Tens of thousands of cowboys descend on Pendleton, Ore., each September during Round-Up, the huge rodeo for which this town is best known. (It's Sept. 13-16 this year.) But as I discovered during a winter visit, the boots, hats and saddles don't disappear once the bull ropers and steer wrestlers have left. Pendleton, along Interstate 84 about 3½ hours east of Portland, has a genuine Western feel year-round. Visitors can watch as fine leather gear and the famous wool blankets that carry the town's name are made. The tab for two, excluding airfare and car rental: $185 for a room with private bath at Pendleton House Historic Inn and $100 for a nice dinner at Virgil's at Cimmiyotti's.
Pendleton House Historic Inn is a refreshing alternative to the usual roundup of chains I drove past along the interstate. The rooms are well appointed, but repeat guests told me it's the home-cooked breakfasts, which are included, that bring them back. I savored the eggs Benedict with crab, as well as granola, fresh fruit and a hearty side of bacon. A room with a shared bath costs $135 a night; rooms with private baths start at $185.
Hometown favorites abound, but I found Virgil's at Cimmiyotti's is where movers and shakers gather for drinks and dinner. The house specialties include Virgil's Oscar (beef medallions topped with crabmeat, bacon and béarnaise sauce for $29) and rack of lamb (with a garlic and rosemary sauce for $31). For a more casual meal, the locals flock to Rainbow Cafe for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
See hand-tooled leather saddles being made (and sold) at Hamley & Co. or across the street at Rod Retherford Saddlery and Cowboy Art. Richard Stapleman, a former bull rider, told me he began making boots in 1999 for his own use; he now welcomes visitors to watch as he creates custom footwear in his shop, Staplemans Boots and Leather. Pendleton Woolen Mills continues to make the blankets it first sold to local Indians in 1909 and also offers tours. The mill provides exclusive patterns for sale in the gift shop at Tamastslikt Cultural Institute, home to an excellent museum.
The lesson learned
If you go
Pendleton House Historic Inn, 311 N. Main St., Pendleton; (541) 276-8581
Virgil's at Cimmiyotti's, 137 S. Main St., Pendleton; (541) 276-7711
Rainbow Cafe, 209 S. Main St., Pendleton; (541) 276-4120
Hamley & Co., 30 SE Court Ave., Pendleton; (541) 278-1100
Rod Retherford Saddlery and Cowboy Art, 11 SE Court Ave., Pendleton; (541) 279-9060
Staplemans Boots and Leather, 7 SE Court Ave., Pendleton; (509) 531-4703
Pendleton Woolen Mills, 1307 SE Court Place, Pendleton; (541) 276-6911
Tamastslikt Cultural Institute, 47106 Wildhorse Blvd., Pendleton; (541) 429-7700