It’s 10 a.m. on a bright August morning, and ahead the sun’s rays dance atop the snow-frosted peaks of Three Sisters Mountains as we paddle our canoe across the placid, crystal-blue waters of Sparks Lake, just outside Bend, Oregon.
This must be one of the most tranquil and most beautiful places on Earth.
I’m here in Bend to award the mountain-rimmed city DOG FANCY’s DogTown USA 2012 honor. To soak in the ambiance of a city that prizes dogs and especially being active with dogs, there is simply no better experience than to hit the trails with locals and their dogs.
As we leisurely cross the lake, soaking in the amazing high Cascade Mountain views, naturalist and guide James Jaggard of Wanderlust Tours points out volcanic formations and spies Osprey as they sail overhead.
In the rear of the canoe with him is Ruby, his Golden Retriever-Rottweiler mix who excitedly spots an opportunity ahead. Two Labrador Retrievers are out for a hike and are splashing about, playing fetch with their owners along the rim of the lake.
In a flash Ruby dives into the cool water and paddles over to join the fun. It is a quintessential moment, capturing the essence of Bend, a place that marries the majesty of Nature with an abiding love for dogs. (They are also really big on beer, but more on that later.)
This remarkable experience is repeated over and over again as I meet the dogs and dog lovers of this delightful Oregon community, also prized for a wonderfully restored downtown full of unique shops and restaurants, and a dry, moderate year-round climate, especially compared with other parts of the state.
Whether they are biking or hiking, skiing or paddleboarding – or maybe just sipping the latest microbrew at a local pub – owners and their dogs are inseparable in Bend. That is made possible by an abundance of dog-friendly venues:
*At my host Oxford Hotel, the friendly staff provides personal pet beds in proportion to the size of your dog. The bakers at their 10 Below restaurant prepare organic dog treats (ours came with my dogs’ names on them). You’ll get a map of dog walking trails and parks, and they will even provide loaner leashes and collars.
*There are seven off-leash dog parks in Bend, but the crown jewel is the expansive, 17-acre Bob Wenger dog park, rededicated during my visit to honor a man who toiled endless hours to help build this spectacular off-leash environment. Bob carted volcanic rocks with his wheelbarrow to improve trails and hand-built an agility course out of large timbers.
His dedication was remarkable, but also typical of a community-wide spirit of volunteerism that pervades Bend, providing the energy and drive that makes this such a great place for dogs and their owners.
*What do you get when you combine a dog park with a pub? Crux Fermentation Project, the newest of the dozen or more premium microbreweries in Bend, is not only dog-friendly, boasting a patio with gorgeous mountain views, but it also is building an off-leash area right at the brewery. Their motto? Beer, beautiful views and bow-wows.
*Along the scenic Deschutes River, Kreg Lindberg and his dog Lonnie take me on a hike of some of the endless forested trails that his group, DogPAC, has cleared and maintained for dog lovers. As we clear a thick verdant wall of towering Ponderosa Pine and round a river bend Lonnie bounces and jumps, anticipating the fun. In a moment Kreg tosses a pinecone and Lonnie launches herself skyward toward the cool river water.
Another pure moment of man, dog and Nature coming together in this special place.
View a gallery of photos from my visit to Bend.
Read our full report on Bend, this year’s DogTown USA 2012.