March 5, 2008 – Bend Bulletin Fishing in Sundown Canyon

March 5, 2008
March 5, 2008 – Bend Bulletin Fishing in Sundown Canyon

Finding yourself in Sundown

Visit the Deschutes from Crooked River Ranch

By Jim Witty / The Bulletin


If you go

Getting there: To reach Crooked River Ranch from Redmond, drive north on U.S. Highway 97 to Terrebonne. Turn left on to Lower Bridge Road, then right onto 43rd Street and left onto Northwest Chinook Drive into the Crooked River Ranch subdivision. From that point:
• To reach Steelhead Falls, turn left on Badger Road, then right on Quail Road. After about a mile, turn left on River Road and left on Folley Waters to reach that trailhead, or continue on River Road to the Steelhead Falls parking area and trailhead.
• To reach Sundown Canyon, take Mustang Road, turn right on Southwest Shad Road and left on Southwest Sundown Canyon Road.

If you’ve never been lost in Crooked River Ranch, you’ve probably never been there.

Of course, if you carried a map from the get-go, you probably figured things out in a hurry. If you were winging it, the way I usually do, navigating “the ranch” can be a great adventure. I even get lost trying to find places I’ve been before. More than once.

On the plus side, it’s a pretty place to lose your bearings, in a dusty, saddle-up-your-horse kind of way.

I found Sundown Canyon for the third or fourth time last weekend, after blundering my way up and down dirt drives with names like Shad, Chipmunk, Golden Mantle and Horny Hollow. (I didn’t actually lose my way on Horny Hollow, but that’s one of the better street names I’ve ever come across.)

There are several ways to get to the Deschutes River from Crooked River Ranch, each offering access to the dramatic rimrock canyon country of the middle reach of the stream.

There’s a dirt parking area above Sundown Canyon and a narrow trail that snakes down to the river below. The trail continues upriver for a short distance but soon peters out into a jumble of river rocks that should be negotiated with care. We got to know them well. My son dropped his water bottle there, then unknowingly lost the walkie-talkie he was carrying when he bent down to pick up the bottle. When he realized my walkie-talkie was missing, we retraced his steps, paged it and heard it squawking down there in the shadows below the boulders.

He spent a good half hour trying to reach the radio — just beyond arm’s length — in a dark crevasse beneath those immovable rocks. Maddening, but one of those things that can happen when you venture outside the boundaries of the amusement park. Best to rationalize and move on. It could have been my fly box. In which case, we’d probably still be there trying to fish it from the rocky recesses.

This time of year, the Middle Deschutes is as robust as it gets; unfettered by irrigation withdrawals upstream, there’s plenty of water chugging through the canyon, depositing foam along the edges. Come spring, however, the irrigators open the gates near Bend and the flow goes from vigorous to anemic in the blink of an eye.

By midsummer, flows drop to about 7 percent of the natural, historic level, the water temperature spikes, and the rainbow and brown trout between Bend and Lake Billy Chinook must contend with one more challenge compromising their survival.

The encouraging news is that the Deschutes River Conservancy has brought farmers, irrigation districts, anglers, power producers, developers and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs together to restore some of the historic stream flow. There is hope for the river while balancing the needs of myriad users.

Next stop was the Folley Waters upriver. A popular early season fly-fishing spot, it’s a section of the river accessible by a mile-long trail down to the water. There’s a big tree-studded meadow there on the river’s east bank, a pleasant place for a picnic. There’s a sketchy fishermen’s trail that leads up-canyon.

Downriver from the Folley Waters is the Steelhead Falls trailhead and, a half-mile beyond that on a well worn path, the falls itself.

There’s a fish ladder there, built in 1922, which once offered steelhead and salmon a boost over the natural falls. That was before the Pelton-Round Butte Dam complex downriver slammed the door shut on anadromous fish in 1959 (they’re being introduced into the system again as you read this).

Navigating our way back out of Crooked River Ranch, I began wondering how this sprawling rural subdivision came to be. Back home, www.crookedriver answered my questions to a tee.

In 1910, when nearby Redmond boasted a population of 210, a Texas oil man named Gates bought the 12,000-acre ranch from homesteaders. According to the Web site, the main ranch house, built in 1916, is now home of the Crooked River Ranch Senior Center. The Thomas Bell family bought the ranch in 1961 and operated it as Z-Z Cattle Co. for the next decade. Bill MacPherson developed Crooked River Ranch as a recreational site in 1972. It’s now home to more than 4,000 people.

And a rugged reach of the Deschutes River that will make you forget about all those houses the moment you drop below the canyon rim.

Jim Witty can be reached at 617-7828 or

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