Have you ever stumbled upon a place by pure accident that turned out to be amazing? Many years ago, it happened to me at Smith Rock State Park. I was taking a little road trip to Bend, Oregon and planning out my trip on Google maps, looking for anything interesting along the way. I found a little green square close to Bend, indicating a park, and decided I would stop to check it out if I had some spare time without giving it much research or thought. Little did I know that I would happen upon one of the most beautiful places in Oregon.
Smith Rock State Park is located in the high desert of central Oregon and carved out of volcanic basalt. A caldera was formed 30 million years ago when the surrounding land collapsed into a lava chamber. Over time, the rock cooled and hardened and later, the Crooked River made its mark by carving out a canyon with 600 foot shear cliffs.
Smith Rock appears as a mirage as you drive toward it on completely flat terrain. It seemingly pops up out of nowhere and you can’t help but to go toward the towering features. There are several trails that meander along Crooked River in the green that clings to the river’s banks. Water fowl and other birds abound here and peregrine falcons and golden eagles nest in the cliff sides.
Sagebrush, ponderosa pine and desert wildflowers line the trails. Butterflies kiss the tops of yarrow. I was especially excited to see pink mariposa lilies and an old, twisted, fragrant juniper tree. The blue juniper “berries” are not really berries at all, they are the conifer’s cones. The birds are tricked into eating them and in turn spread their seed.
After wandering along the river a bit, I wanted to get up high and see the sights. I found a trail that headed up (very steeply) and climbed the rocky trail to Misery Ridge. Views expand for miles here. Nearby, I saw people rock climbing up an impossible looking column that had the unmistakable demeanor of a monkey. Later I found out that the tower is indeed called Monkey Face and is a popular climbing spot.
In fact, as I descended (more like slid down) the scree and headed back along the canyon floor, I learned that this is quite the rock climbing hot spot. In fact, it is a world class rock climbing spot and people from all over the world come to climb here. Want to try your skills? A long list of options appear if you look up climbing guides.
I also learned that there is some local lore about how the rock was named. Some say it was named after a US Calvary private named Smith who jumped from the spires rather than be caught by Native Americans. Although it is more likely that he actually fell from the rock during a bloody battle while he tried to get to a good vantage point. A less popular but most likely claim is that the rock is named after a sheriff called John Smith in the 1850’s.
As I headed back to the car I saw families picnicking and tourists alongside world class rock climbing athletes, birders, and just regular hikers like me. It is really a special place where anyone can find something to love.
Hikes Featured in this Post:
Misery Ridge Loop