Australia’s rugged southern coastline and Idaho’s volcanic desert: you couldn’t find two more different places. Or could you?

When I visited Cape Bridgewater’s Petrified Forest along Australia’s Great Ocean Road last week, I couldn’t help but think back to Craters of the Moon in Idaho. Even though they’re thousands of miles apart, both share a strangely similar volcanic landscape. What’s most striking are the lava trees.

Cape Bridgewater - A brightly dressed leg gives scale to the volcanic "trees"
Cape Bridgewater – A brightly dressed leg gives scale to the volcanic “trees”
Idaho – Lava columns remain where molten rock once surrounded ancient trees
Idaho – Lava columns remain where molten rock once surrounded ancient trees
Cape Bridgewater - One by one, jagged volcanic rocks tumble into the sea
Cape Bridgewater – One by one, jagged volcanic rocks tumble into the sea
Idaho - Blocks of shattered lava stretch for miles across the barren landscape
Idaho – Blocks of shattered lava stretch for miles across the barren landscape
Cape Bridgewater - "The Petrified Forest"
Cape Bridgewater – “The Petrified Forest”

The trunk-like columns found in the Petrified Forest look like petrified tree stumps but they’re actually made from sand cemented by a mineral solution and eroded away to form “trees”. The lava trees of Craters of the Moon are the real thing. An ancient volcanic eruption spewed thick lava that flowed through a forest of trees then cooled to form a hard crust. Eventually, the trees died and rotted, leaving behind perfectly preserved lava trees. Completely different geological processes, yet they seem so similar.

Cape Bridgewater - Tubes of limestone masquerade as petrified trees
Cape Bridgewater – Tubes of limestone masquerade as petrified trees (while wind turbines whirl in the distance)

The cliffs of Cape Bridgewater is constantly battered by the volatile Southern Ocean. Turbulent storms send waves crashing into the coast and cold winds continually shape the land. It’s the sun that you feel most in Craters of the Moon. The black lava literally bakes, with summer temperatures above 60C! (140F). Such different places, yet they share a harshness that makes them both beautiful. And to cross either by foot (or any other means) seems like a near impossibility. Everywhere you look are sharp blocks of broken volcanic rock. Modern development has pushed in a few walking tracks but they only scratch the surface of these wild places.

Basalt cliffs overlook dangerous waters
Basalt cliffs overlook dangerous waters
The cold Southern Ocean relentlessly batters the coastline
The cold Southern Ocean relentlessly batters the coastline
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4 thoughts on “Lava Trees

    1. It sure is. I could have spent days walking that coastline. There’s so much to discover and sights I never expected to see. Some places you visit and you say to yourself “great – I’ve really enjoyed this and I can check it off my list now”. The Great Ocean Road is different (for me, anyway). I have a feeling I’ll be back.

  1. What an interesting comparison. Miles apart. You are very observant. Do you think about being a tour guide some day?

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