I pulled into Smith Rock State Park before the Oregon sun had even risen over the horizon. The park is surrounded by a compelling rocky arena, divided by a single river. Because it was a cold morning in the early days of Spring, there was only one other couple in the area. They gave me a gentle wave and a smile as I walked by and continued to suit up in their rock-climbing gear.
I started to make my way past the trailhead and down a hill towards the river, over a bridge, and there they were- the grand, jagged hills that I have seen so many times in pictures on the internet when researching the unparalleled Pacific Northwest. This was nothing like the lush PNW climate that I had known from growing up in Washington, but more of the rough landscape that reminded me of my time spent in Arizona.
As I turned from side to side in wonder, taking in my surroundings, my frozen ponytail whipped the side of my face. The scene before me seemed so far from reality. Here I was, in the middle of March, surrounded by titian-colored rocks that had been built and carved over the years by weather and travelers like myself, who also might have not expected to find such a dry treasure in the middle of Oregon.
I decided to explore the park by hiking to the top of Misery Ridge in order to to stare down at the river below and surrounding areas. I put on two pairs of thermal leggings, a tank top, short sleeve shirt, sweatshirt, vest, gloves, and a scarf around my face to brace myself for the cutting winds hitting my body from head to toe.
With each step, the crumbled remains of humanity’s impact on this incredible area rolled underneath my hiking boots. With every few hundred feet, I would stop to catch my breath, turn around, and laid my eyes upon the progress that I have made, expanding my all-encompassing view of the rugged terrain.
I looked forward and noticed strategically placed steps on the trail made of wood. I wondered, who in their right mind would volunteer to hike up these jagged walls and prepare strangers for ease as they pushed forward in their exploration?
I thought back to the couple that had kindly waved and greeted me at the front of the park. This is when I was reminded that often people who are passionate about the protection of the parks are also the people who care for and watch out for one another.
As I climbed to the summit of Smith Rock State Park, the horizon began to light up and the sun lifted over the east side of the ridge, caressing the top and blending it beautifully. It seemed as if the sky, horizon and Earth’s crust had been completely smoothed out by the sun. The river that I had crossed over at the bottom of the valley danced and swirled with reflections of light as birds floated down upon it.
I decided to continue hiking to the southern side of the summit and was able to see an entirely different perception of the park, with the Oregon Cascade Mountain Range as a complete backdrop. At that moment, I didn’t realize how much my fiery red ears were stinging from the morning chill, or how my eyes were uncontrollably watering from the greater wind speeds at a higher elevation. I was completely infatuated by a piece of Oregon that I will never forget-Smith Rock State Park.
This experience reminded me that having public areas to explore is a privilege, and that there are hard working hands and minds behind each trail that is developed. Something that made this hike extra distinctive is that the people I shared the park with invited me in without hesitation, adding something to the entire experience that couldn’t be offered any other way outside of this human connection. It inspired me to be more friendly on the trail, at least with a “hey” when passing another person; as it is often tempting in our unsocial and untrusting society to keep our heads down when passing another hiker.
If you are a fellow Washingtonian, check out the Washington Trails Association website to find ways to get involved and give back to this community for generations to come.
One foot in front of the other,