The geologic drama always strikes me right between the eyes no matter how many times I go to Smith Rock State Park.
It's one thing driving up from Bend or over from Prineville and seeing those rocks in the distance. It's quite another when you're right there craning your neck up at them.
Spring and fall are the best seasons to pay a visit. It's not too hot, and if you're going to huff and puff up Misery Ridge, ride the Burma Road or just follow the Crooked River upstream or down, that's a good thing.
If you're a hard-core rock monkey, Smith Rock is a mecca. But if you're a mere mortal with a healthy respect for heights and a solid appreciation for natural beauty, the park still has plenty to offer.
The first things that impress a visitor are the massive tuff formations that come in many bizarre shapes and forms. They're the result of ancient volcanic activity and the erosive power of moving water. According to the official state park literature, lava flows entered the canyon millions of years ago and "crowded the ancestral river into the flanks of the main volcanic structure." The Crooked River responded by establishing a new channel and eroding the inside of the volcanic vent. The exotic rock formations are made of welded tuff - volcanic ash that spewed forth from an extremely hot and pressurized cauldron.
The rocks might be the main attraction, but there's much more to this place than climbing routes and vulcanism.
Like nesting eagles and skittering ducks and a river at full runoff.
After you cross over the bridge at the bottom of the canyon, you can go right upstream, left downstream, or straight up the switchbacks of Misery Ridge. This time around we opted for Misery Ridge, which got us up high in a hurry.
It's a steep slog to the top, but when you get there you'll get a commanding view of the surroundings.
Keep going down the back side of Misery Ridge and you can end up looping downstream and back up again to the footbridge. The trails of Smith Rock State Park are a good example of multiple use with bikers sharing the space with hikers, runners and in some places, horses.
Everyone, it seems, likes to stop and watch the climbers clinging spiderlike to the vertical faces.
Smith Rock is world-renowned among rock climbers.
Smith Rock was either named after early-day Linn County Sheriff John Smith, who discovered the place in 1867, or for a soldier who fell to his death from the highest peak there in the 1860s.
Even if you're not a rock climber, a hike up Misery Ridge can give you that rarefied feeling that comes from high places and vigorous exercise.
Plan on spending most of the day at Smith Rock, pack a picnic lunch and try several of the trails. And don't forget your camera.
From Redmond, drive six miles north on Highway 97 to Terrebonne. Turn right at the light where the road is marked with a sign for Smith Rock State Park. Follow the road down a hill and make a left at another sign for the park. Follow this twisting road for about two miles to another sign pointing to the park. Take a left and follow the road to the parking area.
A $3 day pass is available from a vending machine at the parking area. Annual day-use permits are also available.