Remember the first time you visited an amusement park? From the parking lot you could see the roller coaster. It looks enormous and so high you feel excitement and fear at the same time, your palms get sweaty, you could feel your heart beating faster.
It had the foreboding look that make you think you should turn around and go see something else yet it somehow drew you in, you just have to go and be on it! The Offpeakers had a similar experience when we followed the strong recommendations of locals and visited Smith Rock State Park. Not far from Redmond & Bend, Smith Rock State Park is another reason we think life is great in Oregon.
The Smith Rock State Parks amusement park is 641 acres of weirdly eroded volcanic rock with the well named Crooked River twisting around and through it. Our approach past the parking lot had us bouncing with excitement. Amazing views? Check. World class Rock Climbing? Check. Challenging hiking trails? Check. Super volunteers and support staff enhancing the park? Check.
This is a popular place as 750,000 day users a year enjoy these rugged outdoors but the myriad of trails, bike paths and cliffs seem to suck us all up so even on a busy Sunday, we never felt crowded. We occasionally shared space with people equally happy to be on the rock. The $5 day use parking fee is a complete bargain.
Approaching the area, walking the rim towards the visitor center, we pin balled around looking over cliffs soaring 600 feet over the river. The rock walls were not only beautiful, but it is liberally peppered with incredibly talented rock climbers. Smith Rock is generally considered the birthplace of modern American rock climbing, and it continues to be a destination and class room for those strong adventurous people that do not need (nor want) a path to get to the top of mountain.
Not all Visitor Centers are helpful, but Smith Rock’s maps, advice, cold water, and volunteers were all terrific. The Offpeakers were fortunate to meet Jerry, who just may be Oregon’s number one advocate. Jerry gave us super information on the best hiking trails, views, and where we could hopefully see beavers and/or otters. We got even more information on the Oregon coast and history of the Brookings district, including interesting background on World War II Japanese incursions in the area.
Our fun conversation was cut a little short because we could not wait to get on the switchback trails that work their way up Misery Ridge to work our way up, on and around this intimidating outcropping.
From the Visitor Center we dropped down using the The Chute trail to take us down to river level. Crossing Crooked River we watched people working their way up the steep initial portion of the trail.
Soon we were on their heels, enjoying the fun of spectacular scenery that you have earned through hard labor. The going was slow and steady with a steep elevation climb.
As sometimes happens on these outings, we ended up getting partnered with some outgoing pharmacy students taking a break from Pacific University. I felt as if we were colleagues on this and peers, but at the top we were referred to affectionately as their “trail parents”.
If I needed another reminder of our age besides my heaving chest and heavy feet, this was it. The Misery Ridge trail loop is almost 6 miles long as it weaves up, behind, over and down the main outcropping.
We loved every sweaty dusty step. The views change, but remain consistently beautiful. Yes it is a long ways down, but fear kept us careful even as we scanned around to see natural beauty, climbers, and distant snow clad mountains on this glorious day.
At the back we see the aptly named Monkey Face, which is an outcropping that bears an amazing resemblance to Curious George except you need to scale a 350 foot column to dance on his head.
Continuing down we intersect Mesa Verde and River trails. Down here have close views of the climbers doing very good impersonations of Spiderman.
Men and women looked tiny as they worked their way up cliffs that have visible white marks from powder used to dry sweaty hands.
Across the river, beginner classes were taking place on cliffs that were still daunting even though they were in the shadows of their much bigger brothers.
Smith Rock is a great place to feel the positive energy of the earth and people working together. Everyone was in excited moods, pushing hard to see and do more. What a fun experience to work hard yet feel energized at the same time.
While they could have probably come up with a more inspirational name, we fail to imagine a better experience. This is our favorite sight in all of Oregon! What’s yours? Please share your favorite spot in Oregon or a time that you were reminded that you have gotten older. Thank you for traveling with the Offpeakers!