Take a trip along the southern section of the McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass National Scenic Byway to the summit of the McKenzie Highway (242) and you will find the unusual and historic Dee Wright Observatory settled atop vast, black lava flows.
Located in the Cascade Range at 5,187 feet, this mountain observatory offers panoramic views across 65 square miles of black lava rock that looks so much like a moonscape that in 1964, NASA conducted drills with astronauts as they prepared to travel to the moon. Completed in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the observatory was named in memory of Dee Wright, the crew’s foreman who passed away the year before.
On a clear day, you can view Mt. Washington, Mt. Jefferson, the South, North, and Middle Sister, and even see Mt. Hood, 78.5 miles to the north. If the snow has melted, don’t forget to look for the glaciers! Collier glacier on the North Sister is the largest glacier in Oregon.
As you make your way up to the observatory, you will find interpretive panels with accounts of early travelers and area geology. Continue up the stairs to the roof and you will discover a bronze peak finder with the names and elevations of the surrounding buttes and mountain peaks. Inside the observatory, openings frame the surrounding mountain peaks.
The accessible Lava River National Recreation Trail located next to the observatory provides remarkable views of lava that flowed from the surrounding craters.
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