems to rise and set in the blink of the eye so if you want to get anything done, you have got to get up and get going. This year we even added a couple of geo-caching exercises that turned out to be pretty fun.
Upon the frozen daybreak we headed out toward a nearby watering hole with most of it’s pump mechanism still there. Close to this landmark was the first geo-cache we found. These things are pretty fun to find. I can see why people would center a whole trip just around finding these caches.
After that we hit the trail towards “Hole in the Ground”.
Hole-in-the-Ground is a volcanic explosion crater or maar located in Central Oregon on the edge of Fort Rock basin. At the time the crater was formed between 13,500 and 18,000 years ago a lake occupied most of the basin and the site of the eruption was close to the water level near the shore. The create is now 112 to 156 meters below the original ground level and is surrounded by a rim that rises another 35 to 65 meters higher. …
The crater was formed in a few days or weeks by a series of explosions that were triggered when basaltic magma rose along a north-west-trending fissure and came into contact with abundant ground water at a depth of 300 to 500 meters below the surface. After the initial explosion, repeated slumping and subsidence along a ring-fault let to intermittent closures of the vent, changes in the supply of ground water, and repeated accumulations of pressure in the pipe
Several years in a row we have been unable to get down the trail towards the bottom of this feature and we were determined to make it this year. What a blast! The off-camber trail spiraled down the edge of the canyon wall towards the center of this massive crater where we stopped to have lunch and admire the oddity of this “Hole”.
Our next stop was Ft. Rock. This is a very unusual rock formation that in recent years has suffered from State Lands development and now has a nice paved parking lot and outhouse to take the place of deliberate access to this geologic wonder.
Fort Rock is an isolated tuff ring with spectacular, wave-cut cluffs and terraces. The wave-cut remnant is approximately 1,400 meters in diameter and 60 meters high, and the present crater floor is 6 to 12 meters above the floor of the lake basin. The south rim has been breached by waves of the former Fort Rock Lake providing easy access to the crater. The best developed wave-cut terrace is 20 meters above the floor of the basin.
Time is tick-ticking away and we must hurry along to our next night’s camp spot. Christmas Valley Dunes is a real gem of an OHV area that is still primitive enough to allow for some personal freedom in one’s vehicle. After camp was made, we did some night-running on the dunes. This is always exhilarating. Some of those dunes look huge and there is never enough light coming out of the headlights.
Sunday morning arrived and there was some debate whether Friday or Saturday was the coldest. We had breakfast, loaded up camp, and headed on our way through the dunes on our way back West now. On this day we will hit a few attractions on our way home. Little did we know what was in store for us.
Heading North by Northwest out of Christmas Valley we stopped at Crack in the Ground and Derek cave to do some exploring on foot.
Crack-in-the-Ground is a large, deep fissure approximately 2 miles long and 70 feet deep. It is uncommon for such rifts to remain open, which makes Crack-in-the-Ground and unusual landmark. It is estimated that it has remained open for a thousand years.
As we drove up to the Derrick cave site, my heart sunk. Some overzealous government agency has made a rock wall blocking deliberate access to the opening of Derrick Cave. This always seems to be “Step one”. There is sure to be more development in this area which is very unfortunate. If you get the chance to visit this cave before there is a paved road and a bathroom right next to it, please do so.
The basalt volcanic landforms that are found associated with this lava flow are unusually diverse. Surface landforms include different varieties of pahoehoe lava, cinder cones, spatter cones, spatter ramparts, lava blisters, pressure ridges, pit craters and lava channels. Subsurface landforms and surface expressions linked with the Derrick Lava Tube system consist of many different lava tube caves, collapse depressions, pressure plateaus, hornitos, tumuli, and inflated and collapsed lava ponds.
While we were exploring Derrick cave, the weather came in. Blowing and sometimes heavy snowfall slowed our progress significantly as the Sun set and the light began to fade. “Hermey” our ’87 Samurai project that Zig was driving started to have some problems. It wouldn’t hardly run. Troubleshooting on the side of the trail in the driving snow revealed a couple of problems. A loose choke linkage and a snow clogged air filter due to “Mr. Smarty pants, ” or me if you will, taking the air box extended tube off that draws air from up by the glove box. We were drawing air and snow from the grill area which clogged the filter.
Having fixed that, we drove on. Several in the group enjoyed ‘drifting’ their vehicles around the corners as we made the miles pass by with much tire-spinning glee. We stopped in Bend to grab a bite to eat and to fuel up before heading over the pass towards home. Being the first big snow of the season, it took quite awhile to get home. The pass was nasty and was slower going then the trails out in the wilderness. We finally made it home at about two in the morning, exhausted and happy.