City Slicker Getaway to Oregon’s High Desert
Memorial Day weekend was almost upon us and the weather forecasters had a glum message for us: Rain, with lower elevation snow… Time to scratch those ambitious camping plans. Scrambling to set up a “Plan B”, I hopped on the internet and started looking for bed and breakfasts in Central Oregon, not letting the impending bad weather stifle my wanderlust and desire to see open skies.
I landed on the Long Hollow Ranch web site, and everything looked great, so I called and made the reservation. Boy am I glad I did! Just a few hours’ drive from Portland, Long Hollow Ranch is about 13 miles northeast of the town of Sisters. Since Brad and I weren’t in a hurry, we decided to make side trips to see some sights along the way that we’ve always breezed past previously, usually because we’ve always been in a hurry to get to a different destination.
Our first stop was at the Museum at Warm Springs on the Warm Springs Reservation. The museum provides an in-depth insight into the vibrant culture and traditions of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Indians who have lived in this part of Oregon for thousands of years. To the inexperienced eye, the high desert around the museum seems to be inhospitable, surrounded with arid mountains, plains, and canyons with scrubby sagebrush dotting the landscape. But the people formed a close relationship with the land, and the tribes found this area to be bountiful, transitioning from higher altitudes to lower ones in accordance with the seasons, finding an amazing array of foods to sustain them.
By the end of the museum visit, our own stomachs were rumbling, and I asked the cheerful gift store clerk for any advice on dining options, and she quickly pointed out Eagle Crossing restaurant right on the Deschutes River just a mile or so down the road. Thanking her, Brad and I headed out and were soon seated down and ready to tuck into a great meal. I decided to be adventurous and tried the elk burger, which was excellent. Of course, I had to add on the obligatory hot Indian fry bread which was absolutely delicious!
Our next stop took us on a bit of a side tour towards Lake Simtustus and Pelton Dam, following an enticing side route sign that had been beckoning me for years but I never had the time to go and explore. We paralleled Highway 26 and followed the Deschutes River, ending up at Round Butte Park, which provided a cliff-side overlook of the lake. I almost felt like I was in an eagle’s aerie from our steep vantage point! The road continued on with numerous panoramic viewpoints scattered along the way, providing large vistas of the lake and surrounding canyons.
Finally, our route connected back up with the highway, and we started angling our way towards Long Hollow Ranch. Located in a narrow green valley surrounded by sagebrush and juniper mesas, Long Hollow Ranch is a serene oasis in the desert. As we got out of the car, I was immediately struck by the solitude. A meadowlark’s clear warble carried across the valley, and a light wind rustled the poplar trees. Nearby, a small herd of horses watched the new arrivals. It was peaceful and relaxing. Perfect! This was exactly what I was looking for when booking this property!
We entered the ranch house, and were soon greeted by some other guests, and shortly thereafter by hosts Dick and Shirley who welcomed us to the ranch and got us situated in our room. The accommodations offer a choice of a cottage or a room in the elegantly restored early 1900’s ranch house. We stayed in the Deschutes room which included my favorite: a claw foot tub to soak in to relax tired muscles. Soft-spoken and warm-hearted, both of the owners love interacting with visitors and shared numerous stories about their backgrounds and how the ranch came to be what it is today, and then gave us a quick overview of the recreation opportunities including horseback riding on the ranch.
After sitting all day, Brad and I were ready to stretch our legs, and set off to explore some of the 362 acres of the ranch. We headed up one of the many trails crisscrossing the mesa, and scrambled to the top which was dotted with occasional wildflowers dabbing the landscape with riotous color. The vista included Smith Rock State Park, about 15-20 miles away.
After a great hike, we came back to our room and read for hours. With no television, having some time to focus on a good book was rewarding and relaxing. But it had been a long day, and it was lights out for an early morning the next day. A hearty ranch breakfast was served at 8am, and we met Toby, the hired hand who joined us for the meal. A genteel Southerner, Toby had come on board earlier in the spring at the ranch, and had proved invaluable to the operation according to Dick.
