I thought that after living in Prineville OR for over a year, the same town my BLM office is in, that it might help future CLM interns here know what to expect from this town. Prineville Oregon is east of the Cascade mountain range, in the rainshadow of the state. It is an arid climate with sunshine nearly every day. Winters are cold, summers are hot, and spring is notoriously unpredictable. Coming in at the beginning of a field season, expect the possibility of snow on the same day you may find yourself enjoying sunny weather in the 70’s. Prineville lies at a somewhat lower elevation than nearby Redmond and Bend, in a basaltic caldera formation. Prineville definitely has a stuck in time small town feel, although it’s not so tiny that everyone knows everyone. It is home to just under 10,000 people. Don’t expect much of a dating scene if that interests you (I hear Tinder is nearly nonexistent), also don’t expect a ton of people your age. Prineville is very family and senior oriented, and sort of leaves out the 20 somethings who probably move to Bend or elsewhere. I find people in Central Oregon to be extremely friendly, but Prinevillians also have a clannish side, and you may find some folks a bit closeminded depending on where you are coming from. On the other hand, you may appreciate their value of tradition and down to earth demeanor.
During the recent recession Prineville suffered considerably combined with a waning timber industry. The old mills on the industrial side of town are interesting to drive by. It seems that Prineville, once the largest city east of the Oregon Cascades, is making a comeback but there is still significant economic struggle for many living here. Facebook and Apple set up big data centers in Prineville, and it is the home of the NW Les Schwab Tires. Whether you live or work in Prineville, I highly recommend a visit to the Bowman Museum to learn about the history of the area. It is fascinating. You can’t talk about Prineville without mentioning the ranching community. This is a cowpoke town, no doubt about it. The wealthy ranching families here go back many generations and they are proud. Treat yourself to the Crooked River Roundup, nearly a week of rodeo related events occurring each summer and a very big deal in Prineville. You don’t want to miss the cattle drive through town or my favorite, the barrel racing! It is not unusual to see a kid riding a horse through one of the city parks here or scrappy ranch dogs riding loose on the back of flatbed pickups, to contrast the kombucha-drinking Patagonia-wearing Subaru drivers of nearby Bend, where a cowboy hat is significantly harder to find. Prineville’s beloved nickname is Prinetucky (enough a point of pride that the local brewery named their house beer the Prinetucky Pale Ale) probably stemming from the small town country music vibe here.
Prepare yourself when you move to Central Oregon, it is DIFFICULT to find a place to live. If you are freaking out (as I was) and still haven’t secured something by the time you arrive, fear not. Camp for cheap your first few days at the Ochoco Reservoir or RV park across from it, both complete with hot showers and only about 10 minutes outside of town. Pros of living here in Prineville include a much shorter commute to the BLM office and somewhat cheaper housing when you do find it, compared to nearby Bend and Redmond.
Prineville has little to offer in night life, but makes up for it with outdoor recreation in heaps. I’m a lover of the Ochoco Mountains to the north and east of town where you rarely have to share trails with anyone else, there are gorgeous wildflowers and creeks and places to hunt for morel mushrooms. The tamarack trees turn gold in the fall before dropping their needles and are a lovely spectacle. You can camp and fish in the impressive Crooked River Canyon or take a hike to Chimney Rock, and there is a disc golf course and mountain bike trails in town. Don’t miss the Barnes Butte trails for a hiking getaway right within town limits.
I can’t not talk about food, as this is a very important aspect of life for me.
Prineville has a few grocery stores. I never could go to just one as I’m a deal hunter, so here’s the lowdown: Rays is expensive but has more health food items and fresh produce, Wagner’s IGA has bulk herbs and spices. Thriftway is a good bet for general goods, but always hit up Grocery Outlet first because when and if they do have what you’re looking for, you are going to save big time. This is also the best place to stock up on goodies for backpacking or fieldwork lunches. If you are a bit more adventuresome like me, check out Grocery Bandit on the Madras Highway leaving town. You’ll feel like a bandit with the steals of deals here, but it’s pretty hit or miss. There’s local grassfed beef in the freezer case. Be warned: the granola bars can be quite stale.
There are many bars and restaurants in Prineville, but few of them noteworthy. When I lived here, going out to eat in Bend or Redmond was a big treat. There are several average Mexican eats, none of which I can recommend over any others, except Tacos De La Providencia, which is a little food truck with kickbutt homemade salsas and delicious carnitas. This is a favorite lunch of many BLMers. Ochoco Brewing is a good place for standard pub food, local beer, and a pleasant atmosphere, their breakfast menu is very good. Sons of Beer has a lot of local drinks (cider, beer, and kombucha) on tap and good appetizers. I hear good things about Dillon’s Grill, but haven’t personally understood the hype. If you want a solid fast food style burger and fries but refuse to support the usual mega chains (there is a McDonalds and Dairy Queen in town), try locally owned The Dawg House. Tastee Treat is a greasy spoon with really yummy milkshakes. For local coffee I recommend supporting Friends instead of Starbucks. Friends is a little drive through coffee hut, like those so iconic to the northwest. I wish we had those on the east coast where I’m from. The Sandwich factory is superior to the Subway in town and also local. I’m not a huge fan of subs but I am fond of their build-your-own breakfast bagel sandwiches. I add sprouts and roasted green chili. Oh, and I must mentions Gee’s. Gee’s looks so sketchy from the outside, yet there is pretty decent Chinese-American food here and free pool on Thursday nights. For a wilder time, you could check out the Horseshoe and probably meet some rough around the edges cowboys and grab a drink, but I hear this place is not for the faint of heart.
There is a yoga studio in town called Om on the Range, but when I lived here the hours never worked well with my fieldwork hours. There are also at least 2 gyms, but no swimming pool. Swim at the Prineville Reservoir after a long day collecting seeds or on an AIM plot. There is a library that I would definitely take advantage of while you’re here. Don’t miss the Pine Theater, this place is great! It’s a very cute, locally owned historic movie house. The movies are affordable at $8 maximum and the setting is welcoming. There are many opportunities for biking and a nice bike shop in town. You can even rent a Stand Up Paddleboard here and take it for a spin on either nearby reservoir. For music other than open mic, you’ll want to check out venues in Bend. Some pretty big acts come through. Bend has it all, and should definitely be experienced, yet I like to take it in small doses for the sake of my wallet! Bend is an outdoor loving open minded town with great vibes, but it is also hustle bustle, is becoming overly ritzy, and feeling the strain of the influx of people moving into the area without the housing and city infrastructure to support them.
I hope I have painted a good picture of what to expect from life in Prineville. It certainly was an experience living here, but I’m happy to now be in Redmond where I can easily get to Bend or Prineville. It is what I see as the best of both worlds and a happy medium. If you enjoy quiet small town life, solitude in hiking, and simplicity, Prineville might be a good fit for you. If you like nightlife, exotic restaurants and want to make lots of friends your age during the internship, you’ll be happier in Bend, although you will spend much more time commuting and money going to events and on housing. If you want a little bit of both, check out Redmond. Wherever you end up, enjoy central Oregon, it’s a really great place to live!