I have been absent for quite some time from this space. I was excited about the prospect of last summer being a “hot vax summer” as promised, full of a return to some state of normalcy and the opportunity to travel again. I quit my job at the end of July to attend graduate school full-time in the fall. In the intervening time, Zach and I anticipated taking a road trip through Washington and Oregon, which transformed into a camping sojourn in western Montana, which morphed into a trip to eastern Oregon and northern Idaho, which finally became a stint in the Wallowa Mountains. After a lackluster summer full of wildfire smoke and cancelled trips, I was happy to jump into the hectic routine of school and an (unpaid) internship. The energy I normally devoted to trip planning and chronicling was pivoted to writing dozens of papers. I had forgotten how totally school consumes time and energy, but I enjoyed having a focus that could somewhat ignore how the pandemic had upended life. So, while we did take some trips last summer and fall, I haven’t felt motivated to write about them. This process is surprisingly time-consuming, and I have enjoyed putting off any narration about our journeys. However, I do hope to catch up this summer!
As a start, I will regale you with tales from our recent trip to Bend. Like Boise, Bend is an outdoorsy town with access to the nearby Cascade Mountains, loads of National Forest land, and the Deschutes River running through town. The fastest route from Boise is 5.5 hours traversing lots of wide, open rangeland and mono-crop acreage. It wasn’t my favorite drive, in fact, it was downright boring. We decided that on our next trip, we’d rather take the slightly longer route and enjoy both scenery and towns along the way. Driving into Bend from the east, the town sort of appears out of the sagebrush plains. There is not much development on that side of town yet, but we noticed hints of growth. Although we often wing it with camping accommodations, we opted to reserve a site at Tumalo State Park. Nestled in a canyon along the Deschutes River just 5 miles outside of town, it was a convenient location for us to explore Bend on the cheap. The only major drawback to the park is its proximity to a highway which contributes a fair amount of road noise, particularly in the evening when everyone quiets down. Otherwise, it was a great spot and the heated bathrooms with sinks and toilets were a plus!
We arrived earlier than our check-in time, so we stopped downtown to get our bearings. Purely by accident, we parked across the river from Drake Park, one of Bend’s many riverside parks. Conveniently located in the heart of downtown Bend, it’s also wonderfully scenic. The park is full of towering ponderosa pine and lots of open grassy space for picnics, dogs, and the resident geese population. In the summer, I imagine it’s a popular destination for kayaking, tubing, and picnicking under the shade.
After strolling through the park, we decided to visit a nearby brewery – Sunriver Brewing. Bend is known for its many breweries, particularly Deschutes, so we were excited to try some new-to-us places. Sunriver was close enough to the park that we could have walked, making it a great combination destination with Drake Park. We each had a pint and shared a gigantic pretzel with incredible beer cheese on their sunny patio. While we were enjoying the patio, a pub crawler pulled up and parked alongside the brewery. Their departure coincided with ours, and upon noticing Truman, we were greeted with squeals of glee and chants of “Weiner! Weiner! Weiner!” as they pedaled off. It was hilarious!
For our final brew of the day, we went to GoodLife Brewing. Located in a consortium of other shops and drinking establishments, they have a large grassy lawn filled with picnic tables for patrons of any shop to hang out. It was pretty lively when we arrived with lots of families and friend gatherings. The sun was warm in the breeze and it felt wonderful. As the shade encroached on the lawn, tables were pushed farther and farther back to hold on to the last dregs of the sun’s warmth.
Our objective for Monday was a trip to Smith Rock State Park in nearby Terrebonne. We left the campground and started northeast toward Redmond, stopping at a cute coffee trailer – Tite Knot – for caffeine and scones. Their blueberry scones had the most blueberries per square inch of any scone I’ve ever had AND they were massive. We ate half and stashed them in my pack for later.
Leaving Smith Rock, we were hungry and ready for a beer. We decided to try out Monkless Belgian Ales, a restaurant and brewery we came across many times while researching Bend. Monkless is near the hip Old Mill District and their patio overlooks the Deschutes River. Unfortunately for Truman, Monkless’s patio was a raised wooden deck. So although he was completely worn out from Smith Rock, he was uneasy about sitting on the deck and ended up alternating laps. We decided to share a flight of beers and split an incredible schnitzel sandwich. Everything was fantastic. Worried that Truman was getting overheated – he was panting quite a bit – we ended our lunch there. Otherwise, I would have enjoyed getting a pint. The beers we sampled were excellent.
After leaving Monkless, we decided to park downtown and peruse the shops. Truman returned to normal as soon as we left the restaurant, and he enjoyed wandering the shaded sidewalk. We turned toward the river and found Bend Brewing. In addition to their indoor seating and patio area, Bend Brewing has a large grassy lawn with picnic tables scattered amid towering ponderosa pines abutting Mirror Pond, a section of the Deschutes River. We opted to hang out with a pint. Truman was delighted and relaxed, falling asleep on Zach’s lap soon after we arrived. We people-watched, basking in the sun’s warmth.
