Friday, August 24, 2012

US Hwy 30: Baker City, Oregon

Baker City is an active, attractive town of about ten thousand people, situated in a fertile valley between the Wallowa Mountains to the east and the Elkhorn Mountains to the west. The Powder River runs right through the center of downtown on its way to the Snake River.

I don't normally report so much about a town's geography, but in the case of Baker City it's kind of a big deal. The Oregon Trail passes through the valley, not far from the present town. Imagine you are a westward bound pioneer who has survived to the point where I took this photo. Now look at the mountains that are ahead of you, and keep in mind that you have many more miles, mountains and rivers to cross after that. Perhaps you might think about settling here?

Platted in 1865, Baker City eventually became the largest city between Portland and Salt Lake City. There was money here, both from gold that was mined in quantity and from cattle that thrived in the area. There are many remnants of that wealth, including an exquisite old hotel -- the Geiser Grand -- where I've had one of my best meals so far on this road trip.

Besides the interesting and very walkable historic downtown, the city boasts a few notable attractions. One is the Baker Heritage Museum that's housed in a converted old natatorium. The displays are fairly well done, with a refreshing focus on local personalities in addition to the usual pioneer artifacts. Second is the very well preserved Victorian Adler House museum that once belonged to one of the town's primary benefactors. Unlike many exhibits I've seen of late, this house is mostly original and continuously lived in until bequeathed as a museum. I very profitably spent the morning walking around town and focusing on these two properties.

The crown jewel of the area, however, is the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center a few miles out of town. Atop the hill from which I took the photo above, the Center has an extensive, time-line exhibit of traveling the Oregon Trail. Emphasis is placed on motivations, preparations, the daily grind, extreme hardships, decisions to be made along the way and eventual outcomes.

My favorite display is a scale model of a "Prairie Schooner" with various wooden blocks simulating what pioneers might choose to take with them. As with all travel -- including modern day -- you can't take everything with you, and it's easy to make poor choices about what you overload yourself with.

In addition, I was able to observe two women in period costume having a 30-minute "stitch and bitch" together, covering their recollected hardships on the Trail, gossip about local folks, news about the Homestead Act and, of course, the menfolk! Topping that off with a few topical videos and a visit to the outdoor circle of wagons, I spent the entire afternoon well engaged.

I ended the day with a visit to some actual Oregon Trail "wagon ruts" which -- unlike those way back in Gothenburg, NE -- are discernible enough to be worth photographing. Thus, I now can happily offer you a well preserved view of what you would have seen a not quite three quarters of the way along your migratory trail.

On top of all the above, the weather here was absolutely perfect today. Sunny with bright blue skies, yet cool with a pleasant breeze. It's been the nicest weather day so far on this road trip, and views of the surrounding mountains are idyllic. That's my way of hinting I will probably just hang out here for another day tomorrow… Stay tuned!

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Mom said...

What a magnificent ceiling in that historic hotel dining room. We don't think of places like that along the old trail towns. Sounds like you had a wonderful visit there. I suspect a repeat dinner tonight.

Macgellan said...

It's a great old hotel... I probably will go there again tonight... I've decided to stay here in Baker City until Monday... A perfect place to take a little break from the road!