Home » 2014 Pacific Northwest

Bend, OR

Friday, May 23, 2014 - 11:00am by Lolo
220 miles and 5 hours from our last stop - 5 night stay


Happy Smith Rock ClimbersHappy Smith Rock ClimbersEvery once in a while you find a place that you know you’ll be coming back to time and time again. Bend, Oregon is one of them. In fact, it is the type of place I could very much picture living in. It’s pretty much got it all – great climate, awesome scenery, world class hiking, biking, fishing, skiing, and rock climbing, and the ever-popular Deschutes Brewery. What more could one ask for?

Also, it was a good meet-up spot for our visits to the boys, as it was kind of half-way between San Francisco and Seattle – about an 8 hour drive from SF and 6 from Seattle. Last year when we moved the boys out West, Herb and I spent a really fun weekend here with Tommy and vowed to come back again and hopefully get a chance to have Andrew join us. I knew he too would absolutely love this place.

Andrew on LeadAndrew on LeadAs has become the norm now that we are scattered around the country, logistics of getting together are always a bit of a challenge, but I think we had a decent plan. Herb and I, of course, would drive the motorhome to the Crown Villa RV Resort in Bend on Friday, where the boys and Celeste would arrive later that night. Andrew and Celeste would fly from San Francisco to Portland (which was actually quite a bit north of Bend), and Tommy would drive down from Seattle after work, scoop them up at the airport, and continue on to Bend where they would arrive around 2:00 in the morning. That kind of plan works well only when you are in your 20s.

Before their arrival, Herb and I spent the day relaxing at campground, resting up for what we knew would be a very physically active weekend.

It’s hard to use the word “campground” when describing this place, as it really is more of a “resort,” a kind of RV land for the rich and famous, with million dollar RVs parked on pads constructed of decorative, paver bricks, professionally landscaped patios, a guest lounge, a spa and fitness center, a tennis court, and more.

Celeste approaching Crossover to the AreteCeleste approaching Crossover to the AreteWhile most campgrounds categorize their sites in terms of full, partial, or no hookup, here you are assigned to either a Platinum, Gold, or Silver section. Last year we had stayed in Platinum, where a newspaper was delivered to our campsite each morning. However, this year we had worked our way down to Gold, where we had to suffer the indignity of getting our own newspaper from the office each morning. Perhaps this was the result of us during our previous stay being the only ones with rock climbing gear spread out on the fancy pavers. Our goal, this year would be to hold onto our Gold status and not find ourselves in Silver next year.

I was very excited about the boys’ arrival. We had seen Andrew briefly in San Francisco when we arrived on the West Coast, but we hadn't seen Tommy since New Years. This get together was very long overdue, so there was no way I was going to go to sleep before their arrival.

Fortunately, we had something to entertain us and keep us up. This evening was the Camelopardalids meteor shower, where the Earth would pass through a cloud of dust left behind in the 1800s by a comet named 209P/LINEAR. As many as 200 meteors per hour were predicted.

Herb and I got out the beach chairs, poured a glass of wine, and craned our necks up to the sky to view the show. I even called the boys to keep an eye out for shooting stars on their drive from Portland to Bend. Needless to say, the meteor show was a bit of a dud, and we saw absolutely nothing. It wasn't just us though. News reports the next day said that in actuality there were only about 10 an hour. I would have been happy with just one. It did keep us occupied though and before we knew it, the kids were here. We were so very, very happy to see them.

Tommy on LeadTommy on LeadWith their late arrival, I figured we would be sleeping in the next morning, but I guess when you have only a limited amount of vacation time, you want to make the most of every minute of it. They were up by 8:00, sandwiches were efficiently manufactured for the day, and we were off to a day of rock climbing at Smith Rock State Park, about 29 miles north of Bend.

More and more, our family vacations are becoming oriented around rock climbing. Herb had started rock climbing at “The Gunks” in New Paltz, New York over 30 years ago, and now the boys, and Celeste, had caught the bug as well. It really can become quite addictive.

