Smith Rock ('n' Roll)
We finally made it out of California into Oregon where our first stop was Smith Rock State Park, just north of Bend. As usual we were able to find a free campsite just outside of the park, but not after driving around for a little to find a spot with adequate cell coverage to watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The area in and around Smith Rock reminded me of parts of Utah, very dry and rocky. Our site was only a five-minute drive from the park entrance, so we opted to sleep in our ground-top tent to maintain our driving capabilities. Being a high-quality free campground with high-quality attractions nearby, we chose to stay a few nights.
Our first full day in Oregon, we woke up ready to shred some ground (go hiking). We packed up, strapped up, harnessed up and took off. Smith Rock is made of many large rock faces and cliffs, making it a hot spot for climbers. We opted for one of the more scenic hikes on the well named “Misery Ridge Trail”. With at least a 1,000-foot gain in elevation, the Misery Ridge Trail was challenging yet manageable and provided some amazing views of the park as well as the mystic Monkey Face Rock.
As we had seen everything there was to see from the highest point, we began our trek down the boring back side of the cliff, not expecting anything exciting to happen . But if there’s one thing I learned about Smith Rock, its that you otter be ready at any moment for a cute surprise.
Once the Misery Ridge trail returned us to near-ground level we were parallel with the the Crooked River. That’s where we spotted the little guy. I hadn’t been paying too much attention to the water since I was more concerned with Mila not pulling me over as she dragged me downhill, but the group in front of us was making some noise and looking at the river. I saw what I originally thought was a black lab that could swim under water and/or a drowning dog, but quickly realized upon its swift dive to the deep that it was none other than the puppy of the river - a river otter. The dogs and Brooke (and myself) all like otters pretty good so we ran down the river looking for it. We didn’t have much luck spotting him so we sat down on a boulder that was partially in the river and watched the Wings notch one of their only playoff wins this year. I guess some would call it fate, but I call it life. The otter had come back to find us specifically. He waded in the water within a stones throw from us. He would repeatedly go bottoms-up into the river to fetch shellfish or find quarters, we assume. He swam closer and closer to us and would stare into my eyes, reaching into my soul. Then he tried to get out of the water up on the river bank to come hang out with us and join our family (again, we assume), but then Mila spotted him and barked really loud and scary like she always does and we never saw him again. RIP Rivers Otterton.
We ended the day with a nice hike on the last mile of the trail, with the sun setting behind us and our guard totally down. We came across a nice Oregon lizard as we continued down the trail and then BAM. Out of nowhere - baby rattlesnake. Right in the middle of our path. Similar to other animals we have encountered up to this point, he saw us as friend, not foe. He gave us a kind nod and went about his day and we continued our trek back to truck. The hike ended up being over five miles, and the pups were exhausted so we drove them back to camp for some much needed relaxing. We all slept well that night.