Prineville (pop. 10,300), near the geographic center of Oregon, is the oldest incorporated town in central Oregon and still feels a bit like the Old West, even as it becomes a bedroom community for those who can’t afford Bend’s housing prices. The seat of Crook County and longtime home to the corporate headquarters of Les Schwab Tires (now located in Bend), Prineville gets a meager 10 inches of rain per year and relies on tire manufacturing, agriculture, wood products, and tourism for its economy.
The tourist economy is largely fueled by anglers, who come to fish the Crooked River and the two local reservoirs. Rock hounds should also consider visiting Prineville; a popular Prineville get-together is the Annual Prineville Rockhound Powwow (541/447-6304, www.prinevillerockhoundpowwow.org), held in mid–late June. The powwow attracts prospectors and rock hounds from all over the country.
The end of June also brings Crooked River Roundup, with pari-mutuel horse racing following a couple of weeks later. Check with the Prineville–Crook County Chamber of Commerce (390 N. Fairview St., 541/447-6304, www.visitprineville.com) for details on the roundup and other area attractions.
Coming into town from the west, you drop down from tall bluffs into the Crooked River Valley, and nearing the city, cruise through hills dotted with juniper. White-and-black magpies dart in front of your car, and red-winged blackbirds observe you passing from their fence posts.
Prineville is also known as the Gateway to the Ochocos, a heavily wooded mountain range that runs east–west for 50 miles. One of Oregon’s least-known recreational areas, the Ochocos are ruggedly pristine. Beyond these mountains stretches the long valley of the John Day River.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel