Eye Candy from the City of Rocks (A Photo Essay)

No one arrives at the City of Rocks by accident. Perched near the Utah/Idaho border, it’s a remote, beautiful place an hour off I-84 that’s easy to miss. For rock climbers, however, the City of Rocks is a mecca.

For my first visit in summer 2008, I arrived at midnight via a rocky, wandering back road. Rutted dirt roads jousted with the Subaru’s undercarriage, but the car survived and a week of full-moon evenings by the fire and fantastic climbing ensued. I’ve aimed to return ever since.

This time, I skipped the axle-smashing entrance in favor of the main entrance. (Slightly further and worth it!) Fresh off fun in Hells Canyon, my buddy Sean and I rolled up and met my friends Martin and Donna.

Unlike Yosemite and its towering walls, The City creeps up on you. An unassuming, washboard dirt road scatters thoughts (and possessions) as the scene unfolds. First small boulders…then bigger… Then you’re immersed in a landscape where a giant alien dropped his granite marble collection and they shattered into shards of climbable stone.

Top of the park! Sean enjoying the birds-eye awesomeness from the multi-pitch Steinfell’s Dome.

Scattered among these rocks are hiking trails for landlubbers and climbing routes for the vertically inclined. A warren of twisting approaches and dozens of major features with names like Flaming Rock, Electric Avenue, Bumblie Rock or Steinfell’s Dome await you. Even for non-climbers, the City of Rocks is a worthwhile destination for hiking and trail running, not to mention the stars at night are incredible.

More pictures, less talking! What kinda photo essay is this? Last thing I’ll mention: check out Mountain Project for all the details you’ll need to plan your stay. Oh, and while the park is remote, it’s close enough to Boise and Salt Lake City that I recommend skipping spring or fall weekends when the park is buuuuusy.

Here are shots from our week of excellent fun in the City of Rocks and another day at nearby Castle Rocks. Enjoy!

Let’s start this photo series off with a well-composed, poignant shot! (Good grief, how much can two dudes eat in a week?!)

Martin styling the classic Tribal Boundaries. My FIRST rock climb, way back in 2005 (shout out, Keif!).

Sean taking in the park from a primo camp spot.

Me getting creative with body position while eyeing Quest for Fire. (Photo: Sean J)

The awesome Donna and Martin.

Van life pizza! Sean went next level and installed an oven in his Sprinter. #winning

A perfect starry night in the City.

Sean likes climbing! Or pretends to in pictures.

An excellent slab (aka use your feet!) climb in Castle Rocks. (Photo: Sean J)

Granite mattresses haven’t caught on for some reason, but the views can be good.

Sean showing Castle Rock who the boss is.

On the approach to Steinfell’s Dome, a solid hike in and then a long climb to the top.

Getting up high on Steinfell’s Dome!

Climbing: stressful at times, and yet so very fun.

OFFROAD! (And then immediately retreating to flatter ground. The Sprinter ain’t a Jeep!) (Photo: Sean J)

Through the looking glass on Flaming Rock.

Artsy fartsy with Martin in the background.

A “rest day” mountain bike explorer ride around Castle Rocks. Well-worth the spin!

Sean rambling about in Castle Rocks.

Me getting chomped by Loch Ness Monster. (Photo: Sean J)

Camp spot with a view! (Photo: Sean J)

Not a bad spot for dinner, if you ask me!

Calling it a day on Firewater. See ya next time, City of Rocks! (Photo: Sean J)

A couple excellent days of riding around Boise on the way home! The quick access from town reminded me of Bend.

Climbing Monkey Face at Smith Rock (with an Approach on Mountain Bikes!)


Climbing Monkey Face at Smith Rock (Video)

Click image to watch the video!

I’m balanced on my toes 300 feet off the ground, chalk dust blowing off my fingers. My friend Brandon yells encouragement, but the gusting wind gobbles up his words.

It’s my first time climbing Monkey Face, the famous feature in Oregon’s Smith Rock State Park. Tomorrow, we’ll crush plates full of Thanksgiving food. Today, I’m tied into the sharp end of the rope thinking about nothing except where to put my feet and how much air is between me and the ground.

Monkey Face! We climbed up the opposite side, then out the mouth on the right to the top.

This is where the rubber meets the rock. The route I’m climbing, Monkey Space, is famous for its exposure, and I’m overgripping like mad at the moment. My mind knows the rope I’m tied to will keep me safe, but my amygdala is screaming “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

The video tells the story best!


A little background: I inked “Climb Monkey Face” onto my bucket list soon after arriving to Oregon. It only took 10 years to stand on top! It’s a must-do for any experienced climber visiting Smith Rock.

To add some adventure, Brandon and I loaded up both our climbing gear and mountain bikes. After a two-wheeled approach to the base of The Monkey, we laced up our shoes and headed skyward. Our route: three 5.8 trad pitches via the West Face Variation of the Monkey, then enjoyed the infamous exposure of the two pitches of 11a/11b sport climb Monkey Space.

Climbing out of the Monkey’s mouth on the 11b final pitch to the top of Monkey Face. (An old photo of mine from 2012!)