CENTRAL OREGON

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Image: Brian Barker

Sno Cap Drive In

The High Desert

by Bart Blasengame

South of Salem and east over Santiam Pass lies a world diametrically opposed to our own. It’s an arid playground of towering presidential peaks and high-desert pines. Take in the wild backdrop from the decks of some of the state’s grandest lodges or enjoy the taste of savory barbecue mixed with the scent of sweet juniper riding on the breeze.

Sno Cap Drive In

Well, hello 1950s America. Entering this Sisters landmark is like being zapped into TV Land primetime. Beskirted cheerleaders and football heroes from the local high school (go Outlaws!) are permanent fixtures. But the stars of the show here are flat, griddle-cooked hamburgers—so juicy, you’ll want to order a double. And what the heck—down a thick chocolate shake as well. They didn’t count calories in the ’50s, did they?
380 W Cascade Ave, Sisters; 541-549-6151

Pine Mountain Observatory

West Texas—home to the renowned McDonald Observatory—doesn’t have a monopoly on starry nights. Central Oregon’s wide open spaces and dearth of city lights make for prime sky-watching. Located about 30 miles east of Bend, Pine Mountain Observatory is the epicenter for the astronomy set. Tours end in the fall, but there’s still plenty of earthly fun: the adjacent Forest Service campground is a well-kept secret. Use it as home base for exploring 6,500-foot-tall Pine Mountain. Topside, daylight vistas include Mount Bachelor, Broken Top, Three-Fingered Jack, Mount Jefferson, and Mount Hood. Take that, Texas.
34 miles southeast of Bend on Highway 20 east; 541-382-8331; pmo-sun.uoregon.edu

Kokanee Café

Perched near the gurgling banks of the Metolius River, the Kokanee is the epitome of cabin chic. The rustic abode seats about 60 people, and the menu offers everything the discerning carnivore could want (venison, salmon, lamb, duck), while the extensive wine list and riverside setting amps up the white-napkin romance. Entrées are in the $20 to $30 range, but if you’ve just spent a weekend roughing it, don’t you deserve a little elegance?
25545 Forest Service Rd, Camp Sherman; 541-595-6420; kokaneecafe.com

Five Pine Lodge

From the outside, they look quaint. Cute, even. But once inside Five Pine Lodge’s individual boutique cabins, it’s clear you’re not on the frontier anymore. Soaking tubs. Forty-two-inch plasma televisions. Italian tile showers. The fireside dining at Chloe and the Asian-themed spa treatments available at Shibui seal the deal.
1021 Desperado Trail, Sisters; 866-974-5900; fivepinelodge.com

Lara House Lodge

Not every lodge in Bend is done up in a log-cabin theme. Welcome to Lara House, a charming six-room bed-and-breakfast occupying an aspen-lined 1910 Craftsman. Aesthetic departure aside, a stay here lands you right in the mix of Bend’s lively downtown nightlife. So when the band finishes up at Bendistillery, it’s just a short walk back to your suite, where a terry-cloth robe and a nightcap of complimentary local wine await.
640 NW Congress St, Bend; 541-388-4064; larahouse.com

The Badlands

Oregon’s newest desert wilderness (deemed so by President Obama in March), these 30,000 rugged yet spellbinding acres are a vast departure from Portland’s green, wet climes. Primordial rock formations, a hundred species of birds, and thousand-year-old junipers dominate the surrounding area. But there’s room for you, too, thanks to 50 miles of two-track trails and a plethora of hiking options, including the dome-shaped Badlands Rock, whose trail reopened in September after being closed the prior six months for prairie falcon nesting.
17 miles east of Bend on Highway 20; 541-416-6723