When your husband plans a surprise anniversary trip, a lot of women might anticipate a fancy dinner date. The only clue my husband gave me was to dress like “Camping Barbie.” No heels required.
After a little more than a three-hour beautiful drive, we turned down a long road with nothing but sagebrush in sight. A slight right turn and we arrived at no four-star, black-dress restaurant — we were at the Cowboy Dinner Tree near Silver Lake.
What started in the 1870s as a feasting spot under a juniper tree for the cowboys on their cattle drive became a little, wooden cabin with a small painted sign and a completely packed parking lot. I wondered where all of these people came from and figured I was in for something good.
Whole chickens were being slow-roasted outside and the scent would make anyone’s stomach start aching for what’s coming.
The inside was filled with branding irons, saddles and other cowboy antiques. There were dollar bills stuck in every nook and cranny, log tables and a handful of smiling waitresses filling up large mason jars with ice-cold pink lemonade or iced tea.
My husband explained he had already ordered for us — and this was no gentlemanly move. Reservations are required and with that, you get to order dinner: chicken or steak.
I felt like we were in some old western saloon, minus the whiskey. Shortly after we clinked mason jars and said, “Happy Anniversary,” the food began arriving.
First up: a very large bowl of salad with their homemade ranch or honey mustard dressing, then a steaming and fragrant homemade soup of the day along with a heaping cast iron skillet with hot, sweet yeast rolls.
Just as you’re starting to keel over in fullness and happiness, your main course arrives.
A whole chicken or a juicy top sirloin weighing in at more than 26 ounces barely left room for the baked potato on the side. Our mouths were watering with all of the seasonings and flavors. And after we made a dent into our meat and stuffed the rest into doggy bags, we were served dessert.
After what felt like a Thanksgiving feast, where everything was home cooked and the people felt a little like family, we waddled down to one of the two cabins on-site available for nightly rental.
There we sat outside, watched a gorgeous sunset and listened to cars come and go until closing hour. I still don’t know where all of those people came from or where they were going, but I bet you every one of them left feeling like I did — nostalgic, adventurous, romantic and definitely full.
Although I didn’t get to dust off the date-night heels and instead wore my muddy, hiking boots, this place was so unique and fun that it made it an anniversary to remember.
The Cowboy Dinner Tree is open year-round (and crowed year-round). They are open from 4 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday until Oct. 31 and Friday through Sunday for the rest of the year.
They accept cash only and dinner is $27 per person. Children younger than 6 are free and ages 7 to 13 are $10.25.
To get there: Take Oregon Highway 138 East to U.S. 97 South. Turn left onto Silver Lake Road and continue out County Road 676 which turns into County Road 4-10 or Bear Flat Road. Take a right onto Oregon Highway 31 South followed by another right on East Bay Road. The drive is perfect for hitting some of waterfalls and hikes off Highway 138, Crater Lake and the Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. For more information, see www.cowboydinnertree.net or view this story online at www.nrtoday.com, where you can see a video of dinner at the Cowboy Dinner Tree.