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Smith Rock isn't just for climbers

A wide range of pastel-colored cliffs, pinnacles and crags from pinks and bronze takes your breath away along the trail at Central Oregon's Smith Rock State Park.

As the sun moves across the sky, the colors seem to change in this million-year-old rock river canyon 30 minutes from Bend. It's a unique geological wonderland that attracts people ranging from world-class climbers to laid-back picnickers.

Smith Rock has a reputation as a rock-climbing park, but it's a lot more than that.

Try excellent outdoors photography, hiking, picnicking, wildflower gazing and wildlife watching.

The park is a must-see whether you are traveling through on the way to the Columbia River or are just hitting the Ale Trail in Bend to sample microbrews.

It's crowded during the summer and might make you feel as if you're in a busy national park at times, but there are places to get away from the crowds. Just stock a daypack and head out.

You'll also want to read all the interpretive signs to learn about the geology of the area, which features tuff-basalt outcroppings and towers.

Although there is a lot to do in the park, watching rock climbers is a major activity in itself. They seem to be plastered against rock faces like spidermen with ropes dangling and carabiners clanking.

If you don't watch out, you may get hooked into the sport.

Just ask Elaine Thompson of Spanish Fork, Utah, who was attending a family reunion.

She met some rock climbers and started talking to them. The next thing she knew she was up 75 feet on a rock face.

"I am 50 years old and have never rock-climbed before," she said. "I have to admit I was a little nervous at first, but really excited to try."

Thompson had a pretty good cheering section while she was on the rock.

"The hardest thing was getting my first leg up," she said.