Day 55 (September 22)
The air is thick with the heady scent of Juniper even where there’s nary a Juniper tree in sight. I find this weirdly welcoming, and just one of many factors contributing to our awesome first impression of Bend, Oregon.
Bend is sited in a perfect location for those who (like me) are torn between a love for lush evergreen forests and snow-capped tall peaks, clear-blue rivers, magnificent rock formations, and arid high desert.
In Bend you are smack in the middle of the Cascades Mountains, with the Deschutes National Forest and Willamette National Forest to the West, the Oregon Badlands Wilderness Area to the East, and the Deschutes River running right through town.
Feeling famished and parched from our invigorating hike at Smith Rock State Park, we park in the heart of downtown Bend, and make a beeline for the Deschutes Brewery & Public House a couple of blocks from the center of town. This is the original Deschutes brewery; the current, much larger Deschutes brewery (and tasting room) is in another location nearby.
If you are a beer lover and find yourself in the PNW in the fall, you really must try a fresh hopped beer. 5% of the world’s supply of hops are grown in Oregon (and 25% in Washington State). Few brewers outside of this region can acquire the harvested-that-day hops and transport them back to the brewery to start brewing same-day. Fresh hops result in complex flavors that are quite unique and quite a treat.
Bend hosts the annual Sisters Fresh Hop Festival, which unfortunately we will miss by a week. As tempted as we are to stay in Central Oregon for the next week (there is plenty of exploring to do here), my native state of California is calling. Yet there is plenty of fun to be had in Bend today.
Deschutes Public House appears to be filled with locals, and the atmosphere is fun.
We also eat a late lunch at Deschutes Public House, and the elevated pub food is the among tastiest and most unique pub food we have ever had. Just like their beer, Deschutes emphasizes freshness in their food down to the house made sandwich rolls.
There are dozens of great-looking restaurants and shops downtown. We stop by Birkenstock of Bend because I’m in need of something comfy to wear around camp that is sock compatible, as it’s been too cold for flip-flops. I pick up a pair of classics, a throwback to 90’s Marsi. The store owner and employees are funny and friendly, and we spend half an hour there chatting. In fact, everyone we talk to in town is friendly. Another plus for Bend.
Ranch Records set up a polka LP display. It’s a fun theme for this weekend’s festival (more on that in a minute).
On the same block, Vector Volcano is an arcade filled with all the classic games – though Robert laments no Time Pilot. The arcade allows unlimited play for the bargain price of $5 an hour. This little kid was really into the sounds spilling out of that doorway. I spy a future gamer.
Driving into town, we had encountered roads that were closed off and find out it’s because Oktoberfest starts tonight. Fun! Bend’s Oktoberfest signs promise : Weiner dog races, Yodeling, Oompah music, Dancing, Absurd games of sport, Brats and Local brews.
Our 40-minute drive back to camp and full bellies from our late lunch dictate that we skip Oktoberfest’s beer, sausages, and pretzels. And to my disappointment, we will miss the Weiner dog races and “absurd games of sport”. However, we do walk around and enjoy the live music, aromas of German meats and treats, and general merriment as the festival is ramping up.
At Oktoberfest, Robert sees a couple wearing Blockbuster Video t-shirts and we have a little laugh in wonderment at the couple’s choice of dated matchy-matchy outfits. To understand why this is worth noting, keep reading.
While driving out of town, (after making a wrong turn) we see a Blockbuster video sign and yes indeed it is an open Blockbuster Video! It turns out that this is now the last remaining Blockbuster Video store in the world.
Always nostalgic for pop culture from our youth (and perhaps additionally so in this case because we actually met working at a music/video store that ended up later being gobbled up by Blockbuster), we run in and buy a random horror movie to watch somewhere down the road, and a “last Blockbuster” silicone pint glass – first available today.
Our timing is good once again, as 10 Barrel Brewing and Blockbuster have teamed up for a release party of 10 Barrel’s limited edition The Last Blockbuster beer ( a limited release variation of their S1nist0r Black Ale. They are not serving draft beer for another hour, but we hang out just long enough to be first in line to buy a few bottles of it to take with us.
If we had known in advance that so much was going on in Bend this weekend, we would have ponied up the money for a hotel in town.
I did not intend for this post to have such a beer-heavy focus, yet that somehow seems appropriate because Bend is one of the best beer towns in the U.S.
And honestly, I was too busy soaking in Bend’s goodness to take many pictures. Sometimes putting the camera (or phone) down and living in the moment is best.
It is easy to fall in love with Bend. We did so within a few hours. Like Bellingham, Bend is one of those towns that feels just right for us. Bend makes me happy. We will see you again, Bend!