Popping out of the trees on the western edge of the Warm Springs Reservation along Highway 26 is like driving through a portal to a completely different part of the country. The skies dry up, the vegetation gets sparser—and on any fairly typical day, the peaks of Mount Jefferson and the Three Sisters appear to the south. Eventually, Mount Hood also emerges in the rearview, reminding you that like any good muse, she has more than one side to admire. You’re not in another state, but you are in a sovereign nation: This land, dominated by deep canyons cut by the Deschutes, Crooked and Metolius rivers, belongs to the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, and it rewards with both beauty and recreation.
About 20 minutes southeast of Warm Springs lies Madras, whose unusual name originates in Tamil Nadu, India, and it’s something of a melting pot, populated by Native people from the nearby reservation as well as farm workers from Latin America. This is where you’ll find some of the region’s most delightfully vibrant and authentic food—from fry bread to tortas.

Finally, the last city on 26 before you reach the state's eastern region is Prineville, founded in 1877, making it the oldest established community in Central Oregon. It was the Bend of its time, bustling with transplants from all over the country and eventually becoming the county seat. While now it's best known as a hub for high-tech giants' data storage centers, Prineville has retained its Old West charm with a thriving ranch economy, two breweries (the same number there during the frontier era) and some of the largest, juiciest steaks around. ANDI PREWITT AND NICOLE VULCAN.