The third leg of our spring break road trip took us up to beautiful Bend, Oregon. We said goodbye to San Francisco and cruised through Northern California. Neither of us had ever been to Bend, but we had heard great things about the area and were really looking forward to checking it out.
To get from Bend from San Francisco, we traveled about 500 miles. Lance (our ’05 Xterra) kept us comfortable and audiobooks kept us entertained. Once we passed Shasta, we peeled off Interstate 5 at Weed and were greeted with snow flurries. The flurries were short-lived, and we made good time in the relative quiet of Highway 97 — our road to Bend.
The Glory Hole
One of my favorite parts about road trips are the off-the-wall sights seen along the way. Such was the glory hole at Grass Lake.
What is a glory hole? Don’t Google it. Just trust me that in geological context, it’s a feature akin to a bathtub drain. When water accumulates in Grass Lake, it drains through this depression and into underground lava tubes. According to the sign, no one is sure where the water goes from there. Weird and cool.
We cruised into Bend, Oregon at dusk. We booked a perfect little studio in an home via AirBnB right in the historic center of the city. Parked and unpacked, we walked down to the Bond Street Public House for dinner and to sample the beer from one of the best known local breweries: Deschutes.
The have a lot of beers on tap, including some special casket ales. Our tasting included the Mirror Pond Pale Ale, the Cinder Cone Red, Heart Throb Dubbel, Double Impact IPA, Black Butte Porter, and the Nitro Obsidian Stout. My faves? Heart Throb Dubbel — a really nice Beligian-style Dubbel that was ever-so-slightly sweet with a nice dry finish; and the Black Butte Porter — creamy with notes of chocolate and coffee.
Oh, and the food was good, too.
We had read about Bend, and talked to friends about Bend. We’d even taken a virtual stroll down Bend thanks to Google Streetview. But you can’t really get a feel for the chemistry of a place without being there in person. In that sense, we weren’t sure what to expect.
Walking through downtown Bend was awesome. Living in L.A., the closest I get to the small town experience is in some of the neighborhoods — each of which has their own unique character and charm. Bend was charming in an organic sense. Small town with a great, outdoorsy vibe that made us feel right at home.
One of the more notable characteristics of downtown Bend was what we didn’t see. No big-chain fast-food joints. Lots of mom-and-pop local enterprises serving the community with a personal touch. It’s awesome.
It was April 1st, and our first full day in Bend. Mother Nature decided that the best prank to play on a couple of visiting Southern Californians would be to drop a pile of snow on our heads. We loved it!
We frolicked with Frosty the Snowman at Drake Park. We hung out sipping lattes and reading books at Dudley’s Bookshop Cafe while big, fluffy snowflakes blanketed downtown Bend. And then we did what anyone would do on a snowy rest day — headed to Crux Fermentation Project.
I’d heard good things about Crux from Rebecca at Calipidder, and I was not disappointed.
Our tasting, from left to right (and dig the great oak casket taster tray): Prowell Springs Pre-Prohibition Lager, Crux Pilsner, Crux Marzen, Ella (a great double IPA), Peated Scotch Ale, and Impasse (favorites in bold).
But my favorite isn’t pictured here, and I enjoyed an entire pint of it: Vicky’s Got a Secret, an experimental double IPA that made a Crux fan out of me.
Hiking in Bend
The snow melted, the sun emerged, and we hit one of the most popular local trails — the Deschutes River Trail. This is a really easy loop that follows the Deschutes River. What’s remarkable is that it starts on the edge of the old mill district, and quickly feels like you’ve stepped into the wilderness. Of course, it’s proximity also means that it’s a popular trail for local runners out for a quick workout, so the illusion wasn’t quite complete. But it is a very scenic trail and a model for other cities looking to provide outdoor recreation — right in town.
Meeting Friends in Bend, Old and New
One of my hiking friends (whom I’ve yet to hike with) relocated to Bend after his 2011 hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Kolby Kirk — aka The Hike Guy — met us with Jasmine for dinner at another Bend favorite: McMenamin’s Old St. Francis School. This former school is now a boutique hotel, restaurant, theater and pub. This is a fun place, and the restaurant is lively with good food and great beer. They brew their own beer, too, though the real treat was learning about the local’s fave: O’Kanes. This is just one of four bars at the McMenamin’s complex, and it’s tucked away in the former church parking lot. Now it’s a beautiful patio space with fire pits to sit by while you enjoy a beverage and swap stories.
We had thought about heading to ever-popular Smith Rock, but with the snow and ice, Kolby had a better idea. Our last day in Bend we would hike at the Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery and see the headwaters of the Metolius River. I wasn’t sure what to expect — and hadn’t heard of either — but trusted the recommendation. Once again, we weren’t disappointed.
The Metolius River Trail
About a 45 minute drive northwest of Bend lies Black Butte. Just beyond Black Butte lies the magical Metolius River. This river is remarkable for many reasons, but mainly because at its headwaters the Metolius literally springs from the side of a mountain. Not a trickle, but a full-blown river, just percolating out the side of a mountain. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Further downriver is the Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery, where they are working to reintroduce native species of trout and salmon that were lost due to dams built over the years, cutting off migration paths for entire lines of fish. It was pretty cool to see how they raised the fish, moving them from tank to tank as they get larger. But the monster “escapees” in the nearby pond (a favorite dining spot for the local bald eagles) were impressive.
We hiked the Metolius River Trail — an out-and-back hike that darts along the western bank of the Metolius to yet another remarkable first — a spring-fed waterfall. While this trail along the blue waters of the Metolius is beautiful in its own right, the sight of a waterfall appearing out of nowhere was surreal.
More Craft Beer, Please
We did our darndest, with stops at Deschutes Brewery, Crux Fermentation Project, McMenamin’s Old St. Francis School, Old Mill Brew Wërks, Three Creeks Brewing Company and Worthy Brewing. Not a bad brewery in the bunch, but less than half of the entire Bend Ale Trail. I guess that makes us Ale Trail section hikers.
Home to Los Angeles
Bend would be the third and final leg of our road trip. We loved our time in Bend. It’s a great town and a veritable playground of outdoor activities, with great climbing, hiking, biking, skiing, kayaking, stand-up paddling…you get the idea. We headed back to LA and promised to return and spend more time exploring Bend in the not-too-distant future.