Monday, June 1, 2020

Chimney Rock

Short and sweet! That just about sums up this hike to a rocky landmark overlooking the Crooked River in central Oregon. Yup, you read that right, I went to the foreign lands of central Oregon for a three-day sojourn away from my beloved west-side Cascades. After the nearly five-hour drive to get there, it wasn't like a ten mile, three thousand foot climb was going to be in the works anyway.

The weathered texture of a juniper trunk
After leaving the town of Prineville, the drive up the Crooked River was half the fun. The Crooked River was just that, snaking two and fro in a wide canyon with green pastures and farms populating the canyon floor. But then the wide canyon narrowed considerably by the time the road reached the official boundary of the Crooked Wild and Scenic River. Me, I would have called it the Wild and Scenic Crooked River because that sounds a little more grammatically correct but I don't make the BLM signs. At any rate, the canyon was fairly narrow with imposing walls of rimrock surrounding the snaking river constrained within the defile.

Up the draw we go!
Naturally, it stood to reason that any trail leaving the river and getting to the top of the rim would be steep and taxing and the Chimney Rock Trail did not disappoint in that regard. Beginning under an imposing wall of basalt rock formations, the path immediately started switchbacking across a slope of mostly dry grass dotted with juniper trees, with nary a fern to be seen. 

Spreading fleabane of some sort
Despite the aridity of this desert-like environment, wildflowers were blooming and bees were buzzing from flower to flower. A few flowering species were recognizable and familiar, like common yarrow and golden yarrow. However, from my perspective most plant specimens were alien and strange, sending me delving into the guidebooks to see if I could discern what the heck I was looking at. 

For three centuries, the walls of the castle
repelled invading armies from the west
The rimrock surrounding the Crooked River is sheer, resembling a Spanish castle perched atop a Pyrenean alp. The walls of the redoubt were seemingly unassailable but the weakness in the formidable wall of rock was an arid draw that the path worked its way up. It was either that or start building a giant Trojan Deer. Water probably flows here during rainstorms for the floor of the draw was grassy, sometimes shady, and relatively moist when compared to the dry slopes above the trail. 

This waterfall would be a lot cooler with some water
Eventually the draw petered out and at a saddle, the trail rounded the top of the draw, crossing the dry creek that had created the arroyo I'd been hiking up. Clearly, at times there is or was an impressive waterfall here, which would be even more impressive if there was any actual water spilling over the tall ledge. I should come back during a typhoon or tropical storm for the full waterfall experience here.

Some of that Crooked River scenery
A few more switchbacks and woo-hoo, the trail leveled out on a broad plateau covered in sagebrush and juniper trees. In the direction of the Crooked River, currently hidden way down in its gorge, was the chimney-like tower of Chimney Rock itself. A few primitive benches conveniently sited at the edge of the plateau provided a place for contemplating the awesome views of the Crooked Wild and Scenic River, accent on the "Scenic".

Quite the view from Chimney Rock
The drop-off from the plateau was abrupt and sheer, with the river zigging and zagging about six hundred feet directly below my totally impressed hiking boots. Carved out of the surrounding basalt, the opposite rim of the gorge loomed less than a half-mile away as the crow flies, although there was a lot of air and one river between rims. Because the river snaked to and fro so emphatically, the visual effect was that of layers and layers of canyons stretching out to the horizon. It was a huge payoff for what was a less than three mile hike and I just sat for a while in Chimney Rock's figurative hearth, just taking it all in.

Chimney Rock, raison d'ĂȘtre for this hike
All good things come to an end, though, and I had to find a place to sleep and do all that housekeeping stuff. Sad but true, it was time to head back down the trail, but not before taking a short detour along the plateau rim before rejoining the dusty path heading back down to the river.  Although the hike was short, Chimney Rock was a good introduction to the splendors of this area.

If you like basalt, then you will love this hike!
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

1 comment :

  1. yup, lots of interesting places and hikes in Central Oregon and we want to see Chimmney Rock too.