“Old Man Herb” still climbing at 58“Old Man Herb” still climbing at 58I think I was the only non-addict. Although I had climbed a bit in my day, it was never something that I had become totally comfortable with, nor very good at. However, if I didn't want to be relegated to a mere spectator on family vacations, I was going to have to get with the program. Plus, the boys had given me a climbing helmet for Mother’s Day and Herb had given me a cute, purple chalk bag for Valentine’s Day—it’s not easy being the only woman in the family. I think they were less than subtly hinting that I step up my game. So, for the past year or so, I had started going to an indoor climbing gym with Herb and was really starting to enjoy it and make some progress.

Despite my gains, I was nowhere close to ever being able to climb anything the rest of them could. Every climb has a difficulty rating, from 5.4 (being the easiest) all the way up to 5.14 (which looks absolutely impossible to get up). They were more in the 5.10 to 5.11 range, while I would be lucky if I could do a 5.7. Fortunately, Smith Rock had a bit of everything, often right next to each other.

Smith Rock is a very unique place. The rock formations in the park are spectacular – multi-colored, jagged ridges of basalt, formed from volcanic activity millions of years ago, when lava flows entered this canyon and cooled. Winding between these basalt peaks is the lovely Crooked River, which twists and turns its way for miles through the park. It’s not just a great place to rock climb, but also a great place to hike or run.

Since it was Memorial Day weekend, the park was extremely crowded. However, since most people were parking along the road approaching the park because it was free, we were easily able to find parking in the lot past the $5 fee station.

Lolo on Descent in the CloudsLolo on Descent in the CloudsAfter parking the car, we took the trail down to the river, crossed a bridge, and then followed the River Trail along the banks of the Crooked River. It was breathtakingly beautiful that it was hard not to stop every few minutes to take pictures. We knew right away that this would be the site of our 2014 Family Christmas photo, but we had plenty of days to work on that. Right now, we were all anxious to find a climb that was not already taken.

One thing to understand about rock climbing is that there are two basic types: “traditional” and “sport.” For years at “The Gunks, Herb had done traditional (or “trad”) climbing. What Tommy and Andrew prefer to do is “sport” climbing. What that means is that rather than the traditional way of putting protection pieces in the rock as you climb to prevent you from falling, the bolts and protection are already permanently fixed to the rock. It’s a bit safer and quicker to set up a climb, which is a very good thing as far as I am concerned. Smith Rock is known around the world as a sport climber’s mecca, with over 1,000 bolted climbing routes.

Tommy pinching Andrew's butt with "Hot Dog"Tommy pinching Andrew's butt with "Hot Dog"Plus, to make things even safer, this year we had “Hot Dog,” which, for some unknown reason, was the name of Andrew’s clip stick. For those that don’t know (and I was in that category a mere month ago), a clip stick is a pole with a clamp on the end that allows you to clip the climbing rope into the first bolt on the route. This is pretty important for safety, as until that first bolt is clipped into, the climber could hit the ground if he falls. You can buy a clip stick in a climbing store – or even on Amazon – but they are pretty easy to make yourself, and that way you can personalize them with stupid names, such as “Hot Dog.” Needless to say, “Hot Dog” was multifunctional and often used to pinch an unsuspecting butt, particularly that of one’s brother.

While I won’t go into a detailed description of each climb that was done that day – that has been anal-retentively documented in an Excel spreadsheet by Andrew – I will give a brief overview of the day’s events. However, to do so, I admit that I am peeking at the spreadsheet that I just made fun of.

They (and by they, I mean everybody but me) did several 5.10 climbs (one 5.10a, two 5.10b, and one 5.10c), each of them taking a turn leading. Herb cruised through his first “lead” in 20 years on a 5.10c climb called, “No Golf Shoes.” I tried a 5.9, rather unsuccessfully, and was informed by Tommy that I should try harder next time. Just to show him, I successfully completed my first outdoor climb in many, many years. It was a 5.7 called “Dancer,” probably because of the graceful, dance-like moves that most climbers display on this climb. I, however, did not display anything resembling grace on my ascent. Despite that, I was quite proud of myself, and I think the rest of them were as well.