Toby gave us insights to being out on the range, and patiently weathered the questions the guests peppered him with. I was particularly intrigued about why there are so many “POSTED” signs out in rural areas- people who live closer in the cities don’t have those, yet with all that space, did everyone want to get onto someone else’s property? Some folks do, said Toby. In fact, he told the rapt audience about an incident the preceding week where he was heading up a road accessing the land, and met a truck heading down that had lashed down a metal water tank meant for cattle in the truck bed. “Is that yours?” Toby asked the people in the truck cab. “Nope,” was the reply. He countered with: “Good, because it sure looks like mine,” and then called the police. He didn’t have to do much more because there was only one road in and out, and the road the two vehicles met on was a one-lane road, so there wasn’t a chance that these folks would get away. The police showed up and cited the other car’s occupants with attempted theft. Needless to say, Toby got his watering tank back.
He went on to say that the law doesn’t get up into those parts often, and it sometimes can be like the Wild West. Everyone’s eyes were wide at the breakfast table while listening to this story. That’s why we’re here, I thought. This is where the west is real! That day, we had a busy schedule and I felt fortunate to have the ranch as a base of operations. Brad and I headed over to Smith Rock State Park, which is a gem in Oregon’s recreational crown with hiking, fishing and rock climbing as key activities. We laced up our boots and trekked up and over the 3,360-foot summit, passing multitudes of climbers inching their way upwards. The views at the top were unparalleled, and I was grateful to be able to experience Smith Rock’s beauty from such a lofty perch.
Finishing down a steep switchback grade, we completed the 4-mile trek and headed out to lunch nearby in the town of Terrebonne. Our next stop that day was at the High Desert Museum which is one of my favorites. Interpretive displays and outdoor exhibits provided detailed insights in the human, geological and natural history of Central Oregon. And, ever the birdwatcher, I particularly enjoyed the Birds of Prey exhibit which housed several eagles and raptors. The final destination of this busy day was a hike that we were told about by the folks at the Long Hollow Ranch, and involved a 5-mile drive down a gravel and dirt road to what seemed to be a remote location. We were surprised, however, to find 10 cars already parked there. It was late (5:30pm); I started to balk at hitting the trail at this hour; however, Brad encouraged me to keep going and reminded me that we had flashlights in case we didn’t get back until after the sunset. Normally, this was not something I’d ever attempt, but it was open country and the trail was easily discernable. So off we headed on another 3.6 mile hike but the rewards were amazing.
We descended into a canyon, passing a set of springs that connected to the Wychus River in a sea of green grass and bird song. It was a lush setting. The rock formations and what looked like a partial slot canyon also made for interesting photographs, and we resolved to return another time to continue our exploration. After such a long day, we headed into Sisters for dinner, catching the sunset glistening over the Three Sisters mountains nearby. It was a spectacular panorama. Finally, we headed back to the ranch, and quickly feel asleep on the comfortable bed. The next day at breakfast, we were fed banana pancakes with a tropical syrup and bacon to fuel us up for the day’s activities while Dick and Shirley shared more stories about their ranch. Back in 1984, they had purchased the ranch after he retired from a career at Crown Zellerbach. Part of the ranch has been leased out from the U.S. Forest Service for cattle grazing and also they also grow hay down in the bottomland. It was fascinating to learn about their operation first-hand and see the passion that both Dick and Shirley have for their ranch and the land. As Brad and I headed out that day towards home, I was a little wistful about leaving. A part of me has always fantasized about owning a dude ranch, but I am probably too much of a city slicker to be able to make a go of it. But in truth, it was much more fun to go and experience it with such wonderful, hospitable hosts instead! It was great to see the cowboy experience first-hand and add another wonderful experience to my knowledge of Oregon!
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