Top 10 True Western Towns of 2010

10. THE DALLES, OREGON

As part of the state’s 150th anniversary in 2009, The Dalles, Oregon—population 13,470 — put on an Oregon Statehood Wagon Train that traveled the 1869 Dalles Military Road through seven counties—a pretty impressive endeavor. Trail Boss Bill Vixie and his team led 140 riders from the starting point at Huntington, along the Snake River, on the 39-day journey. The Wasco County Historical Society organized the adventure in conjunction with its annual heritage celebration The Dalles Days.

At the end of the overland Oregon Trail, The Dalles is located along the banks of the Columbia River. One of the best ways to explore the city is through geocaching. The high-tech treasure hunting game is played by adventure seekers equipped with a GPS. Geocache sites were hidden all along the Oregon Statehood Wagon Train route. The Dalles Area Chamber of Commerce also sponsored an “Amazing Race” geocache hunt in September, which visitors can still participate in; it takes you to historic landmarks and buildings in the downtown district. The coordinates for these adventures are found at Geocaching.com; search for “The Dalles Chamber.” The Dalles-Dash is a 12-cache password hunt, with each of the caches containing a password on the lid. When visitors find all 12 passwords, they can bring them to the Chamber of Commerce for a commemorative geocoin.

Another interactive way to enjoy the city’s heritage is via talking art murals placed throughout historic downtown. The Dalles Mural Society created this art tour to share 10,000 years of local history, from the area’s original American Indians, to the Lewis and Clark Expedition to Oregon Trail pioneers. Some of these historical murals “talk;” the keys for the voice box are available from the Chamber of Commerce.

Numerous museums preserve the town’s local heritage. The state’s oldest historical museum, the Fort Dalles Museum, presents the legacy of the military fort in the original 1857 surgeon’s quarters and offers pioneer artifacts at the 1895 Anderson Homestead. The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center focuses on the area’s natural history and the river gorge carved by the Missoula Floods during the Ice Age. The 1859 Wasco County Courthouse offers historical artifacts from when the county was the largest in the nation (extending as far as Idaho and Montana). The oldest home in town, the 1850 Rorick house built by a fort officer, is the headquarters for the Wasco County Historical Society. And The Dalles Fire Department Museum shares the history of the first fire department, which began here in 1859, through antique fire engines and firefighting gear.

The Dalles is also a starting point for an adventure to the terminus of the Oregon Trail in Oregon City. You can travel the alternate route, the 1846-1919 Barrow Road, which took pioneers around Mount Hood to the end of the Oregon Trail.

Historic local businesses include Klindt’s Booksellers, first established in 1870 by the Nickelsen family and now the oldest continuous bookstore in operation, and the 1876 Baldwin Saloon, with a painted photograph of a young woman created by Wilbur Hayes in 1899 hanging near the early 1900s mahogany backbar—the piece won first place in the Lewis and Clark Exposition in 1905. One of the best local attractions is the camp site Rock Fort, where the Lewis and Clark Expedition spent six months, living downstream from the mouth of Mill Creek.

For finding interactive ways, whether it be through talking art murals, geocache hunts or a wagon train adventure, to present its 10,000 years of history, The Dalles kicks off our top 10 True Western Towns of 2010.

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