Boasting the most ethnically diverse population in Central Oregon, Jefferson County is home to Native Americans from the Warm Springs Reservation, Spanish speakers— primarily from Mexico—and whites.
The mix of people gives the region a unique flavor, whether it be in the area’s many Mexican restaurants or in Madras’ Collage of Culture, a late-May festival that celebrates the county’s communities.
Jefferson County’s topography mirrors the diversity of its people. It has it all: mountains, rivers, forests, open plains, lakes and rolling farmland. Mount Jefferson, the county’s namesake, sits at the county’s western edge and is the second-highest peak in Oregon at 10,497 feet.
Madras sits in a circular valley— actually known as The Basin for some time after its incorporation—at an elevation of 2,242 feet.
Some debate exists over exactly where Madras got its name. Some say the United States Postal Service named it to avoid confusion with other towns.
The most accepted story is that the city was named after a bolt of cloth in a store. Madras is a well-known cotton fabric named for a city in India.
The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation sits at the northwest corner of Jefferson County and enjoys its status as a sovereign nation. Three tribes comprise the reservation’s population: the Warm Springs, the Wasco and the Paiute. The reservation features The Museum at Warm Springs, Kah-Nee- Ta Vacation Resort and Indian Head Gaming Center.
Opened in 1993, the 25,000- square-foot museum houses the single largest Native American collection of exhibits and artifacts under one roof and is home to a changing exhibition gallery that explores every aspect of the Native American experience. Interactive exhibits include a Wasco wedding, song chamber and traditional hoop dance.
One of the county’s most popular spots is Lake Billy Chinook which is located just outside Culver, a town to the south and west of Madras. Created in 1963 by Pacific General Electric with the construction of Round Butte Dam on the Deschutes River, the lake has 72 miles of shoreline.
Cove Palisades State Park is located at Lake Billy Chinook and offers myriad water sports, a full- service campground, a marina and rental services. The campsites and patio and houseboats are popular and must be reserved well in advance. Kayak tours are held weekly in the summer, and the Eagle Watch in February draws many bird lovers.
The Jefferson County Fairgrounds sits on a 50-acre site and hosts about 80 events each year, including the Jefferson County Sports and Recreation Show, the Gem and Mineral Show, horse shows and rodeos. The annual fair is held each year in the last week of July.
There is a 65-space RV park with full-hookups to accommodate visitors to major events.
In August 2017, the centerline of the path of totality of Solar eclipse the ran very close to Madras. Madras was considered a prime viewing location, as the city is located in a high desert environment and has consistently clear skies in August.