The beauty of Oregon's new state park

Oregon’s newest state park is set in rugged Eastern Oregon along the John Day River. It’s not a place you’d expect to find manicured lawns and rose bushes, and, indeed, you won’t.

Yet the park has the beauty that lifelong desert dwellers sometimes have trouble explaining to their friends.

Cottonwood Canyon State Park, which opens this weekend, lies along the John Day River in northern Sherman and Gilliam counties. It can be reached from state Highway 206, which connects Wasco and Condon.

The park is big by Oregon standards, currently some 8,000 acres and, if a deal with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is completed, likely to more than double in size in the next couple of years. If that happens, it will be the largest park in the state’s system.

And, surely, one of the most rugged.

For now, the park includes 21 camping sites designed for tents or self-contained recreational vehicles, plus other sites for groups and for hikers and bikers. Some restrooms and picnic areas meet the Americans with Disabilities Act standards for accessibility, and drinkable water is available. There’s also direct access to the John Day River from the site.

The state continues to work on trails, but a parks department official said recently it plans a go-slow approach to development, partly because the land is so scenic in its own right and partly because of the inherent fragility of desert landscapes.

Even with only minimal development, the park offers something that the proposed Cathedral Rock Wilderness Area upstream does not.

Handicapped or not, a person wishing to see both the John Day and its surrounding countryside need not be a hearty outdoors type to do so.

Cottonwood Canyon State Park is a beautiful addition to the relatively small number of full-blown state parks east of the Cascades.