This summer I found myself hiking a wonder! Smith Rock State Park is located in central Oregon’s High Desert and is the perfect stop-over for anyone on a road trip in the Beaver State. What amazed me the most was the sheer cliffs and the reddish-orange hue, but I was also surprised by the overwhelming crowds. Smith Rock has been labeled as one of the “Seven Wonders” of Oregon. As a consequence, don’t expect any kind of solitude, unless you start early in the day. For that reason, I postponed a hike to the next day. Besides, it’s a good idea to start early before the real heat sets in.
I decided to hike the Misery Ridge Loop which includes the Misery Ridge Trail to the summit and from there down the Mesa Verde Trail to the River Trail and back to the trailhead – a wonderful 4 miles round trip. The route is mostly easy to moderate although some sections are characterized as most difficult. There’s not a lot of shade on this hike. Instead, you’re getting plenty of scenic views of the Crooked River Canyon below and in the distance some of the major Oregon’s Cascade peaks, including Three Sisters and Mount Bachelor. Don’t forget to look up during your hike. You’ll probably notice several daring rock climbers with ropes and nerves of steel. Also, when you get to Monkey Face, a giant, self-standing pillar, it becomes clear why Smith Rock is a world famous climbing site. I’m sure Monkey Face is one of those must-do climbs for rock climbers.
You can reach Smith Rock State Park with just a 30 minutes’ drive from Bend.
When going on a road trip, I always plan to bring as little as possible, but almost every time I end up with max load. Maybe it’s because I’m bringing my stuff all the way from Denmark to the U.S., and I can’t live without my camera and hiking gear as this is what I love to do when traveling: snapping photos and hiking amazing trails. All together it adds up in weight and volume, but it’s worth it. Actually, I love packing and always find ways to make it work, even with an ice axe, helmet, tent, pad, tripod and a bunch of camera lenses.
Once again I’ll be back on the Mount Whitney Trail, and this year I’m going to summit. Getting a permit for the second time is a privilege. My first visit was in May 2015 and what a great adventure it was. Even though I was fully prepared at my last attempt, it didn’t bring me all the way to the top. This year I’m twice as prepared and will prevail. What might be a hurdle would be something like a nasty thunderstorm with lightning, but I’ll cross my fingers for perfect summit weather.
To me, it’s more than a mountain hike. Being a photo fanatic, I’ll be bringing my cameras and have a whole lot of fun with that. Also, this year’s summer road trip will take me to Oregon for the first time. I can’t wait to experience the Beaver State. It’ll be my 34th state to visit. Below are some photos from my Whitney hike last year.
Sometimes a hike takes away my breath, not physically, but rather emotionally. It’s exactly what happened when I hiked to see The Wave on the Utah-Arizona state border. This remote and unspoiled desert landscape is a geologic treasure. At the scene, I spent nearly 4 hours soaking in the surreal beauty. I also had my best lunch moment ever. No café in the world can offer such a spectacular setting. Why is it called The Wave? I think my gallery speaks for itself. More details below the photos.
Would I like to come back? For sure! I want to explore the area more thoroughly as I know there are dinosaur footprints to be found. There are also other great hiking trails nearby, so definitely a place that goes into my top list of follow-up-places.
Are you hooked? Only 20 people per day are allowed to enter the area so a little preplanning is required.
Good to know
- You need a permit. There’s an online lottery which allocates 10 permits four months in advance of the month for which the permit is sought. Other 10 walk-in permits are available through a lottery at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center (pretty long name, huh?) in Kanab, Utah. The lottery is conducted the day before you wish to hike.
- It’s a remote place and you won’t see any convenience features like you do at Grand Canyon. You do get a map that can guide you to The Wave, but don’t expect fancy signs to help you along the way. It’s easy to become disoriented.
- If you’re a photo geek (like me), conditions are great when the sun is high. But I’d say anytime during the day is worth a photo, so don’t rush.
- It’s a desert! Temperatures typically climb above 110 Fahrenheit in the summer. At the visitor center, they really mean it when they recommend hikers to carry plenty of water and to drink it. Fatalities are not uncommon. You’ll receive this flyer (below) with your permit, just to make sure you get the message.
