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Footloose in Devils Garden Lava Field

Located on the northern edge of the Fort Rock Basin 60 miles south of Bend, the Devils Garden Lava Field is a 45 square mile maze of lava tubes, spatter cones, tumuli and kipukas. These broad flows of pahoehoe lava are not barren like many in Central Oregon, but feature ponderosa, juniper and mountain mahogany. This flora supports a rich variety of wildlife, including mule deer, bighorn sheep and fabled “lava bears.” Best of all, it's easily explored on a 2.1-mile jeep road hike through the lava field to pine-covered Little Garden kipuka.

Hiking to Little Garden Kipuka
Reaching the starting point of the hike to Little Garden kipuka is about an hour-and-a-half drive south from Bend (on Forest Road 23), or about the same driving time east from La Pine (on Forest Road 22). Both routes follow paved
View of the jeep road through the lava field
roads at first, then good cinder tracks, and finally one mile of dirt road to the hike start — all of which should be easily traveled by any passenger car during the dry season (see Road Map download below).

Note: The driving route north from Fort Rock, on the Derrick Cave Road (BLM Road 6159), is no longer open through the private ranch lands to the east of the Devils Garden lava field.

From its start at dirt Road 900, the hike follows a jeep road south about 200 yards up onto the lava flow and to a wire gate, marking the entrance to the Wilderness Study Area (see Trail Map download below). Past the gate — be sure to leave it as you found it — the double-track trail descends briefly through mature ponderosas, and then onto the level plain of the lava field, dominated by juniper and mountain mahogany. Unusual for Central Oregon, this field
Track of lava bear in road
features wide flat sheets of pahoehoe lava, seen both underfoot and along to the road. Also keep an eye out for mule deer, bighorn sheep, and even tracks of “lava bears” (which were spotted in the dusty roadbed, at left), believed to be a stunted version of the common American black bear.

At 1.5 miles, the jeep road leaves the lava field and climbs up onto the twin buttes of Little Garden kipuka, a pine-covered island within the sea of lava. Follow the dirt road as it traverses 100’ up the side of the butte through ponderosas and thick native bunchgrass, with good views north back over the lava field. For the very best viewpoints, hike cross-country about 300 yards east from the high point of the road as it crosses over the butte. Here one has long views east to the vents and spatter cones at the lava field’s source. Return the way you came.

Exploring Derrick Cave
After the hike, it’s worth the short drive over to explore Derrick Cave, one of the source tubes for the pahoehoe lava of the Devils Garden field. Drive 0.9 miles back east on Road 900 to the “T,” then go south on Road 2325, past the cattle guard at the Forest boundary, to the signed parking area for Derrick Cave (see Trail Map). Follow the well-trodden walking trail about 400
View of entrance to Derrick Cave
yards northeast to the tube’s entrance, which is a short climb down over the rocks of its collapsed roof to the bottom.

Once on the wide sandy floor of the cave, the first 100 yards of the lava tube can be explored without flashlights, due to the “skylights” created by the collapsed holes in its roof. But to go further, one needs a reliable light source (with at least one backup, to be safe!). Past the skylights, the lava tube becomes relatively narrow and deep, as its roof gradually thickens overhead. Within another 100 yards, one comes to the Big Room, about 50’ wide and 80’ long. We didn’t explore much beyond this point, but guide books indicate the lava tube can be followed for a few hundred yards further.

Visiting the Source Vents
If feeling adventurous, one can hike cross-country about 500 yards north from the Derrick Cave entrance to the main source vent of the pahoehoe lava, following collapsed roof holes of the lava tube (see Trail Map). But be forewarned, this is an extremely rugged trek across rough lava toward the vent’s dark pumice ramparts on the horizon, and it will be sweltering hot on a midsummer day. In any season, wear sturdy shoes, a shade hat and take plenty of water!

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A much easier option is to drive south from Derrick Cave for 0.7 miles to a wide, unmarked parking area on the right with a few big junipers, just past a yellow cattle guard (see Trail Map). From this parking area, a steep rocky trail ascends west a few hundred feet to a saddle between two dramatic, picturesque spatter cones, known as The Blowouts. These twin vents, with their colorful red, green and tan rocks, are one of the sources of the rugged aa lava that was explosively scattered across the lava field thousands of years ago.

Download (PDF, 746 KB): Photos of Little Garden Kipuka Hike
Download (PDF, 648 KB): Road Map for Little Garden Kipuka Hike
Download (PDF, 667 KB): Trail Map for Little Garden Kipuka Hike

DISCLAIMER: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this information, but the authors do not guarantee that it is either current or correct. The reader assumes full responsibility for any use of this information, and is encouraged to exercise all due caution while recreating.

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