Smith Rock State Park

Partial view from the rimrock

I last visited Smith Rock State Park in Central Oregon near Redmond and Terrebonne back in the 70s on a summer school expedition. School staff decided it would be good to offer students a course on Oregon history and actually take us out into some of the natural surroundings. I signed up for the week excursion because anything that involved Oregon nature interested me.

Central Oregon made the biggest impression because I had never been to that region of the state before. I had no idea Oregon had a high desert, I had only known the rainy regions all my life. The two locations I remember most were Lava Cast Forest and Smith Rock. Recently, I re-visited Smith Rock. The area’s now more developed with homes and business but a rock that size doesn’t change much with the passage of time.

Volcanic activity that occurred thousands of years ago helped form the canyons of Smith Rock. Over the years, wind and water erosion carved the tuft (compressed volcanic ash) and basalt creating the astounding rock formations. More years passed with more lava flowing to push the curve of the Crooked River on it’s scenic path through the canyon – truly a sight to behold.

The canyon is one of those views that remain hidden when driving into the park. All you see is a huge rock, impressive, but nothing like the sight that awaits when you take the time to walk the rimrock to the fenced walkway that overlooks the canyon. You’re rewarded with not only the canyon view but the snow-topped Cascade Range in the background. Plus, there’s a lot to do here – hike, mountain bike, rock climb, horseback ride or picnic on the park’s 651 acres. As for me, I simply enjoyed the view this time with a promise to return later and get in some hiking.

When I explored the area as a youth, we hiked down into the canyon and then the entire loop. When you get around to the back of the rock there’s a steep trail leading up to famous Monkey Face Rock – a huge spire reaching 350 feet topped with a bulbous mass that looks like the profile of an ape’s head. If you know about this spire, it becomes the first thing you recognize when driving into the park.

Sunsets can be spectacular if you hang around for evening. I had to leave after only a short visit, but well worth it for the reminder of the glory and amazing wonder of our natural world that surrounds us – hidden if we’re unaware.

As I snapped my last photo a shadow passed over me. I looked up to a magnificent golden eagle soaring above – majestically floating over the canyon, carried on the wind. Who can look away from that?


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