The road dips into a glorious canyon with a fuzzy green bottomland. Buttes with sharp walls stack up on either side like locks.
It's a sunny day when I roll into Sisters, a town endowed with Central Oregon's most outdoorsy genes. The air smells like a ponderosa perfume sharpened by the brittle air flowing from the mountains that lie to the west. The whole place feels like a cross between a frontier trading post and summer camp, with Western-style facades, cabins, and tidy parks.
Its setting at the base of the Cascades has indeed helped define Sisters since the first settlers arrived in the mid-1800s. By the 1880s, sheep ranchers and cattlemen would stop for supplies in the settlement—named after the nearby Three Sisters peaks—then head to alpine pastures in the Cascades.
Nowadays, visitors can ride mountain bikes or stroll along gentle dirt paths at Peterson Ridge, a 25-mile network of beginner friendly trails, or they may drive out to the trailhead of Tam McArthur Rim, a balcony of rock perched 1,000 feet above Three Creek Lake, where autumn falls fast. Back in town, folks wander West Cascade Avenue, the main drag, with ice cream cones and pinwheels. In summer the thoroughfare can grow crowded with travelers, but September, when the masses thin and the weather turns milder, makes an ideal time to visit. I'm tempted by the homemade fudge at Sisters Cascade of Gifts; other visitors roam the Friday afternoon farmers' market at Barclay Park or watch artists work inside studios at the Open Door, a wine bar, art gallery, and restaurant.
At the top of the hour, I swing by Beacham's Clock Company on West Hood Avenue and listen to the chimes of hundreds of timepieces. Down the street at Old West Collectibles, manager Patti Jo Beal shows me a gambling wheel from 1910, a real-life remnant of bygone days. I buy a Hemingway tome at Lonesome Water Books, a trove of used and rare volumes, and pop into Sisters Bakery in hopes of grabbing some pumpkin doughnuts, a culinary miracle featured in the fall. "Sorry, we sell out of those early," shrugs Leslie Newbold, a longtime baker. "People cry when we have to switch to applesauce."