Author Theresa L. Goodrich presents Two Lane Gems, Vol. 2: Bison are Giant and Other Observations from an American Road Trip in serial form. Enjoy!
We pitched our tent in their yard, so of course I was up before dawn. My cold was now officially gone. I said good morning to the horsies and watched as a couple of the foals romped. Cheryl joined me and I helped her feed them breakfast.
She left early for work and we shared one of those epic Goodrich/ Aeschliman/Carter (my family does it, too) hugs. Jim and I had a long day of driving ahead of us, so we broke down the tent and had a quick bite with Tosch before leaving. I didn’t want to go. I would have loved to hear more of his stories and to spend a few hours with the horses. Like the cattle ranchers we’d stayed with in South Dakota, this was a different lifestyle from my own, and both families had a distinct feeling of purpose and place. Glimpsing their worlds was a gift.
We crossed into Oregon – our eighth state! – and soon entered Vale. If we’d headed north at that point, we would have been on the Oregon Trail. Instead, we drove through the town on US-20 and noticed mural after mural, even passing a group of artists who were bringing one of the scenes back to life. Some entrepreneurial-minded residents started the “Outdoor Art Gallery” in 1992 in an effort to bring attention to Vale and highlight its history as the first Oregon stop on the frontier thoroughfare. Twenty-six years later, the gallery was still going strong.
After another hour or so on the road we pulled over in the middle of nowhere. Technically, nowhere is the middle of nowhere, since everywhere is somewhere, but we hadn’t seen anyone or any services in miles. We turned a bend and found a pullout in a valley next to a river. We got out to stretch our legs and felt completely isolated. Jim could barely keep his eyes open, so I offered to drive.
For the next two hours he slept as I followed the two-lane west through wide open spaces and big skies. Not much grows there. In the 1800s that part of Oregon was known as the Great Sandy Desert, even though there’s no sand. It’s what the Craters of the Moon area might look like when it grows up.
We arrived in Bend and checked into Motel West. I’d booked it that morning using a site that decides where you stay based on your choices of price, general location, and amenities. On the outside, it was your typical motel: outdoor entrances, second floor rooms reached by a switchback stairwell, buzzing ice and vending machines in the alcove that housed the stairs. Inside, however, we found a recently renovated room with contemporary furnishings, a remodeled bathroom, and new (and working) appliances. It was a real treat, and we would have liked to order delivery and lounge for the day, but I wanted beer.
Bend’s inclusion on our itinerary was mostly because of its proximity to Crater Lake National Park. That landmark was our destination for the next day, and Bend was less than two and half hours away. I say “mostly,” since we also chose Bend because it’s the home of Deschutes Brewery, one of my favorites. However, because we could get their beer in Illinois and we wanted to put our fates into the hands of the locals, we decided to leave the known quantity for last.
We found a place called Cabin 22, bellied up to the bar, ordered some pork rinds and nachos, and asked the bartender where to go. He gave us a few suggestions, and after buying a bottle of Cabin 22’s rich and smoky hot sauce to go, we crossed the street to Goodlife Brewing.
Despite being Tuesday afternoon, the place was packed and we were lucky to find a couple of seats with a view of the tanks in the next room. We tried a flight and struck up a conversation with another local, Ray, who sold insurance. Ray loved Bend, and with his suggestions and the bartender’s from Cabin 22 we had enough places to keep us busy for a week. We only had an afternoon, so we went to Spoken Moto, the place Ray seemed to like the most. It wasn’t a brewery, but they had a selection of great beer and a cool vibe. (This was Bend, so I expected the latter.) As we sat at the bar I looked up camping at Crater Lake and discovered the campgrounds wouldn’t open until that weekend.
So, I did what anybody who travels by the seat of their pants would do: I asked another local.
The bartender at Spoken Moto was a 20-something fit blonde who I pictured scaling rocks when she wasn’t pouring pints. She told us, without hesitation, that we should go to Diamond Lake State Park. “OK!” we agreed, and left her a hefty tip.
Our final stop was Deschutes, and I have to confess that it was my least favorite. There was nothing wrong with it; it just seemed like a tourist destination (duh) and we were searching for purely local hangouts. I recognize the irony: Deschutes had been our tourist destination. It brought us to Bend, and because of that we explored three other businesses that, combined, gave us insights into the character of the place and the kindness of its characters.
We ended our exploration with a Bend-only Deschutes and headed back to our local motel for an evening of pizza and sleep.