After our leisurely pint, we made a detour before returning to our campsite to cook dinner: Blockbuster! Improbably, Bend is home to the world’s last Blockbuster store. We watched a documentary (The Last Blockbuster) about it during the first pandemic summer and knew we had to check it out before it was too late. We live too close to Bend to miss out!
When we arrived at the store, there were no other customers. It was wild walking inside – I felt transported to my adolescence. A lot of the time, my family would visit a local video store down the street from our house, but during sleepovers, I almost always went to Blockbuster. The interior is much the way we remembered – lots of blue and yellow decor, with racks of DVDs and candy by the counter. Even the smell was nostalgic. At the back of the store, there is a large display of letters, memorabilia, and publicity about the store. Since we couldn’t rent a video, I convinced Zach to buy me an overpriced tie-die shirt and we got a candy bar to split later. It wasn’t simply nostalgic to visit though. Walking through the rows of DVDs I was reminded of several flicks we had wanted to see and didn’t, movies that didn’t come to our local theater, or ones we hadn’t ventured to see during part of the pandemic. It was nice to walk around and pick out a title, rather the endlessly scroll through a streaming service. Being in the last Blockbuster was symbolic of how much the viewing process has changed. Our local indie theater has a small video rental section, and we have used it a few times to much delight. But there is something about walking in a video store with no agenda and enjoying the journey; it was an outing that created social interactions and a sense of community. I miss it.
On a high, we returned to our campsite to prepare dinner. Afterward, we ventured across the road to the park’s day-use area which is situated along the Deschutes River. We savored the evening air and the rush of the river as we followed the nature path, ultimately turning ’round to tuck ourselves in with the sun.
On Tuesday, we stopped briefly in Bend to pick up coffees at Lone Pine Coffee downtown before heading south to Crater Lake National Park.
On our return to Bend, we drove through a prescribed burn about 10 miles outside of the city. I had noticed the signs on our way out of town earlier, but no fire had been started at that point. Now, the smoke billowed above the road in a massive plume and visibility nearly vanished the closer we grew. I found it unsettling. Although I understand the purpose and support prescribed burns, driving through the smear of smoke was a nightmarish scene like something we saw on the news during the Camp fire. The smell of smoke was so intense that we could smell nothing else even after passing through it. Traffic on the other side of the highway was reduced to fewer lanes and crawled much slower, while our side was relatively free of traffic. We could move as swiftly as was safely possible through the smoke. It’s not something I will soon forget.
Back in the city, we drove to Crux Fermentation Project. The brewery sits on a rise above the heart of the city with an expansive outdoor seating area with picnic tables, a grassy lawn, and permanent food trucks. It was lively when we arrived a little after 5:30 with dogs, kids, families, and couples enjoying a Tuesday happy hour. We had small, street-style tacos from El Sancho that were absolute perfection in their simplicity – barbacoa, carnitas, and green chile with Oaxacan cheese – and the beer was excellent too. It was the best way to end our brewery tour of Bend.
On our final day, a cold front was due to sweep in overnight and bring some clouds and rain. We could feel the cool, swift winds blowing in as we woke up and packed up our site. We were up early to drive to Tumalo Falls before breakfast. Zach had a 10:00 Zoom call and we wanted to be sure we were back in Bend with wifi. Despite the name of the state park where we were staying, Tumalo Falls is not within or near the park. It was a delightful 30-minute drive west of town. Quite close to the city, it is still within the watershed, so Tru had to remain in the car. Though, that was probably for the best. As we entered the Deschutes National Forest, a slight rain began to fall, creating the perfect conditions for a Pacific Northwest waterfall.
When we arrived at the trailhead parking area at 8:15, there were only two other cars. We ended up being well-spaced so that everyone had a viewpoint to themselves. The lower viewpoint is located just off of the parking area, offering up an impressive waterfall framed by evergreens. From the upper viewpoint though, you can feel the magnitude of the 97-foot drop. As we turned to descend to the car, the rain increased, making our timing almost perfect.
We scooted back down the road and emerged from the forest onto the west side of town, choosing Sparrow Bakery as our outpost. It was bustling when we arrived a little after 9, and we had to sit outside temporarily while we scoped out tables. Luckily, we were able to escape the wind and sit inside to finish our coffees. We shared a breakfast sandwich and an ocean roll – a delectable croissant-dough roll with cardamom, sugar, and vanilla that is addicting. I’ve already looked into ordering them… After Zach wrapped up his Zoom call, we drove through downtown once more, stopping briefly at Drake Park. Then it was time to head east, back to Boise.