If you’re traveling in the vicinity of Sisters, Oregon this summer, head west out of town for about 15 miles along the McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway (Hwy 242). At the summit of 5,325-foot McKenzie Pass, you’ll find a very unusual site—the Dee Wright Observatory. Not only does this stone memorial have a unique shape, but it’s also located in the middle of a massive lava flow in the Willamette National Forest.
Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, Camp F-23 of Company 927, during the Great Depression, the site’s namesake is Dee Wright, an architect and foreman in charge of the Camp. Since its completion in 1935, the observatory has been a favorite attraction for thousands of visitors. The viewing windows inside the memorial are referred to as “lava tube” viewing holes. Through these windows you’ll get sweeping views of the surrounding lava flow and of several Cascade Mountain peaks. A bronze “peak finder” is located at the top of the structure to help you identify mountains such as North and Middle Sister and Mount Washington.
While at the observatory, also take the easy Lava River Interpretive Trail through a sea of lava that ran molten red here about 1,500 years ago. Interpretive signs along the half-mile trail tell the story of early travelers and area geology. Although the route is paved, you’re so surrounded by jagged black lava that it’s easy to imagine you’re walking on the moon!
The entire 82-mile McKenzie Pass—Santiam Pass Scenic Byway is usually open June-October (closed other months due to snow). Click here for a map, directions, and more information on this scenic drive.
In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com