On the west side of the Cascade Range, rain is as certain as death and taxes. But cross the dividing line formed by the mountains, and you leave the deluge behind and enter the region known as central Oregon. The term "central Oregon" is a bit of a misnomer. It does not so much refer to a geographical area as to a recreational region, and it doesn't actually lie in the central part of the state. It does, however, bask under blue skies nearly 300 days of the year -- in fact, central Oregon gets so little rain that parts of the region are considered high desert. Such a natural attraction is a constant enticement for Oregonians living west of the Cascades. In summer people head to central Oregon for golfing, hiking, fishing, rafting, and camping, and in winter they descend on the ski slopes of Mount Bachelor, Oregon's best ski resort.

All this popularity is due to the Cascade Range, which causes a climatological rain-shadow effect that creates a distinct and visible dividing line between the wet west side and the dry east side. Ponderosa pines, rather than Douglas firs and western red cedars, dominate the eastern foothill forests of this region. Farther east, where there is even less annual rainfall, juniper and sagebrush country takes over. It is this classically Western environment that has in part led to the adoption of a Wild West theme in the town of Sisters, which has covered wooden sidewalks and false-fronted buildings (albeit in modern pastel colors).

On closer inspection, however, it becomes evident that it is more than just a lack of rainfall that sets this region apart. Central Oregon's unique volcanic geography provides the scenic backdrop to the region's many recreational activities. Obsidian flows, lava caves, cinder cones, pumice deserts -- these are the sorts of features that make the central Oregon landscape unique.

Despite the region's volcanic legacy, the greens and fairways of the region's many golf courses are what come to mind when many people think of central Oregon. The abundant sunshine here has made this area home to most of the state's golf resorts. Between Kah-Nee-Ta in the north and Sunriver in the south, there are half a dozen major golf resorts and dozens of golf courses.

Despite the dryness of the landscape here, water is one of the region's primary recreational draws. The Deschutes River is the state's most popular rafting river and is fabled among fly anglers for its steelhead runs and its wild red-side rainbow trout. West of Bend, a scenic highway loops past a dozen or so lakes, each with its own unique character and appeal. Closer to Bend, the Deschutes River cascades over ancient lava flows, forming impressive waterfalls that are favorite destinations of area hikers.

However, for solitude and scenic grandeur, most hikers and backpackers head out from Sisters and Bend into the Three Sisters Wilderness, which encompasses its snow-clad namesake peaks. Outside the wilderness, many miles of trails have made the Bend and Sisters areas the best mountain-biking destinations in the state.

Although the open slopes of Mount Bachelor ski area attract the most visitors in the winter, the area also has many miles of cross-country ski trails, including the state's finest Nordic center (at Mt. Bachelor, of course). Snowmobiling is also very popular.