March 11, 2008

Peter Skene Ogden Scenic Viewpoint

Oregon Trunk Railroad Bridge, constructed in 1911, is one of three bridges featured at Peter Skene Ogden Scenic Viewpoint.
- photo by Leslie Pugmire Hole/copyright Redmond Spokesman

Traveling at 55 mph along Highway 97 gives drivers and even passengers little time to note the drama surrounding the crossing of the Crooked River.

And the simple brown “Peter Skene Ogden Scenic Viewpoint” sign just south of the Rex T. Barber Bridge can be easily overlooked.

Both omissions are a shame because the Ogden overlook is among the best kept secrets in Central Oregon.

The viewpoint is a state park but was originally developed by the Oregon Department of Transportation after construction of the first automobile bridge in 1926. Until that time cars and wagons struggled down a narrow grade east of the spot and crossed Trail Crossing Bridge at the bottom of the gorge.

In 1911, when the Oregon Trunk Railroad was blazing a path south from The Dalles to Bend, the first bridge was built, a 350-foot steel arch rail trestle.

By 1926 the region had grown enough that work began on Crooked River Bridge, which was forever known to locals as “High Bridge.” Construction of the cast in place segmental arch bridge along sheer cliffs 300 feet deep evidently created quite the stir in the community.

The High Bridge opened in August 1926. A mention in the

July 1, 1926, Spokesman stated: “although it is quite certain that a plot of land just south of the railroad track will be set aside for a park, dedicated to and named for the early central Oregon explorer Ogden, no definite information is available at this time.”

Shortly after that time the viewpoint was built, with sturdy stone walls lining the cliff’s edge, affording perfect views of the rail trestle with mountains beyond, an impossibly deep canyon and the new automobile bridge.

In 2000 the site underwent another transformation when ODOT constructed the Rex Barber Bridge to accommodate more traffic, just east of the High Bridge.

High Bridge was converted into a pedestrian bridge when Rex Barber opened, giving visitors a perfect spot to view canyon and bridges on either side.

The trio of arch bridges follows the same curve and from certain angles appear to blend into one.

A paved trail leads from High Bridge, with interpretive information about Rex Barber and both bridges, to the rail bridge, which also features signage explaining the construction. After the paving disappears a trail extends west for time along the canyon, allowing access to great photo perspectives showing all three bridges.

Likewise if you cross the High Bridge to the north, an 82-year-old set of lava rock steps leads you to the canyon’s edge under the protective overhang of the bridge.

Two important dangers to be aware of at the wayside: The park has restrooms and plenty of nice grassy areas for an impromptu picnic. It also hosts an impressive colony of ground squirrels that aren’t shy about stealing food.

On a more serious note the basalt cliffs have claimed the lives of numerous dogs and a few people over the years and the danger is clearly posted everywhere.

Mr. Ogden must have been quite the fellow, travelers in the Northwest must surmise. There’s Ogden, Utah, Ogden Point in British Columbia, a school or two and Peter Skene Odgen Scenic Viewpoint right here in Central Oregon.
All that honorific naming must mean the Canadian-born explorer was a great man who did great things, right?
Well, we know he was a very busy explorer. For more than 30 years
Ogden traveled the West in the name of commerce – fur trading. In 1825 he led a group of Hudson Bay Company men that was the first documented visit by white men in Central Oregon. Ogden roamed though the Great Basin, British Columbia and northern California, making a name for himself as an often ruthless trader who held little regard for the natives (excepting his wives) or the ecologic folly of ‘trapping out’ entire rivers.

-- story by Leslie Pugmire Hole


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