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Hidden Gems 

Lesser-known museums to explore in Central Oregon

As spring draws near, what better time to emerge from hibernation for an educational trip to a museum? Museums can spark curiosity, encourage creativity and critical thinking  and broaden children’s worldview about history, culture, science and art. While we all know and love the High Desert Museum, did you know there are many lesser-known options in Central Oregon worth exploring? 

Museum at Warm Springs

Set in a striking 25,000 square foot architectural masterpiece, the Museum at Warm Springs was founded to preserve and celebrate the history, culture and traditions of the three indigenous tribes that comprise The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. 

Designed to resemble a traditional encampment, the museum is nestled among cottonwood trees alongside Shitike Creek, and is built with stone, timber and brick embellished by traditional designs and symbols, including a drum, tipi, longhouse and patterns of a Klickitat huckleberry basket. In addition to its permanent collection, the museum hosts rotating local tribal artist shows related to the Warm Springs Reservation and its people. It's website promises that, “visitors will experience firsthand the sounds of ancient songs and languages, the mastery of traditional craftsmanship and the sights of rich and colorful cultures.” Open 9-5PM, Tuesday-Saturday

Erickson Aircraft Collection

Calling all history buffs and aviation lovers! Just north of Madras on Highway 26, the Erickson Aircraft Collection houses an astonishing collection of vintage aircraft and even a “living history flight experience” program called "Soaring with the Warbirds." Families can experience history in flight and take a ride in a real, working World War II aircraft with expert pilots who fly over Lake Billy Chinook, Mt. Jefferson, Haystack Reservoir, Lake Stimtustus, Smith Rock or anywhere within the 20-minute time limit. “In the air you can experience the beauty of Central Oregon in a totally different perspective and have the experience of a lifetime,” exclaims its website. Open 10-5PM, Tuesday-Sunday ericksoncollection.com

  • Photo courtesy of Erickson Aircraft Collection

Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory

There isn’t much this boutique nature center and observatory doesn’t offer. Interpretive displays, live animal exhibits, botanical gardens, nature trails and daily activities are all available for outdoor enthusiasts and stargazers. The observatory is best enjoyed at night, when young aspiring astronomers can view the starry skies through over a dozen telescopes, take a laser-guided constellation tour, check out the meteorite display, enjoy a star dome planetarium show or even build and launch their own rocket! “Whether you are an early bird or a night owl, there’s an activity for everyone,” promises its website. Hours vary seasonally.

Bowman Museum in Prineville

Located centrally in Prineville’s downtown strip, the Bowman offers a mix of old-time regional artifacts, interpretive displays and an exciting opportunity to experience a train car. Since 1971, this museum has been telling the story of Central Oregon. Peruse photos and read stories of locals from long ago, learn about sheepmen of the High Desert and check out its yearly rotating exhibits. Did you know Prineville was the first settlement for homesteaders in the early years of Central Oregon, way before cosmopolitan centers like Bend? Learn all about it at the Bowman Museum. Open 10-5PM, Tuesday-Friday and 11-4PM
on Saturday

Deschutes Historical Museum

Right in the center of downtown Bend is a real museum gem. Offering community educational events like school visits and the History Pub at McMenamins, its reach extends further than its brick-and-mortar location. You can download its recently released Cruising 97 app to “cruise through history on your phone" and take a self-guided tour. Within its walls, the Deschutes Historical Museum features exhibits that allow you to explore what life has been like in Deschutes County from prehistory to the modern day. You and your child can learn more about local indigenous tribal history and the early exploration and fur trapping days in this region, homesteading in the High Desert and the logging and Forest Service history. The museum creates “a living legacy that embraces many stories and grows with each new generation,” according to its website. Open 10-4:30PM, Tuesday-Saturday

Fort Rock Valley Historical Society Homestead

Just 64 miles southeast of Bend, the town of Fort Rock has preserved a collection of many original homestead buildings. Relish in a self-guided tour with information on each building via your smartphone. The Fort Rock Valley Historical Society website offers information on other local sites too, like Hole in the Ground and Crack in the Ground. If you visit the town of Fort Rock, a stop at the geological site also named Fort Rock is a can’t-miss opportunity. Because it is exclusively outdoors, the museum is only open from May-September.

  • Photo by K.M. Collins

Peterson Rock Garden & Museum 

En route to Redmond off Canal Boulevard, you’ll find an enchanting, one-of-a-kind stop. Listed in the Historic Registry, the Peterson Rock Garden began in 1935 when a Danish settler created his own wonderland filled with castles, fountains, towers and bridges on a large piece of land between Tumalo and Redmond. His whimsical miniature models of famous buildings and monuments like the Statue of Liberty are crafted entirely from found objects like bits of rock, glass and seashells. On site, discover the rock museum full of rare geodes, fossils, agates and more, and explore the meandering pathways revealing new treasures around every corner, including a plaque that advises, "Enjoy Yourself. It Is Later Than You Think."

One of the unique sculptures at Peterson Rock Garden - COURTESTY OF PETERSON ROCK GARDEN
  • Courtesty of Peterson Rock Garden
  • One of the unique sculptures at Peterson Rock Garden

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