Celeste with a Stylish DescentCeleste with a Stylish DescentTowards the end of the day, it was very hot, and we began overhearing other climbers discussing what we all were thinking about – a cold refreshing beer at one of Bend’s 19 craft breweries. If you like craft beers, Bend is the place to be. It even has an Ale Trail featuring 14 breweries along the way. If you get your Bend Ale Trail passport stamped at 10 of them, you get a prize – a silicon drinking glass called a silipint. If you visit all 14, you get a Bend Ale Trail bottle opener as well. I love the advice (probably suggested by an attorney) they give on their website: “It's probably not wise to attempt the entire Bend Ale Trail in one day.”

I kind of thought it would be a neat thing to do, since we had 4 days here and 5 people to drink the requisite beers, but we never did get around to doing it. Perhaps next time, because I looked on the Internet and those silipints are really cool.

That evening we went to the Deschutes Brewery Pub, where we had a very good dinner and some very tasty beers. Last year when we were here, Tommy, who also functions as my personal beer consultant, introduced me to the Deschutes Freshly Squeezed IPA, and it was love at first taste. It is still my favorite beer of all time. Apparently, it is a lot of people’s favorite, because when I ordered it, I was informed that they were all out. Instead, I did as the others did and ordered a sampler of 6 individually selected beers, which wasn't such a bad consolation.

Tommy on a Crimpy LeadTommy on a Crimpy LeadThe next morning, we chose to go on a hike rather than climb, because it is difficult to climb consecutive days without a rest in between. I had bought a book of 100 hikes in the Central Cascades, but unfortunately most of the really spectacular ones are inaccessible until July because of lingering snow cover. Instead, we chose another Central Oregon classic, a 5.4-mile hike along the Metolius River from the West Metolius River Trailhead, about 9 miles northwest of the town of Sisters, to the Wizard Fish Hatchery and back. It was a lovely, easy hike, perfect for a rest day from climbing. It traced the shores of the Metolius River past gushing springs and wildflowers.

The Fish Hatchery was pretty cool with several pools holding various age Atlantic salmon, brook trout, cutthroat trout, kokanee, and rainbow trout. For 25 cents, we bought a handful of fish food. At first we threw in one pellet at a time, but soon found that it was much more fun to see the chaos caused by a whole handful at one time.

When driving back to Bend, we stopped for a picnic lunch at the Three Sisters viewpoint where there is a wonderful view of the Cascade Peaks, including Mt. Bachelor, the Three Sisters, Broken Top, and Mt. Jefferson.

Andrew Leading  “Five Gallon Buckets”Andrew Leading “Five Gallon Buckets”Afterwards, we drove to the summit of Pilot Butte, a volcanic cinder cone located right in the city of Bend. I think it is one of only four places in the U.S. where you can find a cinder cone located within the boundaries of a city. The scenery from atop the 500-foot summit was spectacular with views of Bend, the Cascades, Newberry Crater and many snow-capped volcanoes. You can also hike or run up to the top, which is what we probably should have done, but we had other things on our agenda, one of which was to walk around the Old Mill District of Bend.

Instead of lumber mills, which once were a major part of the town’s economy, this area along the Deschutes River is now full of up-scale shops, galleries, and restaurants. Its history as a lumber town is still visible, primarily in the three large smokestacks that rise above what is now an REI store. In fact, we could see these smokestacks from the top of Pilot Butte. REI was having a big Memorial Day sale, so we spent some time and money shopping in what is one of my favorite stores.

