Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

Jordan Craters National Monument (Proposed)

Suggested Citation: Kerr, Andy. 2000. Oregon Desert Guide: 70 Hikes. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books. pp. 202-204.

<<<-Previous             Table of Contents            Next->>>

A stark expanse of bare lava, some less than a century old.

Location: Malheur County, 15 miles northwest of Jordan Valley

Size: 132 square miles (84,430 acres)

Terrain: Mostly lava flows, vegetated and not, and some open water

Elevation Range: 4,180-4,806 feet

Managing Agencies: Vale District BLM (present); National Park Service (proposed)

Recreation Map: North Half Jordan Resource Area, Vale District BLM

Craters, spatter cones, lava tubes, caves, cracks, sinks, domes, pits, blisters, and gutters. To the geologic connoisseur, each tells a separate story. Encompassing several lava flows of varying ages, the area shows how nature reclaims the flows using wind and water erosion as well as vegetation.

Over time, and assuming no more volcanic events, some day in the far distant future the flows won't be recognizable to the untrained eye. But now they are unmistakable and unimaginable.

Coffeepot Crater is the most prominent feature in Jordan Craters. It is the main source of a 27-square-mile olivine basalt flow estimated to be four thou- sand to nine thousand years old.

Volcanically speaking, Jordan Craters may well not be extinct. Scientists have discovered 18 acres of the bare lava that's really bare—no lichens and mosses. That means this part of the flow is less than a hundred years old.

Flows to the south in the Clarks Butte area are much older and more covered with vegetation. They provide excellent and diverse wildlife habitats. The terrain is essentially too rugged for domestic livestock. Hence the vegetation is pristine.

Sometimes the lava flowed around points of higher land, leaving the vegetated kipukas.

Where there is vegetation it is usually the big sagebrush/bluebunch wheat- grass community common to the Oregon Desert. Because of the diversity of habitats, the presence of water, and the lack of livestock, wildlife thrive.

From eight bat species (including the very rare Townsend's big-eared) to the cougar and bobcat, which have restricted range in the desert, Jordan Craters is a haven for wildlife. Sage grouse, mule deer, and pronghorn can often be seen (herds of the latter sometimes swim at night to the island in Lower Cow Lake and can be seen in the moonlight). Because of the open water of the lakes and marshes, one also finds beaver, otter, and muskrat.

The water is concentrated in a few spots like Upper Cow, Lower Cow, Batch, and Crater Lakes, which are the most diverse and are stops for migratory waterfowl. Over three hundred species of wildlife, including white pelican, long-billed curlew, and bald eagle, have been counted in the area.

The proposed national monument is within the Oregon Biodiversity Project's Middle Owyhee River Conservation Opportunity Area.

The BLM's Cow Lakes Campground (take a hint on the name) is a pathetic excuse for a recreational facility and typifies why, as an agency, BLM does a poor job of managing special natural areas and/or people in the absence of specific congressional direction to do so. The campground is set in a crested wheatgrass seeding, and cattle have free range among the picnic tables. If they aren't rubbing up against your tent and/or bellowing all night, evidence enough is still present (watch your step). If only they could be trained to use those fancy outhouses.

What To Do

There are two major visitor entrances: Cow Lakes and Coffeepot Crater. One can't easily get from one to the other without returning to Jordan Valley.

To reach the do-not-miss Coffeepot Crater, drive approximately 8 miles north of Jordan Valley on US 95. Turn west (left) on a good BLM road (signs say "Jor- dan Craters"). In about 24 miles (you see Coffeepot Crater well before it), take an unmarked road south 1.4 miles to a parking lot.

A short interpretative walk available is at Coffeepot Crater. Don't try it at high noon in August when surface temperatures can reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

To visit Cow Lakes from Jordan Valley, go west approximately 5 miles (south- bound in the grander scheme) on US 95, which then turns to the southwest. Continue west on a county road, following signs to Cow Lakes.

After checking out the BLM Cow Lakes cowground for yourself, take the West Peninsula exploration (below).