We spend a lot of time exploring Oregon’s many state parks. A LOT. So we were beyond thrilled to finally make our way to experience Cottonwood Canyon, Oregon’s newest state park, and check it out for ourselves. Opened in 2014, Cottonwood is a mere 30minute drive off of the mighty Columbia Gorge Highway, sitting scenically next to the John Day river.
Jim and our brother in law Ken took their boat out there last spring at the end of a week floating the John Day and came back with mixed reviews. Yes, it’s a gorgeous spot, but when they built the campground they plowed in all the existing vegetation to make the camp sites, bathroom blocks, etc and then added irrigation lines and replanted native shrubs and grasses. However, in this dry, dusty area, dust storms are not uncommon and they swore they would not be camping there until it had been up and running for awhile.
Fast forward one year. We left for camp late, arriving after dark. Even with a full moon we didn’t get a good grasp of the area so simply chose a site, set up camp, and went to bed. We awoke to brilliant sunshine and frost on the windows and were finally able to see what we’d gotten ourselves into~ and we loved it!
Granted, only the day use area has reached it’s full potential at this point. Construction of the park began here, centered around an original ranch building, and the additional fencing, corrals, and buildings were done in a style faithful to the original. Green lawns abound and the history is artfully displayed with old photos set onto wood planks and local ranchers brands burned into fence rails.
One half mile further in, the campground is doing better although can certainly use additional time to grow enough vegetation to keep the dust down. We were extremely lucky to have weather perfection during our time there, but our neighbors said many tent campers left the afternoon before when the camp turned into a dust bowl for several hours.
A harsh, arid land, warnings to watch for rattlesnakes and rock slides abound. Posted signs advise of the length of time it takes for medical help to arrive and ticks. Bikers and dog paws alike need to be aware of puncture vines.
In spite of this, it was one of those idyllic days at camp spent fishing, hiking, reading, napping, and enjoying cocktails in the sun. A brilliant full moon rose over the hills before us, turning the river to silver and the shadows to plum. As the temperature plummeted we warmed ourselves with a campfire and whiskey as we talked long into the night, about the past, about the future, about how blessed we felt in that exact place at that exact moment.
Sunday dawned a bit overcast but we lingered at camp, taking in some final fishing and hiking before reluctantly packing up to head home. We will return. We felt very connected to nature here, appreciating the harsh beauty of the landscape and the tipping our hats to those tough pioneers who made this place their home.
Cottonwood Canyon State Park – located on Highway 206 between Condon and Wasco.