Preserving the Volcanic Beauty of Black Butte, Oregon

A southern Idaho highway punches through what was molten lava just 10,000 years ago, a blink of an eye in geologic time.

“I’d seen it from the road. I’d seen the lava flow across the road and I read about it in the literature at the wilderness study areas,” said David Freiberg of the U.S. Bureau of land management. “But when I finally got the chance to come up here and visit I came up over the hill and I thought wow this is…I described it as ‘Tolkienesque’ because it’s such an austere looking volcanic landscape.”

This shield volcano called Black Butte rises just 200 feet above its surroundings on the Snake River plain making it barely visible from the highway.

“Very few people actually visit this area and its one of the things that I’ve been working on here at the BLM is to try to raise people’s knowledge and their understanding of the different natural resources we have.”

Hiking through that hostile landscape offers a tour into the recent volcanic past. Sheets of basaltic lava remain extremely well preserved. Black Butte is identical to the Volcanoes still active in Hawaii today. Just 10,000 years ago a lava lake filled this crater complex.

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