Had you been standing in central Oregon in August of 2014, you might have wondered if you’d slid into the Twilight Zone, as an “aluminum overcast” consisting of about 20 World War II-era aircraft roared overhead, including a B-17 Flying Fortress, a B-25 Mitchell, a P-51D Mustang, a Douglas Invader, and an L-29 Delfin. This was no time warp, however, but a massive migration of some of the rarest airplanes on the planet, as the famed Erickson Aircraft Collection took permanent leave of its old digs in Tillamook, Oregon, where salty, corrosive air made conservation too challenging.
This impressive squadron landed at the Madras Municipal Airport in sunny central Oregon, where they rest in their beautifully designed, custom-built hangar. Almost all are airworthy, and you’ll see some fly during the annual Airshow of the Cascades, held each August and probably the best airshow you’ve never heard of. You’ll also see warbird dogfights, stunning aerobatic displays, a large car show, and other performances to complement that fabulous Erickson Collection.
After spending time with the airplanes, you can try a little back-to-nature activity. Smith Rock State Park, 23 miles south of Madras on Highway 97, is widely considered to be the birthplace of modern American sport climbing. Formed from hardened volcanic ash and basalt and dramatically carved by the Crooked River, the park’s sheer 600-foot cliffs are perfect for photographers, geology buffs, hikers, and rock climbers from novice to expert, with thousands of routes that cater to traditional and multi-pitch climbers, as well as boulderers.
Just nine miles southwest of Madras, The Cove Palisades State Park, on Lake Billy Chinook, offers houseboating, water skiing, and boat rentals. Fishermen wet their lines for brown trout, sockeye salmon, and smallmouth bass. Bull trout, rare over much of the West, thrive here and can also be kept; 20-pounders are not unusual. Spring chinook and rainbow trout are catch-and-release.
You can rough it a little by camping in the parks, sleep on the lake in a houseboat, or stay in Madras for the conveniences of civilization. The Inn at Cross Keys Station is right downtown. Outside the elegant three-story hotel you’ll find native plants and a three-pond waterfall. Inside, 76 rooms come with free Wi-Fi, hot breakfast, and a pool and fitness center.
Hungry? At Geno’s Italian Grill, everything is made from scratch, including the fresh pasta, nine different calzones, and hearth-baked pizzas. Or, step into the small green house with the red roof that is Rio and elevate your expectations of what a Mexican restaurant can be. Family-owned, Rio starts with the freshest ingredients from local cuisines throughout Central and South America and brings them to life in time-honored family recipes updated with modern treatments. The Black Bear Diner specializes in comfort foods like chicken and waffles, meatloaf, slow-cooked pot roast, and spaghetti and meatballs, but you can also order Dijon-crusted salmon for dinner.
Fly to Madras for the best in summer airshow delights, and check out one of the world’s finest collections of warbirds in their gorgeous new showcase. Or, visit any time of year to see the collection and add a little outdoor adventure to the mix.