Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Christmas Valley-Crack in the Ground

Within a short drive of the city of Bend is a gorgeous, little visited volcanic area in the Fort Rock/Christmas Valley area. Fort Rock is better known than these sights to its east and north of Christmas Valley.

This remote location is where unusual splatter cones, deep fissures, caves, ancient juniper trees and a bevy of wildlife exist among hundreds of square miles of varied desert landscape from mountains to plains to sanddunes.

Travis and I started on a relatively warm winter day in late February so as to avoid the unbearable summer heat of the area and the increase in people that come here. We saw one person in three days.

Our first stop was the Crack in the Ground. This is a two mile long, up to 70 feet deep and from about 2-15 feet wide fissure that runs north/south and is effectively a fault line. A trail to it drops into the crack and submerges you into a cold, barren world.

The formations were amazing. Water and lava have obviously played a big part here in the wearing of the stone. However, the movement of the fault is also noticeable. Below you see Travis navigating under a giant stone bridge that collapsed over the fault.

The sun washed over Juniper and grasslands & shone a brillant color.

The morning sun dried up the rain we had overnight and a shortlived mist rose up.

Travis crawls out of his shelter and begins to break camp. I love this picture!
We left the flatlands of the Crack in the Ground area and hiked cross country.
The Juniper forest was incredible. We saw some that were the size of 75 year old Ponderosas (read-a LOT bigger than your average Juniper). The startling thing is that you lose your bearing very easily in this forest even though it's not that thick. The lack of perspective or landmarks makes it very difficult to know where you are. Click this short film which is a 360 degree shot of the endless Juniper we saw for miles and miles.

We had maps, a compass and even a GPS, but we were just wandering around and discovering the area not following any trail. We did have a few spots we thought we might try for, but we never found them.
After a few hours, I was a bit frustrated that my normal good sense of direction was not serving me. We had come upon some tracks-not more of the hundreds of cougar, elk, deer or coyote tracks we'd seen, but our own. Yeah, I know, turn on the GPS. We just didn't bother. We weren't lost and I was determined to get reoriented without 'cheating' with technology.
Travis had the wisdom to get us up on a butte to regain our bearing. That did the trick. At this point, I also gave up my ridiculous manly thang of not turning on the GPS which I had subconsciously been keeping it in my bag.
The rise we climbed was Green Mountain. A short jaunt up, but a good view over the miles of Juniper that had blinded our vistas. Fort Rock is the dark horizontal line in the dead middle of the photo (I know only I can see it-sorry) that's 17 miles to the east.

A highly recommended excursion to an unusual little trampled upon wild place...

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