In nearly 30 years as a Bend resident, I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never explored Tumalo or given it a second glance. It has always been that point in the trip to Salem or Eugene where I have to slow down to 45 mph.
I mean, I’ve dined at Tumalo Feed Company once (when I was maybe 7), and I’ve done my fair share of floating and swimming at Tumalo State Park, but slowing down to look at the quaint, growing community — nope, that never happened.
Many small communities with fewer than 500 people and no real downtown to speak of can thrive in the summer months because they are near larger tourist towns that offer all the amenities.
During the frigid days of winter, the town is almost bare. Tumalo business owners and a few community members seem to be doing their part in making the unincorporated town more of a destination.
So, in effort to explore Tumalo, I shopped small for the holidays and it was lovely to give the town a closer look at the town just northwest of Bend.
Something old, something new
Tumalo is growing. That means more and more shops are claiming spaces and hanging the proverbial shingle, such as Tumalo Cider Co., Fuse Creativity Consulting and AsukaBook.
My mother, who joined me this trip, comes from a long line of people known to collect lots and lots of things. My great-grandparents owned a junk shop in Salem for a time (Although, if you were to ask my great-grandfather, he’d tell you “it’s all good stuff,” not junk, and by today’s standards it would be.). So, naturally we gravitate toward all that’s old and antique.
Beyond the Ranch, an antique store, is located just off U.S. Highway 20 in Tumalo. It’s the shop’s second location. The flagship store is in Redmond. This is a smaller space than the Redmond store, but it’s still packed full of Western-themed antiques and a few repop (new items that look vintage) home decorations.
We were invited into a warm space where country music played and a friendly counter person told us the store now includes Western-themed art.
My eye was drawn upward to a few model airplanes and one metal model ship strung from the ceiling. While the models looked cool, the airplanes were not right for my decor.
My mom snagged an old worn pocket Bible. She said it “will make a perfect prop” for an upcoming play she’s involved in.
Tumalo Garden Market is in the same building. The pavement outside the front door has been painted with flowers and swirls in an attempt to draw in visitors.
Inside, humid temperatures keep the succulents and houseplants happy. An eager, gentle 6-month-old Australian shepherd, Hank, greeted us. His owner was running the store that day.
This is the first winter the nursery has been open. It’s typically closed in October, but rising popularity for houseplants, succulents and live Christmas trees has made it too profitable to close.
Sure, Home Depot or Lowe’s might be less expensive, but here the staff are highly knowledgeable and you will leave with a more information about plants.
Going to a nursery in the middle of winter might seem odd and pointless, but it wasn’t this time. I found a new plant (an aloe-like Haworthia) and had the opportunity to play with an adorable puppy.
Though the outside area at the nursery is mostly dormant, dead or laying fallow for the season, it has a park-like quality. With pizza ovens, benches, pergolas and the promise of good conversations. I’m planning on making a trip during warmer months.
Further into town, we stumbled on a small holiday market of local vendors and artisans readying for a Christmas tree lighting. The tree, which was positioned on top of a newly constructed multi-use building, was the same stature as one you’d find in a tree lot.
Good food, good drink
Tumalo has something special with The Bite food truck pod. The small lot has four carts, a covered eating area with a bar, a play area for kids and cornhole and giant Jenga for the adults.
On this day, Johnny Cash themed music played over a few speakers. We heard several 60s and 70s country songs, including the theme from Smokey and the Bandit.
Several people huddled together at the carts or inside the covered area, all smiling, greeting each other with warmness.
Lunch at The Bite was better than expected. I had a patty melt and garlic fries from The Rogue Chef.
The food was as good as you would find at a quality sit-down restaurant.
While waiting for our food, my mother and I grabbed a drink. The bartender, acting a little goofy, offered a dollar off the drinks if I knew the four major food groups from the “Elf” movie. I said it’s candy, candy canes, candy corn and syrup, and we received the discount.
I decided on a Prickly Passion hard cider from Tumalo Cider Co. Their ciders often are too dry for me, but this was a perfect balance and quite refreshing.
The cidery is currently building a larger space with a tasting room across the street from The Bite. The cidery will share the space with Heritage Brand, a boutique selling handcrafted leather items for horses, dogs and fashion accessories.
In need of a caffeine kick and a warm up after lunch, we walked to the Tumalo Coffeehouse. It serves espresso favorites and a few daily specials.
On this day, the special was a cardamom and sea salt latte, which my mother jumped at. They also had four milk alternatives to accommodate people with lactose sensitivities.
The coffeehouse vibrated with the sense of community I had been feeling all day. Young baristas helped everyone with a smile and seemed to know most of the customers. Everyone was bustling, partly because of the holiday market behind the building.
The coffeehouse had a few art pieces from local painter Sandy Melchiori, wool goods from the Flying Dutchman Alpacas and salves and soaps from Moose Dog Farms, all offerings from the Tumalo area.
When I was a kid, every summer camp I went to would inevitably have a few field trips to Tumalo State Park. We’d jump in or, in my case, slowly walk in to the water to acclimate to the temperature. We’d hunt for crawdads, jump off the rocks and splash around.
With snow on the ground, the park activities change. During wintertime, people enjoy walking trails and river access to fishing spots, so long as the water level doesn’t rise too much. The walking trail now connects to Gopher Gulch at the Riley Ranch Preserve in Bend.
Open year round, there is also a large camping area with yurts, full RV and trailer hook-ups, and tent sites.
In the beginning
In 1904, a post office was opened and the town was named after William A. Laidlaw, who platted the land, which included a tent city for the Tumalo irrigation project workers, the Columbia Southern Railway Company building, land sales agents and tradespeople.
Laidlaw was hopeful his town would bring the railroad, according to the Oregon History Project.
Farmers came to the area, in part, because of an act passed in 1894 promising up to 160 acres to any person who could improve the land.
Despite Laidlaw’s efforts, his ambition was never met, and he was hated by the townspeople.
In fact, he was hanged in effigy twice: once in 1907 and again in 1912.
The post office shuttered soon after and the community was officially renamed Tumalo in 1915. The town has remained unincorporated.
Small town feel
When I was a child growing up in Bend, it wasn’t unusual to see someone you knew wherever you went.
While not unheard of today, that happens less and less due to Bend’s rapid growth. But Tumalo still has that small-town feel.
Though it’s growing and changing with the influx of people to Central Oregon, it holds that charm and a sense camaraderie among community members.
Tumalo is worth more than a second glance. You should make it a stop rather than just a place to slow down.
— Makenzie Whittle is a Bend native. She and her family have taken day trips since she was an infant, exploring the far reaching corners of Oregon, learning about history, geology and the communities that make up the state. She continues the tradition today, and can be reached at 541-383-0304 or email@example.com
Editor’s note. This article has been corrected. The original version misstated the distance and direction between Bend and Tumalo. The Bulletin regrets the error.