(Last updated 12/9/07)

The formation of Oregon started about 200 million years ago (mya) when the floor of the Pacific Ocean (expanding along a SW to NE diagonal rift) collided with the North American continent between the Klamath Mountains (then an island) and the Hell's Canyon area on the Idaho border; the range of "coastal" mountains initially formed can still be seen in the Blues and Wallowas. This situation persisted until about 35 mya, when the rift in the sea floor shifted to a line paralleling the present coast and triggered episodes of explosive volcanic activity in the western Cascades. These episodes lasted nearly 10 million years and covered much of central Oregon with a layer of ash called the John Day Formation, in some places to a depth of almost 1000 feet. Then about 20 mya, volcanic activity shifted to the central and eastern part of the state where, for the next 10 million years, molten lava flowed from fissures in the earth's crust and incredible quantities of basalt flooded nearly all of Oregon east of the Cascades. The resulting blanket of lava, the second largest basalt mantel in the world, covered over 10,000 square miles of the state to a depth of several thousand feet, producing Oregon's high desert plateau.

The historic one-room Smock Prairie Schoolhouse (left) was recently moved to the town of Wamic, in the foothills just west of Tygh Valley in Wasco county, and is now a museum; an old, hand-carved sign (center) indicates that Wamic is located near the first toll gate on the Barlow Road (1845-6; the first overland route at the end of the Oregon Trail, the Road wound over the Cascades through the TV from The Dalles to Oregon City). White River Falls State Park, just to the east of TV, contains the ruins of an historic hydroelectric plant (right), built in 1902 on a now dry tributary of the White to provide power for the Wasco Milling Company in The Dalles (30 miles to the north); the plant was expanded in 1910 after it was bought by PP&L

Over the eons, the lower Deschutes River [from "Riviere des Chutes," or River of the Falls, coined by French fur traders during the early 1800s - a reference to the proximity of the river's mouth to Celilo Falls (now covered by the pool of the Dalles Dam; see Gorge)] has cut a wide canyon more than 100 miles long and 2,000 ft deep through the accumulated layers of rock. These views are from a stretch of river about 10 miles south of Maupin [located in the central canyon (on Hwy 197) at one of the few access points to the lower stretch of the river]. One surprising aspect of the canyon is the single track railroad line that runs down its west side (left), the result of a railroad war (1909-11) between James J. Hill's Oregon Trunk Railroad, a subsidiary of the Great Northern line, and Edward H. Harriman's DesChutes Railroad, a Union Pacific subsidiary; the war was waged with rifles and black powder between competing crews that numbered in the thousands as they blasted into the canyon walls and raced to lay track on opposite sides of the river. The road on the east side of the canyon (right), which provides access to the river for anglers and rafters along 35 miles of the canyon in the Maupin area, occupies the railroad bed of the war's losing side

Sherars Bridge (left) carries Hwy 216 across the Deschutes about 10 miles north of Maupin - it stands about 50 miles from the mouth of the Deschutes at the site of a toll bridge built by John Todd in 1860, where a basalt flow tightly pinches the river; Joseph Sherar purchased the bridge from Todd in 1871, then built approach roads down the canyon walls and a 3-story tavern/inn nearby that was a major stop for travelers until 1905. A view of Sherars Falls (right) shows the force of the river as it carries on the slow proces of cutting its way through another layer of hard basalt.

Sherars Falls is lined with rickety platforms projecting over the river (left), from which Native Americans use long-handled dip nets (right) to catch fish; only tribal members from the Warm Springs Indian Reservation have the rather dangerous privilege of fishing this way

Shaniko (supposedly the local Indian pronunciation of pioneer rancher August Sherneckau's name) is a not-quite ghost town (population around 40) located on US Hwy 97 about 20 miles southeast of Maupin and 70 miles north of Bend. Shaniko was planned and built (1900) by businessmen in The Dalles as the terminus for the Columbia Southern Railroad, and as a collection station for the enormous quantities of wool being produced in central Oregon - a role it played into the '40's. The Shaniko Hotel (1900; left), a recently restored 2-story building with 18-inch thick walls made of handmade brick, has become a popular destination, as it was for this convertible club during Shaniko's Pioneer Days celebration; the Post Office (right) also opened in 1900

The 3-room Shaniko School (left), which housed kindergarten through high school, was built in 1901; the wooden Water Tower (1900; right) contained two 10,000 gallon wooden tanks to hold water pumped from nearby Cross Hollow canyon, which was then sent to the town through a wooden pipe system

The town of Antelope (about 8 miles south of Shaniko on Hwy 218; left) was the first settlement in the Antelope Valley region; the town warranted a post office (Howard Maupin, postmaster) by 1871, and was a center for cattle and sheep men in the 1890's; destroyed by a fire in 1898, it was quickly rebuilt, but nevertheless became a ghost town after Shaniko was established. The hills to the southwest of Antelope (near the Big Muddy Ranch, which was known as the Rajneeshpuram in the 1980s) provide a view of Mt. Jefferson and other Cascade peaks

A series of three dams block the Deschutes River at the south end of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. Two large tributaries, the Metolius and Crooked Rivers, join the Deschutes behind 400-ft high Round Butte Dam (left; constructed in 1964) to form one of the more surprising and spectacular aspects of the high desert, Lake Billy Chinook (right), named after a Wasco Indian who guided the Freemont expedition of 1843 thru this area.

The three arms of LBC, which fill the deep canyons originally formed by these three rivers near their confluence, provide 72 miles of shoreline and almost 4000 acres of water with an average depth of over 100 ft. Watersking, fishing, and houseboating provide year-round recreation

Looking west from the Peter Skene Ogden Scenic Wayside (in Jefferson County, about 3 miles north of Terrebonne), a view (left) of the 350-ft steel arched span of the Oregon Trunk Railroad bridge (1911; designed by Ralph Modjeski) over the Crooked River Gorge - one of the highest in the country, it rises 320 ft above the water; built to complete the railway from the Columbia River to Bend, ownership of the site (which Oregon Trunk bought from the Central Oregon Railroad in 1909) turned out to be the deciding factor in the Deschutes railroad war. Just upstream (to the east) on US Hwy 97 is the spandrel deck arch of the 464-ft long Crooked River Gorge Bridge (1926; right), designed by Conde B. McCullough; the Bridge will soon be part of the Wayside park as a new 4-lane highway bridge has just been built to the east - a construction stay tower is still visible in the upper left of this pic.

Just east of Terrebonne (and about 23 miles north of Bend on US 97), Smith Rocks State Park is an international destination for rock climbers and the number one sport climbing area in the country. Smith Rock proper (a ledge of welded John Day rhyolite ash) is the southernmost of the formations in the area, an imposing massif roughly 1/2 mile long surrounded on three sides by a hairpin loop of the Crooked River.

The highest peak in the area, The Summit, is less that 1000 ft high, but sport climbing emphasizes technique and physical conditioning rather than scaling great heights or the use of artificial aids - although belay ropes are used for safety. Thousands of routes (with ratings up to 5.14c), often marked with the telltale of climbers' talc, have been mapped at Smith, many of them short and near the ground, with fixed bolts for anchor ropes permanently installed on more than a thousand

The names of various formations and walls in the area - Asterisk Pass, Red Wall, Misery Ridge, The Dihedrals - have become household words among the climbing fraternity since a guide to the area was published by the Mazamas in 1962

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