When you acquire a dog –whether through adopting or becoming involved with a dog owner – vacations change. Suddenly you’re looking at activities that include Spot. Or, in my case, Rudy the keeshond. Driving trumps flying. National forests are friendlier than national parks. And many hotels and B&Bs are immediately excluded.
Bend, Oregon, is a winner for those traveling with dogs. Dog Fancy magazine named this central Oregon town of 81,000 Dog Town, USA in 2012. The official Visit Bend website not only tells you where dogs can run off leash, but even where you can share a beer with your canine companion.
So Rudy, my boyfriend and I headed for two nights in Bend.
Driving from Portland, we climbed over Mount Hood, then down the other side and soon, left the big trees behind. Central Oregon’s desert appeals to many waterlogged Portlanders, starved for sun and spaciousness. Much as I love trees, it’s a relief to see so much sky for a change.
About 25 minutes outside of Bend, we stopped at Smith Rock, a spectacular outcropping of rock well-known to rock climbers and popular with hikers. Newbies can take a rock climbing class or climb the 500-plus foot walls with certified guides. Hiking trails also lead to the top, or you can stroll along the Crooked River. We chose the relaxing option. From the river, we spotted two huge eagle nests in the cliffs.
The following day, we drove about 70 miles southeast of Bend to the Fort Rock State Natural Area. The central feature is Fort Rock itself, a volcanic tuff ring rising 325 feet above the surrounding high desert plain. It’s easy, beautiful walking around here. Our feet sunk into the soft sand trails and we enjoyed the quiet and colors of the desert. Pale yellow and blue/gray scrub bushes hugged the ground, and chartreuse, orange and yellow lichen coated the large rocks. Other nearby attractions include Crack in the Ground, a narrow, two-mile walk through a deep rock fissure, and the Homestead Village Museum. The museum is only open during summer, but you can inspect the old buildings – including a little church, one-room schoolhouse, cabins and mercantile store – year-round from outside a barbed wire fence.
Bend has many dog-friendly lodging options. Lavabelles is one of the best. These vacation rentals-by-owner properties in historic homes are all dog friendly and welcome human children, too. We rented a two-bedroom house called Lucinder. Rudy got a welcome basket including balls to chew on, sheets to cover the furniture so he could relax on the couch without furring it up, and a big fenced yard to play in.
We human occupants got a spacious, comfortable house two blocks from downtown, complete with Jacuzzi, washer, dryer, cable channels, Wi-Fi and every kitchen appliance we could possibly need on vacation. Visitors also receive free passes to the nearby McMenamins Turkish Bath and movie theater.
The Lavabelles properties sleep between two and 10 people, and rent for about $150 to $400 per night, depending on size and season. Each pet costs $20 per stay. Lucinder usually rents for $200 to $240 per night. The owner kindly gave us a price break since the smaller house we wanted was already booked. While it costs twice as much as a Bend hotel room, it was at least 10 times nicer. I balked at the $100 cleaning fee for a two-night stay. The fee would be less painful if you were staying a whole week, or splitting it with other people. Be sure of your dates before reserving. Unlike a hotel booking, you have to cancel way ahead if you want to get your deposit back.
Staying downtown, Bend’s best restaurants were a few short blocks away. Joolz is a beautifully decorated, slightly upscale Mediterranean-themed restaurant that uses the tag line “where the mezze meets the mesa.” It does a booming happy hour business. The menu includes vegan dishes, seafood and meat, so there’s something here for most dietary preferences.
Sitting beneath the colorful glass lanterns and hookahs, we started with a pomegranate/lime soda and dukkah nuts ($6). The soda was a bit bland, but the nut appetizer was delicious and unusual. Our server brought us a basket of lightly toasted house bread, grass green olive oil and a pile of crushed pistachios, hazelnuts, almonds and sesame seeds flavored with coriander, cumin and sea salt. We dipped the bread in the oil, then the nuts, until we’d cleaned up every last bit. I got the vegetarian platter ($22), which included arugula salad, half a dozen tiny stuffed grape leaves, unusual green garbanzo beans, roasted cauliflower, three lemony falafels, tahini sauce and pita bread.
On Friday, we ate at Taj Palace, which happens to be the only day when a dinner buffet ($13.95) is available. Never one to resist trying multiple dishes, I was pleased to find that about half the buffet choices were vegan, and another couple were vegetarian. We filled our plates with hot, fresh pakoras, cauliflower, potatoes and lentils. Everything house-made on the buffet was good, especially when coated with chick pea-coconut sauce. The cantaloupe for dessert was not so tasty. If you prefer to order from the menu, Taj Palace offers South Indian specialties like idlis, vadas and dosas.
Between Bend and Portland, we found a lunchtime gem in the small town of Madras. On our drive both to and from Bend, we stopped for sandwiches at the Great Earth Café and Market. This health food store has a large café area with a menu of sandwiches, soups, salads and fresh baked goods. Vegetarian options include a veggie sandwich with cream cheese, avocado, artichoke hearts, sprouts, onion tomato and cucumber on Great Earth’s excellent sunflower millet bread. The black bean burger with avocado and pesto mayo, served hot in pocket bread, is also a winner. Gluten-free folks can even get sandwiches made with a teff wrap rather than bread.
On the way home to Portland, we purchased our sandwiches to go and picnicked at Mount Hood while Rudy alternately ran around and begged tortilla chips from us. All of us, including Rudy, had a wonderful getaway, with no shortage of good things to eat and sniff. — Story and photos by Teresa Bergen, RFT Vegan/Vegetarian Editor