The 1,700-acre development includes elegant Tuscan- and Napa-style homes, 13 catch-and-release fly-fishing lakes, Cantera stone pathways, hand-stacked lava rock boundary walls, bridle paths and miles of Crooked River riverfront.
But it’s fallen on tough economic times, much like Montana’s Yellowstone Club and Idaho’s Tamarack Resort. It could change hands at a Nov. 14 silent auction for a mere $2.3 million.
That’s quite a come-down from the original proposal in the 1990s for a destination resort and golf course that drew signs and bumper stickers demanding: “Save Smith Rock.”
Locals rarely mention Ranch at the Canyons these days and aren’t affected by the development, said Terrebonne farmer Albert Rollins. Around town, “it’s just business as usual,” he said.
“We don’t see the homeowners so much as we do the maintenance people,” said Terrebonne Hardware owner Roger Ferguson.
Before the real estate crunch, 23 of Ranch at the Canyon’s 52 home sites sold, bringing an average $900,000 per lot, with several lots commanding $1.3 million, said John Rosenthal, owner of Realty Marketing/Northwest of Portland. Eight homes have been built and one is under construction.
Now, the highest bidder will claim the remaining home sites plus a controlling interest in ranch management, including a Tuscan horse stable and a 7,000-square-foot winery-clubhouse-spa.
The corporate owner, Canyons Land and Cattle Co. LLC’s asking price is “a significant value” and a dramatic drop from the previous $4.8 million price tag, not to mention the original investment, Rosenthal said.
While people aren’t rejoicing at the ranch’s financial troubles, some remain uneasy at the conspicuous consumption represented by the gates, walls and huge homes nudging up against the place where American sport climbing came into its own.
Smith Rock erupted into the national consciousness almost 30 years ago as climbers here developed new techniques and equipment that made previously unnavigable vertical rock faces accessible and safer. A Newsweek magazine cover photo in July 1993 featured Oregon climber Bill Soule on a Smith Rock route called Chain Reaction. The once-unknown formation had made an impossible leap from rural obscurity to world renown.
“Smith Rock had the hardest rock climbs in the United States and the world,” recalled Alan Watts, a Bend climber who began roping up and doing technical climbs here at age 14. Now 52, he pioneered many now-famous Smith Rock routes and wrote two well-known guidebooks.
Ranch at Canyons’ gated entryway prevents everybody but its residents from enjoying the panorama presented by Smith Rock from the west side of the Crooked River, Watts said. That’s like denying public access to the Yosemite Valley, he said.
“The view is amazing, but you can’t get anywhere close,” Watts said. “It’s a view that you essentially have to buy. Only the very wealthy can have that view.”
Homeowners at the ranch typically live on both coasts, have houses elsewhere and come here for holidays, said Rosenthal, who is overseeing the auction. “A couple of people live here full-time, and that’s it,” he said.
The scale of the ranch — situated just south of a 600-acre spread owned by Nike chairman Phil Knight — rankles other climbers.
“McMansions … They are gorgeous houses, but it’s also over-indulgence,” said Eric Bostard, owner of Redpoint Climbers Supply in Terrebonne.
Yet ranch manager Kerry Damon points to the park-like site’s tranquility and privacy and notes its sense of history.
Archaeological evidence shows the Northern Paiute tribe camped here before the white European invasion, Damon said. To the Paiutes, the stone formations on Smith Rock resembled bears, chipmunks and squirrels, he said.
“Within their legends, this was called the land of the animals,” Damon said.
And there is a possibility that members of the public could gain entry into the ranch.
A new owner of Ranch at the Canyons could build a “boutique” guest ranch — which already has land-use approval — on the grounds. The Manchester, Vt.-based Orvis Co. also brings anglers to the ranch from time to time to fish the lakes.
“It’s one of the most spectacular properties in the state of Oregon,” Rosenthal said.