Afterwards, we stopped for ice coffees, and then strolled along the riverfront and across the bridge to McKay Park, where there is a grassy swimming beach. It was still pretty early in the season, and the water was a bit too cold to entice us. There were, however, several paddle boarders and kayakers out on the river. One of these days, I want to experience the Deschutes River the way it is supposed to be experienced – floating in a tube, kayak or raft, with a cooler of cold beers.

Lolo demonstrating correct use of the Chalk BagLolo demonstrating correct use of the Chalk BagWe still had one more event planned for the day. I had gotten this really good book about Bend, called Bend, Overall, and discovered that there was an indoor hot soaking pool right in the Old St. Francis School in town. The pictures in the book intrigued me – it looked like an ancient Roman bath. So, after a delicious Penne Vodka dinner in the motorhome, by chef Andrew, I convinced the family that we should really try this place out. They became more motivated when I told them that you could purchase drinks in plastic cups from one of the three bars in the establishment and sip them while soaking in the pool.

It’s truly a unique place – an old Catholic school converted into a commercial establishment with a hotel, several bars, a brewery, a movie theater, and a hot soaking pool.

We got there as early as we could, because there is a limit to how many they will allow in the pool at any one time. At only $5 per person, I was thinking that this could be a very popular place. Fortunately, there was room for the five of us. We were given towels and a locker key, and had to leave our driver’s licenses at the desk. Also, during the evenings you have to be at least 21 years of age, so the IDs also served as proof for the kids.

Herb and Celeste ClimbingHerb and Celeste ClimbingThe pool had plenty of people in it, but was not overly crowded, and the water was hot, but not so hot as to be uncomfortable. The artwork was interesting. Turquoise tilework covered the walls with subdued light streaming in through the luminous stained glass windows. There was a large mural depicting St. Francis and others harvesting grapes.

Several people in the pool were sipping from plastic cups, so we sent the boys on a mission to purchase beers. They wrapped towels around their waists and headed out. After more than a half hour had passed and they still hadn’t returned, we started to wonder what had become of them. Finally, they returned, beers in hand, quite amused by the process they had to go through. Since they were relatively young looking, the bar wouldn’t serve them without an ID. Since their IDs were being held by the front desk, they had to go there and retrieve them before returning to the bar. When they were waiting for their drinks at the bar, they began to notice that people were staring at them – perhaps it was because they were bare-chested with nothing but a towel wrapped around their waist. Finally, five beers in hand, they had to make their way back to the front desk to once again leave their IDs, and then wind their way back through the hallways to the pool. It seemed like a pretty inefficient system to me. They probably could have made a lot of money providing pool-side service.

The next day was another Smith Rock climbing day. Herb is usually the first to awake, but this time he said that when he peeked out the window to check the weather, there was Celeste on the table outside already diligently making the sandwiches for the day. She is such a delight to have along, and not just because of her wonderful sandwich making.

Crooked RiverCrooked RiverThis time we started our climbing on the Rope de Dope Block, a 40-foot high solitary rock across the river from the main climbing area. It had a nice variety of climbs, ranging from 5.5 to 5.10c – a little something for everyone, even me. It kind of felt a little bit like a climbing gym wall.

The four of them got to do a few really nice 5.10a and 5.10b climbs, once again taking turns leading. They really are getting good at this.

Not wanting to leave me out, Andrew and Tommy went up the backside of the block and set up a top rope for me on a 5.7 climb called “How Low Can You Go” – not exactly the most flattering of names. I had been watching several people, who were a lot better climbers than me, have some trouble with the beginning part of the climb, so. I didn’t have much hope for success. I asked the boys if I could start on the easier climb to the left, which I think was rated 5.5, but they weren’t pleased with my defeatist attitude and told me to at least give the 5.7 a try. It was very slabby with only these tiny little protrusions to grab onto, but amazingly I got through it. I was so, so glad that they pushed me into trying. There is definitely some serious role reversal going on in this family.

