Monday, August 15, 2011

Smith Rock

I took the Monday after the Haulin' Aspen half off from work.  I really didn't want to run a race and then have to drive 3 1/2 hours home on the same day.  This bonus vacation gave me an entire day to leisurely travel from Bend back to Portland.  And provided the perfect opportunity to visit Smith Rock State Park.

Smith rock rises from the valley floor

Smith Rock State Park is a spectacular canyon of multicolored rock spires and crags that rises above the high desert of Central Oregon.  Millions of years ago this place was a major center of volcanic activity.  Many lava flows into the valley forced the Crooked River out of its banks, and it began to erode the interior of a volcanic vent.  The erosive power of the river created sheer rock cliffs and majestic pinnacles.  The colorful formations are known as "welded tuff" - volcanic ash erupted under extreme heat and pressure.  Because of the abundance of steep rock walls, Smith Rock is a world-renowned destination for rock climbing.

Amazingly beautiful rock formations

I think Smith Rock is one of the coolest places in Oregon. The nerdy geologist in me loves this kind of stuff.  The rock formations here rise out of the plains, visible for miles. Every time I've traveled back and forth from Bend, Smith Rock's colorful pillars beckoned from the highway. I'd always tell myself that someday I was going to stop and check it out. I was able to squeeze in a brief stop couple of years ago, but that visit just whetted my appetite for more.

Yellow flowers and red rock

So here I was, with an entire day to kill, ready to finally explore this wonderful place.  I tried to get an early start, because in the summer this area heats up quickly.  Temps in the upper 90's are not uncommon.  It's better to visit Smith Rock in the spring or fall, when weather conditions are more moderate.  But this was the time I had available, and I was going take advantage of it, heat or not.  I tanked up on water, made sure my camera's memory card was empty, and hit the trail.

Rock climbing is big here

I followed the trail that paralleled the Crooked River.  From the beginning the views were incredible.  The rock cliffs rose high above me, jutting out of the valley floor.  They made nice reflections into the river.  The vegetation along the waterway was a deep green, making a nice contrast with the reddish rock.

A climber ascending the rock wall

There were a couple of climbers inching up the stony walls.  I stood and watched one person for several minutes.  Pretty amazing stuff!  I don't know how they find their hand and foot holds.  The cliff surface looked very smooth - there didn't appear to be much one could grab onto.  I admire the people who do this sport, but it is definitely not for me!

The Crooked River runs through it all

The Crooked River trail wound its way around the Smith Rock formation.  A few flowers were blooming and the grasses lining the river looked very lush and green.  The sun beat down, and it began to get really hot.  Luckily, the looming rock towers provided some shade, which was most welcome.

Purple thistle

For a Monday morning, I ran into a surprising amount of people.  I thought I'd have the place to myself.  Guess everyone else was on vacation too!

The Monkey Face

I rounded a bend in the river, and up ahead I spied the Monkey Face rising out of the rock walls.  The Monkey Face is a well-known rock formation.  The top cap of the spire looks like the face of a monkey (thus it's name).  This famous pinnacle is scaled by lots of climbers. 

Beautiful yellow flowers

The nice shade provided by the rock walls ended just in time for the trail to ascend steeply up to the top of the ridge.  And it was a climb! 

This way to the Monkey Face

It didn't help that I hit the switchbacks at mid-day and the sun was high overhead.  I sucked down lots of water while trudging uphill.

Snow-capped mountain views

But the climb provided big rewards.  Slowly, snow-capped peaks of the Central Oregon Cascades popped above the horizon.  I could see Mt. Bachelor, Broken Top, the Three Sisters, Black Butte, Mt. Washington, Three-Finger Jack and Mt. Jefferson.  And a ghostly apparition of Mt. Hood appeared far to the north.  It was a wonderful parade of mountains adorning the skyline.

Mt. Jefferson sighting

Mt. Jefferson, the closest mountain, dominated the view directly west.

The Monkey Face watches over Central Oregon

The trail snaked up the steep slope around the base of the Monkey Face.  I climbed until I was almost even with the towering formation.  The panorama extended towards the Central Oregon farmlands, with the Monkey Face in the foreground, and Mt. Jefferson anchoring the horizon.  A grand view indeed!

The monkey and me

At the top of the ridge, a trail for very brave hikers led people out onto a precipitous rock spire directly opposite the Monkey Face.  I didn't opt to try this trail, but a young man who arrived the same time as I headed straight for it.  On his way down to the pillar, I heard a loud yelp.  The guy hollered that he'd just had a close encounter with a rattlesnake.  As if standing on the edge of a sheer dropoff wasn't enough, the thought of a nearby snake made me decide to stay put and admire Monkey Face from the safe haven of the main trail!

Path down the canyon

I followed the trail across the top of the ridge.  My map showed this place was nicknamed "Misery Ridge."  By now the sun was really beating down.  I was hot, sweaty, almost out of water, and not entirely feeling my best.  Yep, this place was aptly named!

River level view of the rock formations

At the east end of the ridge a series of wooden steps led hikers back down to the river bottom.  The scenery was just as awesome on this side. The path wound through beautiful red rock walls.   My descent provided a front row seat to the panorama of rocky spires stretching to the east.  A large row of colorful cliffs bordered the Crooked River as it snaked through the valley floor.  A great way to end such a wonderful hike!

Around the river bend

I arrived back at my car hot and thirsty, but very happy.  A very successful reconnaissance of Smith Rock!  I was able to explore a large portion of the park.  My camera was full of great photos.  And I worked the lactic acid from the previous day's race out of my muscles.

Now next time I see Smith Rock from the highway, I'll know exactly what's hidden within those soaring rock pillars.  Problem is, I'm so smitten with the place, I probably won't pass it by again. 

1 comment:

  1. beautiful shots. Only been there once and with my mom after the sisters quilt show and she isn't into hiking so we didn't get to go down or hike around must go back and do that I can see that now.


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