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Two men running down a sand dune at Christmas Valley Sand Dunes

Four Hidden Central Oregon Gems To Visit This Year

Photo of Amelia Hatcher holding a can of Blazing Bright

Hello friends! My name is Amelia Hatcher, and I am a Commercial Lifestyle Photographer based in Portland, Oregon. I run the Instagram account @TheCalifornianRefugee which is focused on landscapes, camping trips, and all things PNW! The Pacific Northwest has so many fantastic places to visit, and all are within driving distance from Portland and Seattle. Sometimes we don’t really realize how big Oregon is. There’s a lot to explore, with quite a few beautiful spots that are under the radar. So I want to share with you the details on how to visit and enjoy them! For my excursion with Pyramid Brewing, we headed to Central Oregon to find some of the best places to enjoy a beer!

Preparation: Most of the camping we did on this trip is dispersed camping. We had to bring all of our water and toilet paper (P.S. there are no bathrooms either.) Print out a map with directions just in case your cell phone service doesn’t reach these areas. Check ahead of your trip with the local Bureau of Land Management (BLM) office to see if you are allowed to have fires. Depending on the time of the year, fires may not be allowed. Make sure to have a spare tire, roads are rough and worst case scenario, you may need it! Fill up your tank in Bend or Prineville as there are no gas stations near Glass Butte.

First stop: Glass Butte

Glass Butte is located on BLM land which means the camping is free, dispersed, and you may run into some cows. Bring lots of water and biodegradable toilet paper!! Since Glass Butte isn’t super well known, you will only come across just a few others enjoying the area. Sit back and enjoy the sounds of nature as you won’t hear any other humans!

Some on holding a bottle of Apricot Ale with two men on top an SUV. They're holding up cans of Blazing Bright.

A small cow and a big cow in a field looking at the camera

Closeup of flowers

The secluded, beautiful desert lands is one reason to visit this place, another is to see massive amounts of obsidian! Obsidian is formed when lava cools so rapidly and at such a high viscosity that the material doesn’t form minerals and solidifies as glass. At Glass Butte, I have personally seen the black obsidian, and the mahogany obsidian, but there are deposits of fire and rainbow obsidian which are hard to come across. If you want to pick up the obsidian, keep in mind it is in fact glass and will be sharp! We came out of this with lots of little cuts and we even used gloves a good amount of the time!

The Black Obsidian is located here: 43.554585, -120.008332 and the mahogany deposit (shown in the photos) is located here: 43.531100, -119.978028.

A can of Blazing Bright surrounded by sharp pieces of Black Obsidian

Second Stop: Christmas Valley Sand Dunes

Getting here from Glass Butte involved driving on gravel roads. Google maps also confused private roads with ones that can be accessed. Keep an eye out on those!

The sand that makes up these dunes is ash and pumice from the Mount Mazama eruption that formed Crater Lake. This area is BLM land and fun to stop by and run around for a second, but it would be a lot more fun if we had an ATV. It’s on our “to buy list” for when we win the lottery! We had a great time running around on the dunes and enjoying the warm sand!

Two men running down a sand dune at Christmas Valley Sand Dunes

A large sand dune with two men on top of it in the distance

Closeup of a bottle of Apricot Ale in the sand with two men far in the background out of focus

Third Stop: Crack In The Ground

Crack in the Ground is appropriately named because it is essentially just a crack in the ground. However, it is a HUGE crack in the ground. I am honestly shocked that I haven’t heard about this spot more. IT IS AMAZING! It’s like Oregon’s version of Antelope Canyon! The only reason I had heard about this was during a class for my Geology Degree in a passing conversation. I personally think it needs to be shared more and appreciated. It was formed as a fissure that was caused by an ancient volcano. It has avoided being filled with sediment because of the arid region that it is located in.

Two men walking in the Crack in the Ground looking up the walls

The trailhead has a parking lot and a pit toilet. Once you walk down the trail you will reach “The Crack”. The right side (south) is the direction we went and where we took the photos in this post. There will be a couple spots that you will need to crawl over some rocks which kids could handle. There is a spot that involves a 20ft scale straight up some rocks, and it is manageable, but this would also be a good spot to turn around if you’re not feeling the climb!

If you are looking for a place to camp, there is a campsite a few miles past this trailhead called Green Mountain.

A man on a ledge taking a sip from a bottle of Apricot Ale

Last Stop: Deschutes River

We decided we wanted to jump in the river so we headed to a camp spot that is just west of Smith Rock. There are a ton of dispersed camping spots here that are a walking distance from the Deschutes River. We camped here for the night, made dinner, and enjoyed a couple Apricot Ales while admiring the star filled sky.

The next day we had a slow morning and slept in. Once we finally packed up camp, we headed down to the river. We found a spot with slow moving water and a sweet rock to jump off of. Even though the water was cold, it felt great to rinse off all the dust and sand from the past couple of days. In this particular spot there wasn’t a sandy beach that kids would enjoy but I bet you could find one nearby.

After drying off, we took a quick stop at Smith Rock on our way out just to show our friend our next adventure spot, and then we started the drive home. This trip involved a lot of driving and I would recommend that you visit Glass Butte separately. The Christmas Valley Sand Dunes and the Crack In The Ground are close enough to each other to visit on the same trip.

A man sitting on a large rock on the edge of the Deschutes River looking at the river

For more camping tips, tricks, and inspiration, follow along on future adventures of mine on my Instagram @thecalifornianrefugee. If you have any questions about this specific trip, send me a DM on Instagram, or feel free to send me an email at thecalifornianrefugee@gmail.com!

Cheers and Happy Adventuring!

—Amelia Hatcher