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  • Desert Dreamscape

    What inspired Rasmus Petersen to construct these whimsical structures on his Central Oregon property?
  • File a visit to Petersen Rock Gardens, between Bend and Redmond, under "quirky." Even without the flock of peacocks roaming the property, this four-acre testament to a most unusual hobby would be remarkable enough. The outrageously feathered birds only add to the air of fantasy that hovers over this place.
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    • If You Go
      What: Petersen Rock Gardens
      How to get there: The gardens are located 2.5 miles west of Highway 97. Watch for signs along the highway, beginning about seven miles south of Redmond.
      Cost: Ad...
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      If You Go
      What: Petersen Rock Gardens

      How to get there: The gardens are located 2.5 miles west of Highway 97. Watch for signs along the highway, beginning about seven miles south of Redmond.

      Cost: Admission is by donation, with a suggested fee of $4.50 for adults; less for seniors and children.

      Hours: Open 365 days a year.
  • File a visit to Petersen Rock Gardens, between Bend and Redmond, under "quirky." Even without the flock of peacocks roaming the property, this four-acre testament to a most unusual hobby would be remarkable enough. The outrageously feathered birds only add to the air of fantasy that hovers over this place.
    Does a person just wake one morning and decide to start building little houses out of rocks? What inspired Rasmus Petersen to construct these whimsical structures on his property? And what motivated him to keep creating?
    These are just some of the questions that will run through your mind as you follow the peacocks from miniature cottage to castle to church. Most buildings are the size of doll houses. The bigger castle could easily house a score of imaginary little people.
    Slabs of petrified wood and lava rock form the "mountains" upon which these structures are perched. The roofs and walls of the buildings are made of smaller pieces of these, plus thundereggs, obsidian, agate, jasper and malachite.
    Besides the buildings, there is a stone version of the American flag and even a sculpted replica of the Statue of Liberty, her pedestal featuring layer after layer of flat stones arranged in perfect rows.
    The gardens sprawl around the modest Petersen house, which stands unoccupied upon the grounds. I began to wonder what kind of man had lived in there. Was Petersen a harmless eccentric or an obsessed kook?
    I came upon a dark, secluded spot behind hedges in a far corner of the property, where Petersen had erected a kind of altar. Or perhaps it was a birdbath that had lost its bowl. Whatever Petersen had intended, the effect on this day was eerie. Even the castle looked a bit haunted.
    I imagined Petersen was a war veteran who had lost himself in his hobby as a way of forgetting the horrors he had seen on the battlefield. I had almost sold my wife and daughter on this theory when we encountered an elderly lady with white hair leading her small granddaughter over one of Petersen's stone footbridges.
    "I was her age when I first came here," the smiling grandma informed us. She and her young companion seemed to be having a delightful time.
    Now convinced that the spookiness was all in our heads, we reverted to our original view of the gardens, seeing only the whimsy, the commitment to craft and the appeal of creating a make-believe world. The place was quirky, yes. But not in a way that could scare a child.
    Later, in the gift shop, I picked up a pamphlet that told about Petersen. Born in Denmark in 1883, he came to Central Oregon's high desert in 1903. He was a farmer, not a traumatized soldier. By 1935, his farm was well-enough established that he could start having some fun.
    That's when he started building things with rocks.
    Almost all the stones and boulders he used came from within an 85-mile radius of his home. He gathered them by the truckload and brought them to the rockery he built adjacent to his house. Hauling and sorting the tons of rocks was hard work. However, according to Petersen, it was nothing compared to the backbreaking toil of farming. Petersen died in 1952.
    The man in the gift shop urged us to return in summer when the ponds beneath the footbridges would be full of water. We told him we would bring our lunch next time and use the picnic area, where the peacocks tend to congregate.
    Admission to the gardens is by donation with a suggested fee of $4.50 for adults, less for seniors and children. Petersen Rock Gardens is located 2.5 miles west of Highway 97. Watch for signs along the highway, beginning about seven miles south of Redmond. The place is open 365 days a year.
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