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Mirror Pond in Bend, Oregon’s Drake Park, is part of the Deschutes River, which flows through the city. The park and pond are just a few blocks from Downtown Bend, where there is a thriving art, restaurant and brewery scene. Photo by E’Louise Ondash
Mirror Pond in Bend, Oregon’s Drake Park, is part of the Deschutes River, which flows through the city. The park and pond are just a few blocks from Downtown Bend, where there is a thriving art, restaurant and brewery scene. Photo by E’Louise Ondash
ColumnsHit the Road

Central Oregon’s high desert a hub for art, outdoor enthusiasts

From where I stood, I could see three, tiny white splotches on the sheer rock face on the far side of the Crooked River.

“Are those climbers,” I asked a woman next to me who probably had better distance vision than myself.

“Yes,” she said, “and there are some there, there, and over there.”

The index finger at the end of her outstretched arm pointed out, counterclockwise, what is not an unusual sight here at Smith Rock State Park in Central Oregon.

Smith Rock, a dramatic, jagged feature that rises abruptly out of the High Desert, is considered the birthplace of sport climbing and a rock climber’s mecca. Just minutes away from Terrebonne, the park claims to offer the third-most-difficult climbing route in the world.

Smith Rock State Park, Central Oregon, is volcanic in origin. The park, 26 miles north of Bend, is a mecca for rock climbers. Photo by E'Louise Ondash
Smith Rock State Park, Central Oregon, is volcanic in origin. The park, 26 miles north of Bend, is a mecca for rock climbers. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

Things called volcanic welded tuff and basalt columns with jam cracks and stemming corners draw thousands who love all types of rock climbing.

For years, Central Oregon has been a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds — campers, skiers, bikers and hikers. But a solid indoor scene that encompasses art, music, theater, museums, bars and restaurants is emerging.

First, a geography lesson.

Central Oregon or the High Desert as locals often call it, includes Bend (population 98,000); Redmond (32,000); Sisters (2,700); Terrebonne (1,700); and the Confederated Tribes of The Warm Springs Reservation (5,200).

The altitude of the four cities is roughly 3,200 feet and the reservation sits at about 1,500 feet. About 4.5 million visit the area annually, and while summer is high season, it’s also toasty. Spring and fall are ideal for both outdoor and indoor pursuits.

During my three-plus day stay in the area, I headquartered at the Waypoint Hotel in Bend on Highway 97, the lifeblood artery of Oregon’s High Desert. The spacious, tastefully and practically renovated rooms start at $135.

An old lumbermill’s smokestacks have become the signature of the Old Mill District, a 270-acre development in Bend, Ore. known for its mixed- use buildings that house shops, galleries and restaurants.  Photo by E’Louise Ondash
An old lumbermill’s smokestacks have become the signature of the Old Mill District, a 270-acre development in Bend, Ore. known for its mixed- use buildings that house shops, galleries and restaurants. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

The hotel is a 10- to 15-minute walk to the leafy, historic district of downtown and its shops, galleries, excellent restaurants and the iconic 1940s Tower Theatre, a renovated Art Deco gem on Wall Street. It’s the perfect venue for the annual Bend Film Festival.

I began the day with a walk through the verdant Drake Park and discovered the appropriately named Mirror Pond, then it’s breakfast at the nearby Blissful Spoon, where everything is gluten-free, including pastries.

Next, a screening of the film “Being Michelle.” The powerful documentary follows the challenging life of a 30-something deaf, autistic woman who finds solace and healing in her art and the couple who takes up her cause.

Director Atin Mehta spoke at length with the audience after the screening.

“We had no idea how the story would turn out,” Mehta said of his film, but the gamble paid off. The story grabs filmgoers immediately and holds them until the end.

Happening the same weekend was one of six concerts presented by the annual Jazz at the Oxford, staged at the well-appointed Oxford Hotel in downtown Bend. The first concert of the 11th season featured five-time, Grammy-nominated jazz singer Karrin Allyson and I learned that I was lucky to be there, as tickets were hard to come by.

The woman next to me said she was thrilled to be there because “you have to wait until someone dies to get season tickets.”

For more photos and discussion, visit www.facebook.com/elouise.ondash or Instagram @elouiseondash.

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