Especially considering the vastness of space in the Great Basin in general and central Oregon in particular, Fort Rock State Park is a speck, less than half a homestead. However, out in the sagebrush desert, the rock definitely loomed as we approached it. From Oregon Highway 31, it looked like a monolith that might suggest a fortress. Before reaching it (and from a different, more southern angle), the rock looks like a breached fort perhaps? Ten thousand years ago or so, the volcanic crater created by an ancient shield volcano was an island, rising four hundred feet above the inland ocean floor and a hundred feet from the surface. Wind and waves broke through one wall.
The open side is where a well-maintained gravel road provides access to vehicles. There is a parking lot, some explanatory sign and picnic tables under lodge pole shade, restrooms, a water faucet, and some campsites. On two midsummer visits to the park site, there were no campers, and no other visitors except for about ten minutes when two pickups (I don’t know what the term is for a pickup truck with a second row of seats in the cab is) stopped briefly. It seems to be a common use of Oregon parks to drive up, snap a few photos from an automotive vehicle, or perhaps to step outside to snap them, then get back in and drive to the next Kodak site. Crater Lake National Park, in particular, seems to have been paved for such visitors. If I recall correctly, there are only four trails in the whole of the national park.
At Fort Rock, there is only one. It goes part way up the inside of the crater and around. If there was ever rock art, it crumbled. There definitely wasnine thousand years old. Presumably, the Native Americans paddled over to Fort Rock and/or some lived there, too. No one lives there now.
There are guided tours of the cave, which is a National Heritage site even though all artifacts have been removed, two weekends a month from April through October. They are now at the Oregon Museum of Natural History at the University of Oregon in Eugene. The tours last about an hour and a half, and can be reserved on a first-come, first-served basis at 541-536-2428.
“Fossil water,” that is, water left from the Pleistocene Era lakes, is pumped up and used to irrigate round fields of alfalfa without any attempt to limit evaporation. This green makes for high-contrast photos from some angles and tourists don’t care any more than the local farmers about whether there will be any water in the future, right? (If the irrigation was done at night, more water would seep back into the ground…)
Besides the possibilities of camping and picnicking, neither of which I saw any evidence of, and hiking and looking at rock formations, which I did, the main activity possible at Fort Rock State Park is wildlife viewing. There are many ground squirrels in the sagebrush desert and many raptors (birds of prey). I saw red-tail hawks ranging from very light to very dark morphs. All raptors in the western United States are red-tails until proven otherwise, but about a third of the raptors visible from the roads (either flying or perched on poles) were not red-tails. There were loggerhead shrikes and kestrels on wires. On poles, we saw ferruginous hawks, a nesting pair of Swainson’s hawks, prairie falcons, and a golden eagle.
There was a nesting prairie falcon high up in the rocks, rock doves and white-throated swifts flying around the tops of the cliffs. And brutal sun in summer afternoons.
Driving up to the where the ponderosa pines stop and the sagebrush desert begins (there is no transition: it is like timberlines, except inverted in that they stop at lower elevation) at a (deserted) Forest Service camp at Cabin Lake (there is no lake: the only visible water is a puddle under the end of a pipe) there are many nesting Lewis’s woodpeckers (this is a large woodpecker that acts like a flycatcher, hunting insects in the air and on the ground more than pecking the ponderosa pines for grubs, flies like a crow, and has a mottled pink belly along with the more standard woodpecker black back and head with some red). We also saw the elusive green-tailed towhee and heard some piï¿½on jays in the distance.
There are no fees for day use of the park. I looked for camping information at the camping page of the Oregon state park website (http://www.oregonstateparks.org/camping.php). but it was not listed. The reservation number for Oregon state parks is 1-800-452-5687.
The park is about two hours drive from the Crater Lake Rim Village or from Bend (NE or SE, respectively), off Oregon Highway 31.