Did You Know? Hole in the Ground & Crack in the Ground

In this edition of "Did You Know," we visit Hole in the Ground and Crack in the Ground for our second installment of “Back-Road Adventures in Oregon”. Learn about these two geological wonders located in Fort Rock State Park.
Regina Robinson Regina Robinson
Olympia Branch Communications Volunteer
February 26, 2019

Two geological wonders are hiding in Fort Rock State Park. Learn more about these hidden gems in our second installment of a blog series we're calling "Back-Road Adventures in Oregon". If you haven't, read the first blog about the history of Fort Rock State Park. 

Hole in the Ground

Though the drive can be confusing and a high clearance vehicle is recommended, the adventure to see the huge ‘Hole in the Ground’ is worth every minute of exploration. Driving on sandy tracks through fire-burnt trees is hauntingly beautiful. There are many roads that intersect, so having a good map or directions is very important. We came across several volcanic ridges that begged to be explored – especially if you are a rock hound. We stopped the car at one such ridge and decided to explore the area on foot. Walking east, we quickly spied the open hillside with very few trees dotting the skyline; we knew that we had found the giant crater. As we walked up the hole, its vastness was overwhelming. It looked as though it could have been made by a giant meteor. Walking down into the crater there are few trees, the soil is soft and forgiving and the animal tracks were prolific. Walking across the vast belly of the hole, it was exciting to see coyote and deer prints in the soft sandy soil. I cannot wait to get back there again.

Looking at the 500 foot descent into Hole in the Ground from its center. Photo by Regina Robinson.

‘Hole in the Ground’ is located on the west edge of Fort Rock Basin in Lake County, Oregon. Fort Rock Basin was the site of a pluvial lake during the Pleistocene era; volcanic activity helped shape and form this arid desert region. The hole is an oval-shaped maar that sits 500 feet below ground level and is longer than it is wide; the crater itself was formed between 13,500 and 18,000 years ago when rising basaltic magma came in contact with ground water, causing a series of massive eruptions. The hike is approximately 2 miles in length at a 4,650ft elevation.

Mac McKay on the approach to Hole in the Ground. Photo by Regina Robinson.

Know Before You Go

  • Hours: Open year round.
  • Fee: No fee at Fork Rock State Park.
  • Amenities: No amenities. Closest facilities are located in Christmas Valley or La Pine. Be sure to practice Leave No Trace.
  • Pets: Please do not bring pets on hike.
  • No mountain bikes, dirt bikes, or horses.
  • Items: Ten Essentials and good footwear. Rattlesnakes are present in the area.

Directions

From the town of Christmas Valley, travel north about 7 miles on the rugged, unsurfaced road 6109D. Conditions vary depending on season; high clearance vehicles are recommended.  

Crack in the Ground

'Crack in the Ground' is a volcanic fissure that was formed about a thousand years ago, as lava flows fractured the Fort Rock Basin. The disjointed crack is over 2 miles long and approximately 70 feet deep. On the approach we walked along a dusty, rocky moonscape path with low, dense sagebrush and juniper scrub dotting the vast arid land. Before we knew it, we had arrived at the huge crack. There are two options for exploration - go left and enter a huge boulder field for a short jaunt to the bottom of the fissure, or turn right and climb down a slightly steep drop to walk a longer distance. We opted to turn left first, balancing on the giant boulders, making sure we didn’t slip into the deep dark holes that seemed to go on forever. Once you begin descending the crack the temperature drops a noticeable 10-15 degrees, a welcome relief on a hot day. Even in April there were many patches of ice and snow still to be found here; local legend claims that early pioneers used this volcanic crack to prevent food from perishing on hot days.

After we explored the left side of the fissure we decided to head down the right side of the trail. It offers dynamic exploration opportunities, from climbing up and over boulders to slithering through narrow slots in the fissure walls. There are several spots in the crack that are difficult to slip through, not unlike the slot canyons in Utah. Don’t let that deter you from exploring. We encountered lots of interesting rock formations within the fissure that were created from the magma either slowly or rapidly cooling. There are so many interesting places in this area to explore, we tried to squeeze into every little hole and or slot we came across. Once you finish the trek you may opt to turn around and go back the way you came, or exit uphill and follow the trail back along the fissure. Just remember to check your footing as the cracks are not always noticeable. Sticking to the much-worn footpath will help prevent unexpected falls.  

Oscar Churchill and Mac McKay exploring Crack in the Ground. Photo by Regina Robinson.

If you decide that entering into Crack in the Ground is too technical, you may opt to follow an above-ground trail that looks down into the fissure. Just be mindful of where you step, as the fissure cracks can be seen from below but may not be visible from above. The trail in Crack in the Ground is approximately 2 miles long, with a 70ft elevation gain. The trail is moderately difficulty with sand and uneven rocky surfaces. Keep in mind that temperatures in the crack are about 20 degrees cooler than the surrounding area. 4-wheel drive vehicles are recommended, high-clearance vehicles not needed in dry weather. We opted to camp after a full day of exploration, and we found a perfect little spot at the Green Mountain campsite.

Wide open corridors await exploration at Crack in the Ground. Photo by Regina Robinson.

Know Before You Go 

  • Hours: Open year round.
  • Fee: No fee at Fork Rock State Park.
  • Amenities: No amenities. Closest facilities are located in Christmas Valley. Be sure to practice Leave No Trace.
  • Pets: Please do not bring pets on hike.
  • No mountain bikes, dirt bikes, or horses.
  • Items: Ten Essentials and good footwear. Rattlesnakes are present in the area.

Directions  

South of La Pine, turn southeast onto Oregon 31. After 22 miles, turn left onto gravel road 3125 and follow signs for Hole in the Ground.


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