The Wave is located within the Paria Canyon/Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness. This wilderness is administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Go to their website to apply for a permit and read more about the area. The Wave is part of the Coyote Buttes Permit Area.
The shortest hike to The Wave begins at the Wire Pass Trailhead. You reach The Wave by hiking approximately 3 miles across open desert, so the round-trip to and from The Wave is nearly a 6-mile hike. Distance is not the factor, but weather can be, so plan and prepare. You get to the trailhead by the scenic House Rock Valley Road, a dirt road that begins about 8.3 miles south of US 89.
Death Valley is more than just Badwater and record high temperatures. Grab a 4×4 Jeep to see the vast and empty-seeming landscape in a new way. I took off for a day trip to see Barker Ranch, a remote place free of tourists but with a lot of history to tell. It was the last hideout of Charles Manson and his followers. The Manson Family was like a cult and hid at the ranch after a gruesome Los Angeles murder spree in the summer of 1969.
I decided to reach Barker Ranch from west via Goler Canyon and Goler Wash. It was actually my second attempt to take on Goler Canyon. Last time I had to turn around shortly after entering the canyon because my car at the time didn’t have enough clearance. The road has rough, narrow and rocky sections. It’s off-roading at its best. Now, with a rental Jeep from Farabee’s it was a lot easier than last time.
Music: Charles Manson, “Look at Your Game, Girl”
The fun starts once you leave the paved Trona Wilderose Rd (SR 178) and continue onto Ballarat Rd which will take you to the ghost town of Ballarat. Here you can ask the keeper about road conditions, he might now something. Otherwise you can always grab a few cold sodas and support this cozy convenience store in the middle of nowhere. Continue on the Wingate Rd to the canyon entrance from where you have 6.5 miles to Barker Ranch. To begin with the canyon is only a bit wider than the road, then the canyon gradually widens and the road improves.
I passed a 1-mile sign to Barker Ranch, but somehow I missed the turn and soon found myself on a narrow sandy trail. When I wanted to turn around, the Jeep slipped on a sandy slope. For a moment I thought it would tip over. With some improvised maneuvering I managed to get the Jeep stabilized and off this sandy mess. Right there I learned something about gravity. I finally found the trail to Barker Ranch through a section of heavy vegetation. Although the ranch is partly destroyed because of a fire in 2009, there’s still plenty to see. I found the ranch spooky but also interesting because of its history. Walk around and use your imagination to see how it was like to live here in the late 60’s.
4 Facts To Go
- Death Valley – It’s actually a National Park, so remember your park pass. Although it’s a hot and dry desert, thunderstorms can cause dangerous floods, so watch the forecast before you go.
- Goler Canyon – Barker Ranch is accessible from east and west. From the east you’ll be going over Mengel Pass, but it’s not recommended unless you’re an experienced 4×4 driver. From the west you can have a fun and adventurous drive via Goler Canyon and Goler Wash. Goler Canyon is part of the Panamint Mountains – the western barrier of Death Valley.
- Barker Ranch – Named after Jim and Arlene Barker who purchased the ranch in 1955. It was originally built in the 30’s by recreational ranchers who wanted to live in solitude and enjoy the simplicities of life. The Manson family occupied Barker Ranch for a brief period till they were captured in October 1969. Barker Ranch was partly destroyed in an accidental fire in 2009.
- Charles Manson – The infamous Charles Manson is notoriously connected to a murder spree in Los Angeles, although he was never found guilty of committing the murders himself. He was the leader of a bizarre cult known as The Manson Family. After the horrific murders, Manson and his followers took refuge at Barker Ranch in Death Valley. Manson was captured at Barker Ranch when law enforcement found him hiding in a cabinet in the bathroom. He is serving a life sentence at Corcoran State Prison in California.
I rented my Jeep at Farabee’s in Furnace Creek. Unless you have your own Jeep or similar high-clearance vehicle, go for Farabee’s. You get a Jeep equipped with heavy duty off-road tires for protection against sharp rocks, and you get an introduction to Jeep and how 4×4 works. You also get a GPS spot unit for tracking in case of emergency. Needless to say, there’s no cell phone reception in the backcountry. The staff is friendly, and it’s easy breezy to pick up and return the car.