Sunday, September 30, 2012

Checking out the birthplace of sport climbing: Smith Rock State Park

Sept. 27-30, Bend, Oregon

We made a decision a couple weeks ago to extend our time here in Central Oregon. The early fall weather has been fantastic and there is much to do here to stay active. We also discovered this beautiful campground, the Crown Villa RV Resort, drops its monthly rate by more than half as of Oct. 1. When we are staying somewhere for weeks instead of days, we have a much more leisurely attitude about how we spend our time. Some days we are content just to fill our days with reading, walking the dogs, visiting with park neighbors, and enjoying the little patio under our awning. We have also enjoyed taking day trips to get to know this area better as we are thinking of making Bend our more permanent home someday. Even though we both lived in Oregon for decades, neither of us had spent much time in Central Oregon before and certainly not for more than a few days or a long weekend. 

One of the popular places we had never been to in this area is Smith Rock State Park.  Located in the high desert environment of Ponderosa Pines, Juniper and Sage, Smith Rock is best known as an internationally acclaimed rock climbing destination. Far from being rock climbers ourselves, I really wasn't sure what it had to offer curious travelers. The park is about ten miles from Redmond, Oregon—making it about a 45-minute drive from Bend. It seems to be mostly used as a day park—with a fee of $5.00 per car, but there are some first come-first serve tent sites for what they call “walk-in bivouac camping.”  We discovered it is popular for mountain biking and hiking as well as a school fieldtrip destination—now that brings back memories!

The Smith Rock Park reminded me of the basalt rock formations at Zion National Park, on a much smaller scale, with sheer-faced cliffs, craggy formations, and sparse vegetation. It may also seem familiar to those who have never been here as it has been used as a movie set for several westerns including Rooster Cogburn, a fairly well-known John Wayne movie, as well as a set for the film version of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,  and the more recent films, The Postman and Swordfish.

One of the more beautiful aspects of the park is the presence of the Crooked River which winds around the base of the rock formations. The formations were created from basaltic lava from the Newberry volcano which flowed down the canyon of the Crooked River over a million years ago. These flows created the sheer-faced cliffs which are characteristic of Smith Rock State Park.

The park has well-defined trails that follow the path of the river and other trail options that traverse over the canyon walls giving multiple access points to the rock climber aficionados. The park advertises several thousand climbs to choose from with over a thousand bolted routes (anchored spots for climbers to attach their belaying ropes).

We took the dogs with us on the trail and opted to explore the lower river route. The name of the upper trail—Misery Ridge--sounded too daunting and looked like it would have no shade at all as it led in the direction of a fairly steep barren slope. With temperatures nearing 80 degrees, we also thought it would be good for the dogs to have access to the river for cooling off on our hike.


When we first arrived to the park, we were a little surprised that we did not see any rock climbers, but once we started down the river trail we rounded corners which revealed a variety of places that appealed to both novice and expert climbers.

This smaller cliff is a popular spot for novices to practice climbing techniques.
You can see the permanent anchor for the ropes attached to the wall above the climber's head.

The guy in red is belaying the climber above.

Rock climbing is not something either of us has ever been interested in doing, but it was captivating to watch the technical aspects of this sport in person. The hike itself was pleasant and the dogs had at least three opportunities to cool off in the river. There are a few places along the trail where hikers could take a little swim too, but the water was definitely on the cool side.  When we went down to the water, I was pleased to see a Great Blue Heron also enjoying the riverbank.

We were a little disappointed to learn that the 2 and 1/2 mile river trail only went in one direction, so after about an hour walk, we decided to turn around and head back on the same trail. There was another option to take a trail over one of the steep rock formations and meet up with the Misery Ridge Trail but the elevation and heat convinced us to retrace our steps. Jetta and I were pretty darn pooped by the time we made it back to the car, but the boys,Vic and Rico, still had plenty of energy heading up the last leg of the trail back to the car.

The road out of the park takes you through the small town of Terrebonne, just a few miles away. This small town is home to the Terrebonne Depot, a  charming looking bar and grill housed in a 100-year old train station. I mention this to remind myself that next time we will plan to stop and check out their fare as it looked like a good place to unwind after a day in the park. We were not sure about the place being dog friendly so we made the trek back to our park where we spent a relaxing evening visiting with our neighbors Jerry and Unni (from Norway).


  1. Your pictures here are beautiful especially that first one. I never mind one way trails. Things always look different to me from the other direction. :-))

  2. I truly appreciate your comment about seeing with new eyes. This first year of full-timing has provided many opportunities to shift our perspective from our predictable ways of being and, as a result, whole new worlds open up. Gracias.


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