As a child who grew up in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, one of the annual types of trips we did was to always head east to explore and camp around the regions south of Bend, Oregon. The lava lands. Having a full day left in this area once I completed my multi-day tour of the John Day Fossil Beds I was excited to bring back memories and finally see some of those places again some 20-25 years later! Lava Butte, Newberry Crater, High Desert Museum, the list went on!
I headed south of Bend early from the Prineville area and got to the first intended stop - Lava Butte just 10 miles south of town. Ah, the memories I have of driving up to the cinder cone top of the butte! Wait - sign upon entry "Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.". ARG! But this played to my advantage in a way...while everyone else I saw turned around, I knew it was OK to park by the gate as long as you didn't block the gate or road. I hiked in and had the entire 2+ hours I spent hiking the Trail of Molten Lava through the lava flow below Lava Butte all to myself on a sunny warm muggy morning. It was wonderful!
The trail is a weaving paved path taking you through many wonderful formations in the lava geologic history of this area, all well marked with very timely nice interpretive signs. A side trail takes you up to a high point below Lava Butte to view the massive size of the lava flow heading westward towards the forests of the Cascades, all serving as views at Mount Bachelor, Broken Top, and the Three Sisters.
While it was unfortunate that I wasn't able to visit the visitors center here, having this entire area to myself was strange - and rather wonderful!