Tuesday, December 13, 2022

A Double Dose of Smith Rock

My late October doggy-sitting gig provided many opportunities for exploration and photography of Central Oregon.  One of my of my favorite places to visit when in this part of the state is Smith Rock State Park.  Lucky for me, my daughter's home wasn't far from this stunning area.

Morning light on the Smith Rocks

Smith Rock State Park is a geologic wonderland.  Tall rocky pillars rise up from the surrounding plains.  Built from volcanic ash and basalt, these massive formations are popular with rock climbers. However, this park is not just for rock jocks.  Hiking trails abound here also.  The Crooked River, true to it's name, winds between the palisades and a lovely riverside trail follows it's path.  There's another trail, (aptly named "Misery Ridge") that takes folks up and over the very top of these soaring pinnacles.  You can't go wrong with a visit to Smith Rock - the scenery here is absolutely spectacular.

Rocky reflections

I love visiting Smith Rock so much I actually made two trips during my 10-day stint.  The first, on the second day of my dog-sitting commitment, was a lovely bluebird morning.  After taking the steep trail down into the canyon, I followed another trail along the Crooked River.  Smith Rock's iconic basalt pillars made perfect reflections on the waters.

Fantastic morning light!

Still recovering from the previous day's failed Black Butte summit attempt, I limped along the path paralleling the Crooked River.  Although my legs were sore, today's hiking actually helped loosen up the overused muscles.

Great blue heron reflection

Walking under the shadows of the tall rock walls, I came to a bend in the river.  Perched on a rock was a Great Blue Heron!  In hopes of some wildlife encounters, I'd placed my large zoom lens in my backpack.  Quickly I switched lenses and fired away at the big blue bird.  After a couple dozen frames, the heron, probably tired of this lady paparazzi, flapped it's wings and took off across the water.  Lucky for me, I was already focused on the bird and got a couple of nice shots of it in flight.

Moon over the rock wall

Well, that was fun!  Now, onward - trudging along the river's edge, occasionally looking up at the cliffs far above me.  I got a glimpse of the moon's half-circle in the sky above one of the pinnacles and couldn't resist a capture or two.

A robin eyeing the juniper berries

Although most of the area along the river is covered in low bushes, I passed through one area of tall juniper trees.  A flock of robins were all over the place, snacking on the plentiful berries.  Although I usually don't bother photographing robins (they're a "dime-a-dozen" bird species as far as I'm concerned) these red-breasted guys were very close and posing nicely.  So I fired off a bunch of shots, and was really pleased with the results.

Another posing robin

And then I saw a magpie flitting between the branches.  Now a magpie was a species I definitely wanted to capture!  But....these guys are super fast and always on the move.  I tried my best, but this magpie definitely didn't want his picture taken.  Just as I would lock my focus, he'd fly off.  Or he'd land in a shady area.  After several minutes of waiting and watching I finally threw in the towel.

I finally got a magpie to sit still!

I walked a bit further along the river, admiring the lovely fall hues of the bushes.  But the day was getting hot and my legs were getting tired, so I decided to head back.  Because the sun was now higher, I made many photo stops on my return trip to capture the same scenery in different light.  After crossing the Crooked River pedestrian bridge, I was taking a break when I noticed a man nearby, camera focused on a magpie.  The bird was being harassed by a robin and it was standing still!  

Now was my chance!  Switching lenses yet again, I crept over to where the man stood and focused on the magpie.  Although the bird flew around a bit, it stayed in the area and kept landing on top of the nearby bushes.  Because the bird held still I was able to get my magpie shots.

Morning sun lighting up the yellows

After that successful visit, I knew I wanted to return to Smith Rocks one more time before my doggy-sitting gig was up.  But it wasn't until the very last day that I finally made it back.  This time, I decided instead of walking down the most popular riverside trail, I'd head the opposite direction down a less-visited path.

The Crooked River's colorful bank

The morning was chilly, forcing me to don my down jacket, knit hat, and gloves.  The grasses and bushes surrounding the Crooked River had transformed into hues of yellow and gold.  Sunlight streamed through the river canyon, lighting everything up.  It was another magnificent day.

Steep canyon walls

I walked about a mile before this trail headed uphill.  After huffing up a very steep path I landed on top of a plateau.  Here the Crooked River entered a very deep canyon with steep, rocky walls.  I had an excellent birds-eye view of both the towering pillars above and the river far below.

View from the top of the canyon

After drinking in the views I returned back down to river level.  By now the sun had risen above the surrounding hills bathing the entire Crooked River in light.  Although I'd taken photos along the river on my initial trip, the light was so good now I couldn't help taking duplicate photos of the same views.

Fall colors along the river

As I focused on one particularly colorful river scene, a man with his young son walked by, hand in hand.  It was such a cute moment, I couldn't help but include the duo in one of my shots. 

A man and his son walking by

With the sun now high in the sky, the surrounding rock pinnacles reflected nicely in the Crooked River's still waters.  I took so many photos of this scene, it was hard to pick just one for the blog!

Blue skies and reflections

Returning back to the Crooked River pedestrian bridge, I still had a bit of time.  So I decided to take the trail on the river's opposite shore, back in the same direction.

Looking east from the bridge

It's always interesting to see the same scenery from a different vantage point.

Views along the Crooked River

Like this view of the iconic Smith Rock pillar from the east along the river, instead of the image everyone gets looking to the north from the top of the canyon.

Golden weeds

The sagebrush had also changed to it's fall colors, a lovely shade of gold.

Zoomed-in look

It was about this time that my phone buzzed.  A text message from my daughter confirmed she and her husband were now back in the US (they'd traveled to Europe on vacation) and their flight home later that evening was still on time.

The classic view

It had been a wonderful 10 days, getting my doggy fix, and exploring some new and favorite places in fabulous Central Oregon.  Smith Rock State Park is stunning in the fall, and I was fortunate to be able to visit it twice during my stay.


  1. What a wonderful area - I can see why you'd want to make a return visit.

  2. ...fabulous images of a gorgeous area!

  3. I think Smith Rock is my favorite place in central OR, and, as always, you did it justice!

  4. A beautiful area and a good eye to get some awesome photos.

  5. Wow! That's quite a fascinating place to explore!

  6. A wonderful 10 days for you. The clarity of the light and beauty of the peaks and reflections is stunning!

  7. That fall light is gorgeous. I love the bird shots! We never had Magpies at our altitude but this fall, we saw a couple on our property. Maybe just passing through?

  8. No wonder you made two visits there during your stay! It's a beautiful place! A few of your photos remind me of a couple of hikes I did in Sedona area and also some look like what I saw in Zion. I especially like the photos where the pillars are reflecting in the water.

  9. Such beautiful images! I've only been there in times of wildfire smoke or hazy heat of the day. It was still beautiful, but these are stunning! I'll need to change my approach!

  10. ...fabulous images, the waterfalls are gorgeous.

  11. Lovely birds and magnificent scenes!

  12. Absolutely gorgeous shots, as usual! I loved the photos from the trail less taken. When we go there for our walking weekend in September, I will try out the trail going the other direction. We did Misery Ridge last year. I plan to skip that one in 2023! Once was great, but it was enough.


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