Lolo with Boys post Climbing at Smith RocksLolo with Boys post Climbing at Smith RocksAfterwards, we moved back across the river to the main climbing area to a wall called the Zebra Area. The rock along this wall was really bizarre looking, with huge pockmarks, known as huecos – some of them big enough to almost crawl into. I am not sure, but I think they were caused by volcanic bubbles. One particular 5.8 climb here called “Five Gallon Buckets” is by far the most popular climb in the park. As is almost always the case, someone was already on it, and more people were waiting in line to go next.

Herb, Tommy, Andrew, and Celeste each did a 5.10c, and then started playing around on a 5.9 next to “Five Gallon Buckets,” which had the same type of huecos. I tried it too, and it was really fun until I ran out of buckets and it started to get crimpy. We really wanted to try “Five Gallon Buckets,” since it is such a Smith Rock classic, but there was still a lineup of people at its base. We figured we would try to hit it first thing tomorrow morning. Also, since it would be the Tuesday after Memorial Day, hopefully the Park would be much less crowded.

McKay Park Riverfront YogaMcKay Park Riverfront YogaSatisfied with another great day of climbing, we headed back up the steep hill to the parking lot. It’s hard to keep moving here, not just because of the steepness of the trail, but because of the temptation to stop every few minutes to take pictures of the incredible scenery.

After a little hot tubbing at the campground, we headed into town and rather unoriginally went back to the Deschutes Brewery for dinner and samplers. Hey, when you find a good thing, why change it.

The next day, Tuesday, was our last day in Bend. Celeste had to fly back to San Francisco on Wednesday to go to work, while the boys, who had taken the entire week off, would be traveling with us up to Seattle. Although we normally alternate climbing and rest days, we decided to make an exception this time, because it was our last chance at Smith Rock.

Lenticular Cloud over BendLenticular Cloud over BendAs planned, we went directly to the Zebra Area and were the first ones to get on “Five Gallon Buckets.” It was really, really fun, but actually a bit harder than I thought. Just because the buckets were big didn’t necessarily mean that they had good holds where I wanted them. Herb climbed on the route next to me wearing a Go Pro on his helmet to film me climbing this classic. I just watched it again last night, and it is a pretty entertaining video.

They all did a few more 5.9s and 5.10s, and I struggled through another 5.7, before we had to leave to drop Celeste at the Bend Redmond airport. We were all very sorry to see her go. She had really done some amazing climbing, including some very challenging leads. She also makes really delicious sandwiches.

That night we just had Mac and Cheese and hot dogs back at the campground and did tons of laundry. I was so impressed with the Crown Villa laundry room. They had a computerized system where you used a credit card to select washers and dryers. No more having to carry around those cumbersome rolls of quarters -- just another great amenity at this very lovely and well-run campground.


Smith Rock Park Morning LightSmith Rock Park Morning LightBend is the largest city in Oregon east of the Cascades. It is located in the high desert, along the banks of the Deschutes River on the eastern edge of the Cascade Range. A major reason for Bend’s popularity, both as a place to live and as a tourist destination, is its sunny skies. With an annual average of 158 clear days, 105 mostly sunny, and the remaining still with some sunshine, it is the sunniest city in the state.

Bend is also an outdoor enthusiast’s mecca and there is so much to do in all four seasons: skiing the powdered slopes of Mt. Bachelor, kayaking or rafting the mighty Deschutes River, hiking the Three Sisters, golfing at one of its many fine courses, fly fishing the lakes and streams, mountain biking the miles of backcountry trails, and on and on.

For the less active, or for those after an exhausting day of outdoor activity, there is the lively downtown area with its many fine restaurants and shops.

About 25 miles north of Bend is Smith Rock State Park, whose jagged peaks of basalt attract rock climbers from around the world. Considered to be the birthplace of American sport climbing, it has over 1,000 bolted climbing routes. Its stunning location in the Crooked River Gorge also makes it an ideal place for hiking or mountain biking along its many miles of trails

Bend location map in "high definition"

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