We hesitated to spend the $15 per person admission price for this museum just south of Bend. $15 is not much for a quality museum, but you never know how good a local museum is going in. (I’ve long ago given up trusting online ratings.) But there was this ominous note on my typed travel itinerary: “Do it!” In red font. With the exclamation point. Can’t remember what motivated me to add that, but you can’t argue with that kind of message, so we went. And it was worth every penny.
Here’s what we liked.
Outstanding exhibit on the history of Oregon’s High Desert, including the portion of the Oregon Trail that ran through it. This is where the oxen and mules started to die from exhaustion and lack of food and water. Families who brought more than one wagon had to consolidate their belongings into one. Out went the cast iron stoves, furniture that had been in the family for generations, and other large items they had hauled for thousands of miles. Some families had to dispense with even functional, daily items like pots and pans and clothing. The High Desert was where the Oregon Dream began to fall apart for many.
Rescued animal presentations. Tumbleweed, the porcupine, was happy to share his lunch hour with us, eschewing the non-seasonal apple to chew on the more autumnal choices of pumpkin and parsnip. Does he know something we don’t know?
The river otters were absolutely delightful! They began a dizzying game of Follow-the-Leader throughout their newly constructed habitat—under the water, into their den, out the back exit to their island, back into the water, rolling onto their backs, diving underwater, then heads back up to see if the wildlife presenter was ready to dispense with some of the smelt treats she had for them.
Roaming through the 135-acre property, we came across several High Desert habitats: desert (of course), cultivated farm, stream, pond, forest—each habitat diverse and beautiful in its own way.
Also loved the exhibit on prehistoric buzzsaw sharks (What???) Never heard of these guys before. Artistic renderings of these ancient fish, based on fossils of their buzzsaw-shaped jaws found in Idaho, Australia, and China, are incredible. The exhibit on the WPA art projects—architecture, paintings, sculpture, literature, and theater—was fascinating as well, especially to consider how deeply the people of Oregon were affected not only by the training and employment of artisans during the Depression, but also by the enjoyment derived from their works.
Dual sculptures, Blanket Stories, by artist Marie Watt emphasizes the importance of storytelling in past and current American cultures. First she stacked blankets donated by Oregon residents in a column almost reaching the ceiling, each with its own story written on a tag attached to the blanket. Fascinating to read about the people who created them or the mysterious circumstances by which they came to be in the possession of the donors. Then she carved a rendering of her blanket column in pine, reminiscent of a Native American talking stick used in council meetings.
Overall, a very rewarding experience. Do it!