Fort Rock is one Oregon’s geologic treasures. Created between 50,000 to 100,000 years ago from lava venting into the muddy bottom of what is now called Fort Rock Lake. The resulting steam explosion threw ash and basalt particles up into the air which rained down in a circular formation around the vent. The explosion also caused huge basalt blocks to thrust upwards. This is actually fairly common in central Oregon as about 40 of these formations exist as far north as John Day, Oregon.
The actual Fort Rock
The days of explosive lava are long over, but the area has significant historical importance. In 1936 Dr. Luther Cressman from the University of Oregon found sage brush sandals that dated back 9300 years. At the time this turned the Archeology world on it’s head as up until then humans were only thought to have been on the North American continent 5000 years ago.
Across the street is the Fort Rock Valley Historical Homestead Museum. The museum was created to save several old homestead buildings from being destroyed to make way for cattle farms. Each building was taken apart, moved to the museum and restored. Most of the buildings now have mini-museums in them showing artifacts from daily life in the era. In addition to several log cabins, there is a church, a Doctor’s Office and a one room school house.
One Room School House in Fort Rock, Oregon
Unfortunately the museum itself has been closed every time I’ve been by it. This area is within a day’s drive of Portland and several nearby camp grounds provide over night opportunities. The museum and Fort Rock itself along with the famous Sandal Cave would easy take a day to explore. Nearby geological formations like South Ice Cave and Crack in the Ground would be great for a home school history/geology trip.
Oregon High Desert
Oregon has seven distinct climate zones, three more then any other state. One of the most fascinating to me is the High Desert. Amazingly the High Desert is not what we think of as a desert in the normal sense. This is the Old West popularized in 60′s TV shows. Summers are hot, 100+ temperatures are typical for weeks at a time, and the winter is characterized by biting cold and large snow drifts.
There is abundant life here if you know where to look. Jack Rabbits as big as dogs, coyotes, herons and egrets near the few lakes. Prong Horned Antelope, wild horses and wild burros are all over. Both the horses and burros can be adopted. Rattle Snakes exist, but aren’t as common as you’d think. One hundred years ago cattle would have roamed free range though here and been driven north to Burns or La Grande by cowboys.
French Glen is just to the north and over the lava ridge which is barely viewable in this picture. A lot of irrigation was done to make this are farmable, but even then it’s still pretty hard to make a living. Most who live in this area are forth and fifth generation. Their ancestors were lured along on the Oregon Trail by promises of ample pasture and farm lands, rich gold strikes, and a free 160 acres of land per a person.
This was also the point of despair for many. With food getting tight after the long journey from St. Louis, wagons were lightened once again just a few miles south of here. Priceless heirlooms and antiques were abandoned to the dust and sage brush. And no doubt many people died and are buried in shallow graves. Imagine coming to the top of Abert Rim here and looking west to see… nothing.
This valley was formed by glaciers, forming Abert Rim. All the ridges and mountains in this picture are basalt in origin, formed by massive lava flows and weathered down over millions of years. Archaeological evidence points to this being a fairly fertile valley and well populated by Native Americans as little as 10,000 years ago. There is even evidence nearby that Native Americans were here even longer then that, pushing the whole theory of migration over the Bering Straights even further back in time.
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