When one thinks of volcanic landscapes and regions, they usually think of the “Ring of Fire”, Hawaii, Japan or even Italy – but what about Oregon?
Oregon has a pretty vast volcanic landscape in the central part of the state, and one key feature of living with volcanic landscapes are the natural curiosities that come with them. Like lava tubes. Currently, a lava tube is draining one of Oregon’s famed lakes – Lost Lake – down to a puddle.
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The volcanic landscape of Central Oregon and the Cascades contain a number of quirky features, among them a hole that is currently draining Lost Lake, just off U.S. Highway 20 near Hoodoo Ski Area.
Despite a low-snow winter — Hoodoo opened only for a handful of days this season — water carried by small streams is flowing into Lost Lake, only to disappear down a large hole on the lake’s north side.
The hole has been there as long as anyone can remember, according to Jude McHugh, spokeswoman with the Willamette National Forest, and is the result of an open lava tube, a geographic feature found scattered across the region. Lava tubes are formed when flowing lava hardens near the surface but continues to flow downhill closer to the still-hot interior. If the interior lava flows out before hardening, it leaves behind a tunnel-like structure — a lava tube — that can be open to the surface immediately following an eruption or be opened to the sky through erosion.
McHugh said it’s not known whether the water flowing into the hole travels to an outlet, but it most likely seeps into the porous subsurface below, recharging the massive aquifer that feeds springs on both sides of the Cascades.
Similar lava tube drain holes exist at Fish Lake, McHugh said, located a few miles west of Lost Lake near the junction of U.S. Highway 20 and state Highway 126. Both lakes go through a similar seasonal cycle, she said.
“It fills up in the winter, when input exceeds the rate of draining, and then it goes dry and it’s a meadow,” McHugh said.
McHugh said there have been a number of unauthorized efforts to plug up the hole at Lost Lake over the years. U.S. Forest Service personnel have found car parts, engines and other debris in the hole, she said, presumably dumped there in an attempt to stop water from draining away.
Throwing anything into the hole is strongly discouraged, McHugh said.
“If anyone was ever successful at plugging it — which we’re not sure they could do — it would just result in the lake flooding, and the road; it’s an important part of how the road was designed,” she said.
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