"High Desert Ghost Town with Geological Oddity" Fort Rock by atufft

Fort Rock Travel Guide: 16 reviews and 82 photos

Drop from Cascades to Great Basin

When most people think of Oregon, they think of the rain drenched Williamette Valley, or maybe the snow covered Cascades. But, actually the rain shadow of the high desert region of Oregon--which is part of the North America's Big Basin region-- makes up at least half of the state. Oregon penetrates deeper east into the continent than California, and so this eastern region is much like the state of Nevada to its south, part of a region that also includes much of Utah and southern Idaho, and was once North America's largest inland body of water. The earliest evidence of humans in America have been found in Oregon on the shores of this now bone dry lake bed. What's left of the inland sea is the sizeable Great Salt Lake. Now, this part of the Great Basin is mostly desert with sage brush and tumble weed being the sole surviving vegetation. At the base of the Cascades, there is a surprisingly abrupt transition from ponderosa pine tree forest to this open sage brush desert. The forest stops, and for a moment a few independent minded Ponderosa pines mingle among the sage brush, but for only a few hundred yards.

Fort Rock Geological Wonder

A few miles off Oregon highway 31 (which is in turn off Hwy 97 south of Bend, OR) into this region and one comes to the remarkable geological feature known as Fort Rock. The name is given for the unique crown shaped arrangement of rock, which from a distance appears deceptively like a mesa butte, and on the first go around, I made the mistake of simply driving by the dirt road exit because of this misperception. More recently, I returned and scaled the highest peak in this crown of volcanic rock.

Fort Rock Ghost Town

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Bureau of Land Management promoted homesteading in this region, a tragic land swindle of sorts that brought naive ranchers from all over the world to farm this barren and inhospitable land. But this was well before the current period of deep water drilling through the bedrock some 200 feet below the surface, and so farming was virtually impossible. The homesteaders suffered and abandoned the place, most moving to nearby Bend and other places in Oregon. The last homesteaders consolidated around the tiny village of Fort Rock. In the modern period, the BLM and ranchers scheduled a burn and bulldoze of the remaining homestead homes and commercial buildings, but a society created by pioneer descendents formed to save and move what they could into the arrangement that remains today. There's a museum staffed by senior citizens who were once the children of the pioneers who lived in these homes, went to the school, and worshiped in the church. Visitors to Rock Fort and nearby Christmas Valley are guaranteed to appreciate some of the most off-the-beaten-path tourism within the United States.

  • Last visit to Fort Rock: Sep 2008
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (16)

Comments (6)

  • BruceDunning's Profile Photo
    May 5, 2009 at 2:43 PM

    So after seeing this-a bit barren-I will keep searching for terrain in you area

  • Ewingjr98's Profile Photo
    Oct 8, 2008 at 7:04 AM

    Hey Alan, this is an interesting geological feature. Great job capturing this little spot.

  • glabah's Profile Photo
    Sep 28, 2008 at 11:48 PM

    Nice to see a bit of information about this feature of our state.

  • mtncorg's Profile Photo
    Aug 15, 2008 at 10:21 AM

    Well worth the sidetrip off OR 31, which for many is a sidetrip to begin with :-]

  • SteveOSF's Profile Photo
    Aug 10, 2008 at 1:45 PM

    The pictures remind me of the area of California east of the Sierras near Lee Vining and the ghost town of Bodie. Nice page!

  • KimberlyAnn's Profile Photo
    Aug 8, 2008 at 10:37 AM

    It looks like a mesa butte to me, also, I wouldn't have turned of either, unless I had some knowledge of it before hand. Interesting formation.

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