|The classic view|
Not only does one of my brothers live in Bend, but my daughter recently relocated to a nearby town. Of course it's not like I needed any more reasons to visit this part of Oregon (but it certainly didn't hurt!)
After a leisurely morning drive over the mountains, I arrived at Smith Rock State Park just shy of noon. A unique, outstandingly beautiful park, my plan was to spent the afternoon hiking and photographing this special place.
|Path by the river|
The tall, red spires of Smith Rock State Park stand out like beacons against Central Oregon's barren high desert. Eroded by the Crooked River from old volcanic deposits, these cliffs attract rock climbers worldwide. But non-climbers like myself can also enjoy these scenic delights via numerous hiking trails.
|This sign marks a climbing route|
My plan for the afternoon was to climb the steep trail up Misery Ridge, pass by the Monkey Face (an iconic rock tower) and then complete my 4-mile loop via the River Trail.
|Climbing Misery Ridge|
Today's holiday meant the park was swarming with visitors. Hikers filled trails and climbers dotted adjcent rock faces. Despite the crowds, I was happy to be here. One of my favorite state parks, I gleefully followed a path from the parking lot that took me to the first classic viewpoint. And it was breathtaking.
|View from on top|
Orange rock walls rose vertically from the desert floor. Framed on three sides, the Crooked River made a lazy bend through the very middle. Although cloudy skies muted colors, it was still a sight to behold.
|Approaching the Monkey Face|
I followed an extremely steep trail down to the canyon's bottom. A fancy footbridge crossing the Crooked River put me at the foot of the Misery Ridge Trail. Here I could either follow the river, or go straight up the ridge. Wishing to get the climb over with, I chose the latter.
|Climbers on the Monkey Face|
They call it Misery Ridge for a reason - and it didn't take me long to realize why. The path switchbacked relentlessly up the steep canyon wall. Huffing and puffing, I took liberal amounts of photo (aka "rest") breaks.
|Climbers on an adjacent wall|
Luckily, the photos ops were numerous. The higher I ascended, the more the canyon below opened up, and the greater the views.
|Farmlands and mountains|
After a half mile or so of climbing, the path finally leveled out. I'd reached the top of the ridge. A gravelly trail took me across this high plateau to the opposite side, for more killer views. All of Central Oregon's mountains stretched across the horizon.
|The climbers were fun to watch|
And, rising above the very clifftops I saw the famous "Monkey Face" - a slender rock pillar who's top indeed resembled a monkey's facial features.
|Monkey Face pano|
Front and center was a group of three climbers attempting to scale the Monkey Face's near-vertical wall. Mesmerized, I sat and watched them slowly crawl higher.
|Heading back down Mesa Verde Trail|
The climbers were fascinating to watch! To me, scaling such a tall rock wall seemed totally impossible. But these folks made it look like a walk in the park.
|Final glimpse of the mountains|
Finally getting my fill of rock climbing, I traversed across the rest of the ridgetop, locating the Mesa Verde Trail, my path back down to the river. Another descent, another set of spectacular Central Oregon views. Green pastures bookended by large country estates and scruffy pine forests. And more glimpses of those wonderful Cascade peaks.
|Can you see the monkey face?|
Looking up from Monkey Face's base gives one a very good indication how this formation got it's name.
|Unique rock art|
Ahhh....after a tough climb there's nothing I appreciate more than a good downhill ramble. Descending down the windy trail, I got a bit of smug satisfaction watching all the uphill hikers gasping and struggling.
|Loved the trail signs|
I passed by an area where tons of tiny rocks had been stacked and crammed into small crannies. Not sure what it was all about, but made for some interesting photos.
Finally, reaching river level, I stopped for a moment to soak in the lovely riverbank and admire some geese swimming by.
|Trail through the grass and sagebrush|
But the clouds threatened rain, and late afternoon darkness was beginning to descend, so I knew it was time to hustle. Many other hikers had also noted the fading light, and I suddenly found myself in a conga-line of people, all heading to the parking lot.
|Lots of color on the riverbank|
But Smith Rock saved one final great view for my camera. Rounding a river bend, I gasped in delight at the colorful fall hues lining it's banks. Adjacent rocky cliffs reflected perfectly in the river's still waters. Time to step out of line - I needed to capture this!
|Well maintained trail|
The sun was setting fast, and I'd hoped for one final chance to photograph some of the cliffs along the Wolf Tree Trail, just beyond the sturdy Crooked River bridge. Hustling down the path, I hoped the light would last a few more minutes.
|Day is fading fast|
I grabbed a shot of the footbridge, framed by golden sagebrush, and the cliffs rising beyond. Although fighting dull light, I still kind of liked the images that were captured.
|Weathered tree and sagebrush|
I came across a downed, weathered tree surrounded by numerous golden sagebrush tufts. Although I'd come to photograph Smith Rock's scenic orange cliffs, this photo ended up being one of my favorites from the day.
|Final evening light on the cliffs|
I arrived at the last viewpoint with just enough time to catch the sun's final rays as they weakly illuminated the nearby spires. Although not exactly what I'd hoped to capture, it was a delight to stand by the river's edge and watch the last light of day fade away.
Now....on to Redmond for dinner!
(Stay tuned for day two..............)