A hundred years ago, the place to go for a good time (think girls, gambling, gun smoke and plenty of hard spirits) was the ranching community, railroad stop, and turn-of-the-19th-century party place, Pendleton. These days, the dust from hard-driven herds of cattle has settled, wagon trains no longer rattle across Emigrant Crossing upstream and the town is now a comparatively calm transportation crossroads of modest proportions a stone's throw from southeastern Washington's boutique wine country.
Despite the march of modernization there are everywhere reminders of Pendleton's wilder days, from historic buildings to roof-raising rodeo events that bring in competitors from around the country. As any connoisseur of fine fabrics will tell you, this quaint community has also turned out some of the nation's best-known woolens for over a century (think plaid shirts and trading blankets) and continue to provide a steady supply of same. Though there are no longer any brothels open for business as of 1965, Pendleton, like other rough and ready "real West" towns once had a booming red light district. Visitors can get a glimpse though of the way things used to be on a tour of the Pendleton Underground, a network of tunnels built by Chinese workers in the late 19th century that later served to link a thriving bootlegging, card-playing, brothel-going clientele.
Once you've had your fill of Pendleton's seedier side, consider an educational stop at the Tamastslikt Cultural Institute (associated with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation), where you'll find informative exhibits, self-guided trails and colorful displays to explain the Native American angle on the Oregon Trail story; there's also a casino on site, for those with a few extra bucks to burn.
Pendleton is roughly 200 miles away from all of the region's major cities including Portland, Seattle, Boise and Spokane. Walla Walla, Washington, is about an hour's drive to the northwest and the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument Sheep Rock Unit is accessible to the southwest via Hwy 395 and Hwy 26.
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