March 3: The morning sun is streaming through my windows as I open my eyes to a beautiful day. I dillydally in the morning enjoying my laziness. By 10am, I’m finally on the road to check out Smith Rock State Park another of Oregon’s 7 wonders. The temperature is in the high 50’s low 60’s with full sun. According to MapQuest it will take me 45 minutes to drive to Smith Rock State Park at 9241 NE Crooked River Dr, Terrebonne, OR. I find it no problem. It’s the paying that’s the issue, I’m not sure how since there is no attendant at the gate. After speaking to a number of people I pay cash and write my car info on the form, stick it in an envelope and drop it in the box.
What a cool place with sheer brownish red volcanic rocks jutting out of the Earth and the Crooked River carving its way below. It’s known for its rock climbing and hiking trails. I understand why they named it Crooked since it arches and curves in tight formations.
I put on my backpack which has water, food, map, first aid kit, iPhone, charger and camera. There are many 12 official trails to choose from. After surveying the trails from an eye view and looking at the maps I decide to do a counter-clockwise loop which consists of a number of trails. I rather hike the difficult first when I’m full of energy and enjoy my leisurely pace back.
From the parking lot I follow Rim Rock trail for two-tenths of a mile into the canyon. It’s a wide limestone path with a fair amount of people of all ages and abilities. I’m feeling confident. At the crossroads I take a left on the Canyon Trail another wide but easy trail. From there I decide to take The Chute which is a shortcut to the bridge. Even though it’s fairly wide, it’s stoney and I have to watch my step so I don’t trip over the jagged rocks jutting out of the path.
I stop and take in the views. As I look back I understand why they call it the Grunt Trail. It’s not one that I want to huff and puff going up after hiking 4 strenuous miles. I see that it won’t be a relaxing leisurely stroll back to the car since I have to go back up. I think I will take the long way back.
The trail ends at a grassy meadow surrounded by a grey wooden fence. This is where the helicopter pad is. Hmmm…
A paved area with a few picnic tables are close to a tall, lone, conifer, which stands keeping watch at the entrance over the wooden foot bridge. I cross the bridge where the trails intersect and see a sign for Misery Ridge Trail. I look up and again understand why it’s called Misery Ridge. I take a drink of water and continue up the switch back trail. I feel like my horse Moonie when she is going up steep inclines. She stops every hundred feet to catch her breath. The trail is narrow, steep and windy with wooden and packed earthen stairs at intervals.
It’s hard to take in the views while watching my step. Never mind it being steep and narrow but it also has loose gravel. One wrong move and I will be Jill tumbling down the hill with no Jack and a broken crown among others. I gingerly make my way up breathing heavily. I thought I was in shape but I guess not. All those years of working out at the gym has not helped me one iota. There is a group of people ahead of me, this is the time to stop and take a breather. I get out my iPhone and take a panoramic video of the cliffs, trails and views. The river looks small in the lens. I look with my own eyes and yes indeed the river looks like a squiggly blue line. Wow! I am a ways up and I only have gone a quarter of a mile.
I wait about ten minutes before continuing. I realize that’s its best to look at my feet when going up hill because it looks flat. I need to deceive myself in thinking that so I don’t despair. Finally I make it to the summit which is 3,289’ above sea level. According to the map the trail starts at 2653’ so I’ve climbed vertically 636’. I feel a little better about that.
It’s a plateau with views of the Cascade Mountain range in the distance. The sun is high in the magnificent deep blue sky. I breath in the glorious sight. The air is crisp and clear. Good thing I wore layers, climbing has made me hot even though the temperature is in the low 60’s. I strip down to my shorts and T-shirt.
There are a few bushes, a small conifer and a twisted dead tree which seems to be pointing in all directions as though it’s confused on which way to go. I take in the 360 degree view. It’s almost surreal, with the perfect sandstone shaped boulders. I feel as though I’m on a movie set waiting for The Lone Ranger to come around the mountain on his horse, Silver. I can hear the clambering of hoofs in my head.
As I head down the other side, I see Monkey Face which is appropriately named because it does look like a monkey. It’s 400 feet tall and a climbing mecca. Granted I didn’t see anyone scaling it, but took lots of pictures.
Walking up is hard enough but walking down is a bit tricky since my hiking sneakers slide on the loose gravel along the narrow dirt path. At one point I video tape my decent as I pass a stretcher standing vertical with crutches. Hmmm…Is it trying to tell me something? “Watch where you ARE!!! Don’t FALL!”
The narrow trail zig zags until the it reaches the river. I look up and see amazing orange rocks against the deep blue sky-beautiful. The lazy river meanders through without a care in the world, how I envy it. The path follows the river as I walk against the current. As I round the bend I see rock climbers preparing to scale the sheer rocks. Most are using cables and pulleys to hoist themselves up but a few are free climbers. It’s amazing how they can free climb, finding small crevices for their hands and feet, pulling themselves up. I’ll stick to climbing trees.
Lost in thought I hear someone above me. As I look up I see a person walking on a cable between two cliffs a few hundred feet above. Dumbfounded I pull out my phone and video tape. All of a sudden he loses his balance and falls, I let out a gasp. My heart’s pounding a million beats per second. Phew, he’s hooked on cables and doesn’t fall to far. Scared me though. Crazy people what makes them do that?
The sun is sinking low into the horizon as I cross the river and head up the hill towards the car on the last leg of my journey. As I reach the top I turn to look back as dusk approaches. The rocks turn various shades of brown and orange as the sun disappears behind them. The moon is rising and darkness comes. I watch the scene unfolding. The first stars appear one by one creating paint by numbers in white against the black sky.