A Tuff Climb at Smith Rock (Terrebonne, OR)

It’s hard to miss the strange but spectacular rock formations as you’re driving through Terrebonne on US 97. The last time I visited Smith Rock State Park in central Oregon was in 2011. Even though ill with a slight fever, I managed to get down to the foot of these rocks to admire them as well as the climbers who were scaling the vertical walls. I wanted to come back some day to do one of the hikes to the top.

My wife and I spent a few days in nearby Bend located in a part of the Northwest that’s known for prodigious flows of lava and craft beers. Most of one day was set aside for the long awaited return to Smith Rock twenty-five miles to the north.

The rocks are the result of a volcanic eruption that happened 17 million years ago. The ash from the Newberry volcano spread over much of central Oregon and hardened into tuff over the millenia. The most visually striking features here are the sheer vertical walls and jagged peaks.

The loop Misery Ridge Trail starts at the bridge across the Crooked River. We took it in the opposite direction along part of the River Trail that meets Misery after rounding the southern end of the park. The walk along the river was gorgeous.

River Trail

Along the way, several climbers were scaling the walls. I like to think that I should conquer my fears but not this way.

So far it was an easy trail. Soon Monkey Face came into view. Isn’t it interesting how naming a rock after an animal gives it, well, personality? For obvious reason the formation is the park’s most iconic which from this vantage point looks like a chimp. Monkey Face is near the junction to Misery Ridge Trail that starts the ascent.

Monkey Face (look at the right half)

From its other side, I saw a gorilla.

The views became more fantastic as we made our way to the top. From there we got a sweeping view of several of Oregon’s volcanic cones, including Mount Bachelor, Broken Top and The Three Sisters, thanks to a warm, cloudless sky.

View from the top of Misery Ridge Trail

It wasn’t a particularly hot day. It just seemed like it. Bearing backpack, lunch and camera gear with little shade along the way, I gasped up the switchbacks. It was a tougher climb than it should have been which age did not assuage. Ah, to be lingering over one of Bend’s ice cold brewskis, but a Subway sandwich and water would have to do. Still it was a splendid hike.

Smith Rock State Park (Terrebonne, OR)

North of Redmond, rock climbers flock to Smith Rock State Park to scale the spectacular vertical walls of hardened volcanic tuff. We made a brief stop here on the way home, even though I was under the weather with chills and body aches. Probably against better judgment, I decided we should take the brief hike down to the Crooked River and watch some rock climbers in action. There are other hiking trails, one of which leads to the top of the rocks, but this will be reserved for another day.

Smith Rock attracts rock climbers from around the world

Smith Rock attracts rock climbers from around the world (note climbers at the base)

These rocks were formed when volcanic eruptions blanketed the area over a half million years ago in a half-mile thickness of ash that eventually welded, then eroded. Rhyolite dykes with their jagged edges are also found in the park, especially dramatic when they intrude into the tuff.

Rhyolite dykes make their appearance throughout the park

Rhyolite dykes make their appearance throughout the park

It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that there has been a lot of cataclysmic volcanic activity all around us in the distant past. While this fact is not difficult to see where there are fields of hardened lava, such as around Bend only a few miles from here or the basalt layers all over eastern Oregon and Washington, Smith Rock tells the story in a different way, no less spectacular.