Bend’s Smaller Sibling Offers Plenty To Do for Outdoor lovers
By Mandana Marsh
The first time I saw the life-size statue of a rearing horse at the gateway of Sisters, Oregon, I knew this was a place for me. Sisters celebrates its roots as a cowboy town with a rodeo attracting professional competitors and big crowds every June. (73rd Sisters Rodeo, June 7-9, 2013).
But Sisters is more than a summer attraction. During the winter months, visitors can downhill ski, snowboard or slide on a tube at Hoodoo Ski Area as well as cross country ski there or on the many nearby trails. Spas, restaurants and Three Creeks Brewing Co. are among many businesses open for post-winter sport relaxation. Sisters, which was named for three 10,000-foot snow-capped peaks around it, is close to the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountain range.
Set in central Oregon, the town is sheltered by the mountains from the rain and storms coming off the Pacific Ocean affording it 300 days of sunshine a year. Sisters population of 2,000 is dwarfed by its neighbor, Bend (pop.
80,000) located 20 miles further east. Sisters offers tourists most every opportunity as Bend, however—just on a smaller scale. To an easterner, small is a relative term in Oregon where Ponderosa Pines grow to the height of a 16-story building.
Adding to Sisters quiet charm is the absence of neon signs. Stores and fast food joints are wood paneled in the style of an 1880s Western town. The arts (painting, music, quilting, crafts) and the importance of the horse are emphasized here. Like the rodeo, there is an outdoor quilt festival (July 13, 2013) that draws people from around the world.
The quiet month of January allowed me space to savor the attributes of Sisters. I paid a lengthy visit to the Shibui Spa, on the campus of Five Pine Lodge which offers rooms with a waterfall soaking tub and fireplace. A large Buddha and the trickling sounds of a waterfall greeted me and the efficient staff put me at ease.
Tensions of travel were massaged away. I emerged with fully moisturized skin, shiny red toenails and a new lease on life.
In between appointments, I sipped Japanese tea and ate almonds in front of a stone fireplace in their peaceful waiting room.
Next stop was at The Open Door, an art gallery and restaurant. The quinoa-mango-avocado salad was colorful and tasty. On the way out, I admired the Western-inspired art and jewelry created by local artists.
Most residents appear fit and healthy, no doubt due to easy access to forest paths and cross country skiing. Families with babies peeking out from inside a parent’s coat or toddlers riding behind on toboggans populated a trail one Sunday afternoon. The familiar squeaking of skis as I glided over fresh powder reminded me of why cross country is such a great sport: it feels effortless when at the same time you get a good work-out.
Often the towns of Bend and Sisters don’t have snow on the ground due to their high desert climate. But just a few miles drive towards any of the Cascade Mountains brings you to all the snow you need for skiing or tubing. Hoodoo Ski Area, west of Sisters, offers both, again on a smaller scale as compared to Bend’s monster-size Mount Batchelor.
Black Butte Ranch, all 1800 acres of it, is seven miles west of Sisters, and works closely with the town to encourage tourism. Black Butte Ranch offers lodge rooms on up to six-bedroom homes for rent. It is a sprawling planned community, built in the 1970s with spectacular views of the three Sisters mountains (South, Middle and North).
A restaurant called The Lodge overlooks a lake and even has a Ponderosa Pine tree standing in the building’s center. Visitors can choose from almost every activity known to mankind. Black Butte offers horse riding to the public, two 18-hole golf courses (Glaze Meadow reopened last year following a $3.75 million renovation by architect John Fought), a spa, five pools, 19 tennis courts, 18 miles of bike trails and even its own fire and police departments.
About 300 people live there full-time. The summer season attracts several thousand; often they are generations of families returning for vacations. During the holidays, Black Butte has popular winter carriage rides.
After leaving the ranch, I stopped at Sisters Coffee Co. to bring home their richly roasted coffee beans as gifts (Black Butte Gold). I enjoyed the tastiest homemade tomato soup topped with big croutons and cheese sprinkled on the top.
People sit around a big fireplace sipping coffee and working on laptops. Like everyone I met in Sisters, the people were laid-back and friendly. At Sisters Bakery, I purchased their homemade granola and admired the marionberry pies in the case.
My last dinner in Oregon was at a gem of a restaurant, Jen’s Garden on East Hood Avenue. The southern French-inspired chef cooked a duck dish that fueled me all the way back to Virginia the next day. I opted for the three course prix fixe menu, starting with roasted pepper soup with coconut lemongrass foam and pistachio powder. The grilled duck breast was surrounded by sweet potato hash and baby bok choi with a red curry broth. Olive oil cake was the crown to a glorious dinner.
The pristine setting and clean mountain air create a powerful attraction. Sisters treats its visitors royally so it’s no wonder people return on a regular basis. I liked the quote on a plaque under the gateway horse sculpture which sums up Sisters’ roots:
“The Wild Stallion……is a record of the past, a message for the present and hope for the future.”
How to get there:
Fly to Portland (PDX), and drive 158 southeast miles through Salem, or fly to the Redmond Airport (RDM) and drive 20 miles west.
Where to stay:
Best Western Ponderosa Lodge, Bestwesternsisters.com
Black Butte Ranch, BlackButteRanch.com
Five Pine Lodge and Cabins, fivepinelodge.com
Sisters Inn & Suites, sistersinnandsuites.com
Sister’s Motor Lodge, sistersmotorlodge.com
Where to eat:
The Lodge at Black Butte Ranch, BlackButteRanch.com
Jen’s Garden, intimatecottagecuisine.com
Bronco Billy’s Ranch Grill and Saloon, 190 E. Cascade Ave.
Los Agaves, losagavessisters.com
Sisters Coffee, www.sisterscoffee.com
Angeline’s Bakery & Café, angelinesbakery.com
Sisters Bakery, 251 E. Cascade Ave.
Three Creeks Brewing Co., threecreeksbrewing.com
Slick’s Que Co., slicksqueco.com
What to do:
Mandy Marsh Szkotak is a realtor and photographer living in Richmond, Va.