Pausing under a towering old juniper, I watched as birds floated along the slow moving Crooked River. A breeze rippled through the tall grass around me, and I found myself wishing I had the time to spend hours in this peaceful spot, perhaps with a picnic blanket and a good book. Not exactly the rugged athletic experience nearly everyone else in this small park is here for, but Andy and I had found our own little haven. After hearing about Smith Rock State Park from multiple friends, I'd been itching to visit, and staying only an hour away in Sunriver for a family vacation, I finally had the perfect opportunity. I'd had a cold since the day before we left home for a our week-long vacation, so we decided to avoid the popular Misery Ridge trail and instead opted for an easier loop hike along the river. As we watching the crowds across the river snaking up the Misery Ridge trail, for a while we were the only hikers on our stretch of trail.
From our vantage point, the red rocks towered over the river, dwarfing anything else in sight. Climbers swarmed every available vertical surface, looking like tiny ants on a slow upward crawl. As we worked our way along the river, the occasional peak popped up between the rusty crags - Jefferson, the Sister, and Bachelor all made appearance throughout our hike. With a backdrop of snowy Cascade peaks, the red rock cliffs felt oddly out of place, almost like a bit of the southwest had wandered too far north.
As we followed the trail along the river, the clouds began to break up and the cool morning turned into a hot day. We found ourselves missing the cool shade of the morning as we climbed up from the river to the canyon rim, but thankfully it was a short climb. Soon we had returned to the crowds on the paved trail connecting each of the parking areas in the park. Up above the river, everything was dry and sun-baked. We'd left behind the narrow ribbon of green lining the riverbank. Even from the canyon rim level, the jagged outcroppings were impressive, and by the time we'd looped back to the car, I couldn't resist dashing back to the canyon edge for a few parting photos.