For a few days in mid-January, I had come up to Bend, Oregon, with one of my best California friends as a little road trip and vacation and to join a Fort Collins friend who was also visiting there. As I had never been here in the winter, it was particularly interesting to see how Bend—which I had nearly moved to 2.5 years ago—looked like at this time of year.
Below are some notes. Verdict: I still love Bend, but am glad I ultimately chose Fort Collins as my place to live. It’s a better fit for me at this stage of my life. That said, I certainly could have been very happy in Bend just as well, just like I’m sure I could have been perfectly happy living in any of my “best places to live” nominees.
- Getting to Bend from California going up US-97 can be dicey if the weather is bad. Supposedly, the worst part is getting over the Chemult pass, just 65 miles south of Bend. Fortunately—with some advanced planning and checking the weather forecasts—we encountered virtually no falling snow and it was smooth sailing all the way from Stockton, CA to Bend. With just a few stops, it took us 8.5-10 hours to drive that distance.
- There was a marked contrast in the amounts of snow laying on the sides of the roads in La Pine, Sunriver, Bend, Redmond, and Terrebonne, however. La Pine and Sunriver had maybe a foot or two of snow. Bend had maybe five inches on people’s lawns, and increasingly more the farther west one got. Redmond and Terrebonne, however, had virtually no snow. Redmond and Terrebonne actually looked just like the last time I had visited them (summer of 2005)—very dry and yellow. I guess neither places become green, although at least there are evergreen trees around to liven up the landscape a little.
- I was actually surprised at how much snow there was in Bend, which was not a ridiculous amount, just more than I expected for a town that on average gets less than Fort Collins does per year (something like 31″ vs. 45″). Bend may receive less snow but it takes a bit longer for the snow to clear because Bend is more shaded with trees and hills within town, whereas Fort Collins is more wide open and flat.
- Streets are also narrower in Bend. That, coupled with the hills, makes driving when it snows more difficult. Lots of people in Bend put snow tires on their cars in the winter (whereas it seems relatively few bother to in Fort Collins).
- I guess I’ve also been spoiled by the number of bike lanes and routes in Fort Collins, since I couldn’t help but notice the relative lack of them in Bend (or maybe they were just covered with snow!)
- Downtown Bend was a little disappointing especially after being spoiled by downtown Fort Collins the last couple years. There seemed to be much fewer restaurants than I remembered, and the ones we went to were nothing special. It was also not very lively, although that may be because it’s winter.
- On the other hand, the Old Mill District—which is close to downtown—is lovely. It’s new, trendy, and beautiful with lots of shops. There was one restaurant there called Cafe Yumm! that Tori and I really liked. A Yumm! Bowl consists of wholesome, organic ingredients from different cultures (e.g., Mayan and Carribean I think). It’s also inexpensive and very delicious. Cafe Yumm! is a chain that started out in Eugene but now has a restaurant in Springfield, OR and Bend.
- Home prices have come down quite a bit in the last year in Bend—“down to 2005 levels” said a real estate agent—and still dropping. Homes are still more expensive than in Fort Collins.
- On the other hand, homes in Bend, in general, are better looking than the ones in Fort Collins. Whereas homes in the Front Range tend to be rather boxy, bland, and generic (like those in much of California), even the tract homes in Bend tend to incorporate colors and interesting architectural features. Home builders in Bend also do a good job incorporating existing trees into developments instead of just clear-cutting like developers do in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
- My favorite neighborhood in Bend is Northwest Crossing, which not only have very trendy, modern, beautiful homes with lots of trees, but has its own little downtown with cafes and even a yoga studio. Some homes have views of the Cascades, but of course they are pricey!
- More generalities: Bend homes do not have basements since the ground is “so hard sometimes a jackhammer is needed to break through the ground,” said a real estate agent. Most homes also seem to be single story or have the master on the ground floor. This may be because more and more people are retiring here and elderly people rather not go up or down stairs.
- Due to the terrain and cost of land, homes within Bend tend to be close to one another. Open space seems to come at a premium in Bend.
- The views of the Cascades from Bend are more impressive and dramatic than the Rockies of the Front Range. Seeing Mt. Bachelor and the Three Sisters is an awesome sight because they look like four snow-capped volcanoes (which they once were) towering above everything.
- Bend is definitely less diverse than Fort Collins. In our five days there, I think we saw maybe five non-white people. That said, I still felt comfortable there so it’s not really an issue for me.
- Having Mt. Bachelor just 25 miles away is great because there is a world-class ski resort there where the U.S. Olympic Team has even trained. It’s expensive, though (something like $750 for a season pass—or about double that of the world-class ones in Colorado). Snow is quick and easy to find in the winter (for x-country skiing or snowshoeing, for example) , even if there’s not too much in town: just head west for about 5-10 miles.
- Being winter, I was reminded of how isolated Bend/Redmond/Sisters is from the rest of the state. For example, they are about 90 miles east of Eugene and 170 miles southeast of Portland, and those are difficult miles to drive for half of the year due to having to drive over mountain passes affected by snow or rain.
- While there is a community college (Central Oregon Community College) and 4-year university (Oregon State University, Cascades campus), they aren’t very prominent in the city so it would be a stretch to call Bend a college town.
Despite any negative comments above about Bend, it still remains one of my favorite towns, one that ranks very high in terms of natural beauty, good climate, and outdoor recreation. Be sure to read my 2005 post in the “Related Articles” section below for more impressions.