On this Oregon trail, a new discovery around every bend

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By Christopher Elliott

Bend, Ore. on the Oregon trail, is the kind of place you can come back to again and again and always discover something new. My latest adventure was no exception.

Suddenly, there were mountains. Not like the last two times I’d visited with my family during the summer, and everything was green and the peaks faded into the blue. This time, the Cascades were dusted with snow left over from a record winter.

Mount Bachelor, the closest, had skiers on it as recently as the Fourth of July weekend. The Three Sisters, off in the distance, also wore a thin blanket of snow. And farther away, on a clear day, I could also see Mount Hood from the top of Pilot Butte.

Close enough!

These peaks are so perfectly shaped, they could all be the Paramount studio logo. (Nice try, but it’s said to be Ben Lomond in Utah. As my daughter would say, “Close enough!”)

The mountain spectacle was clearly visible from our room at the Tetherow, a golf resort on the south side of Bend. When we visited in July, a reminder that we needed to come back next spring to carve a few turns. It’s a little odd to be hanging out by the resort pool in 80-degree weather with mountains and snow behind you, but that’s Oregon for you.

The hike up to Pilot Butte is mandatory. From the top of this extinct volcano, you can get a perfect view of Bend and its surroundings. It’s an easy walk to the summit, but you can also drive to the top if you don’t have the time.

Are we done yet?

We had an hour to spare, which turned out to be more than enough for the walk, so we took the unpaved path that wound its way around the mountain until we reached the top, about 500 feet above town. On a warm day, that can be a character-building experience, as my old editor would say. On several occasions, my two youngest kids announced, “We’re done!”

But this wasn’t my first time up Pilot Butte and I urged them to continue. “The view from the top is amazing,” I said. They did — and it was.

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There’s a second butte that’s worth seeing: Lava Butte. It’s part of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument in nearby Deschutes National Forest. There’s a longer trail that takes you to the top, but if you’re there with kids, you’ll want to take the shuttle that departs from the visitor center, or hike along the base. Try Blackrock trail.

Why is Lava Butte so fascinating?

That brings me to the reason Lava Butte is so fascinating. Sure, the views are remarkable. You’re even closer to the mountains here and to even more stunning views of Central Oregon. But there’s also shiny black obsidian lava, and lots of it. At just 7,000 years old, these eruptions are relatively recent, which made my oldest son ask if we were due for another one sometime soon. Maybe when we were on the volcano. Probably not, I assured him, but even if it happens, this will probably be a slow-moving eruption and we’ll have a chance to get out of the way.

There are other opportunities to learn in Bend. On this trip to town, we discovered the Deschutes Historical Museum, an old schoolhouse that is now a museum of local history.

As skiers, one of the exhibits captured our attention. It’s called Winter Comes: Oregon’s Nordic Ski History, and it examines the ancient origins of Nordic skiing. There are also exhibits that explain the Scandinavian immigrants to Oregon in the 19th and 20th centuries, and how they introduced skiing to America. It really clicked with the kids, since they’re part Scandinavian and all skier.

But the exhibit that really shocked them was Ms. Reid’s classroom, with its small desks and a copy of the school rules prominently — and shockingly — posted for all to see.

Why can you not show your ankles?

“You can’t show your ankles?” my daughter asked. “Why not?”

I had no idea.

But mostly, the children were relieved they didn’t have to sit in this 1910 classroom, or any classroom. Ah, the benefits of homeschooling. Also, a powerful motivator. If you don’t do your assignments, you could end up in a place a lot like this, kids.

All this talk of skiing and visits to Bend’s buttes made us all the more curious about the mountains that beckoned to us from a distance. We had high hopes we might discover a few more open runs if we drove to Mount Bachelor, the closest ski resort. It’s only 20 minutes out of town but even from a distance, you can tell that the skiing and snowboarding here would be amazing.

If only there were enough snow. Sadly, there wasn’t. When we pulled up to the resort in mid-July, the lifts were open for mountain biking and hikers, but alas, no skiing. (You can ski year-round on Mount Hood, though. I’m adding that to my bucket list.)

Corny as it may sound, Bend is the kind of place where new discoveries are waiting to be made around every bend. That’s something you learn only by coming back again and again and stumbling upon a new hiking path, volcano or museum. And now we know, we have to come back just one more time.

After all, we have to ski.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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