Several weeks ago, a friend of mine made a weekend trip to his hometown of Baker City, Oregon, to catch up with old friends and spend a few days slinking around his old haunts. One afternoon while he and two of his compadres were cruising the streets, he had the bright idea of taking a turn by the house where he grew up, and stopped momentarily to reminisce. As it happened, the current owner of the house took notice of the gawkers, and after my friend apologized and explained that he used to live in the house as a kid, the new owner offered to take him on a tour of the refurbished historic home. As they made small chat about changes the house has undergone over the years, the owner pointed out a house across the street that had been badly burned years prior, and my friend confessed to being part of the band of firework flinging kids who accidentally started the fire. As he was leaving the house, my friend thanked the homeowner, properly introduced himself and accepted the homeowner's card in return. It wasn't until after he'd driven off that he read the card and realized he'd been talking to the town's mayor.
For years I've been blowing right on through Baker City right about the end of August, en route to my annual pilgrimage at The Gorge. But aside from the fact that Anthony Lakes is said to be the snowbunny's version of Valhalla, I knew nothing of the tiny Oregon town--except, of course that the feel is still small town enough that the mayor takes perfect strangers on impromptu tours of his home.
So I did a little research. Baker City was named after the county in which it's located (which is named after an Oregon senator named Edward Dickinson Baker). In 1911, feeling a little less citified than its name implied, Baker City became simply Baker. And then in the late '80s, it readopted the "City" in order to get back to its historical roots. The Post Office has been around since March 27, 1866, but it took until 1874 for the city to incorporate. Today about 10,000 people call Baker City home, and thanks to Sister Cities International, Zeya, Russia, is BC's sister city.
When I made my annual trip through BC on my way to George this year, I stopped. Twice. The second time through town, my trip was a single stop at the Sumpter Junction Restaurant, which is worth a stop for the toy train that steams around tables and above the kitchen. My first stop, however, was much more thorough. I headed straight for the heart of town and hoofed it through the quaint streets of the quiet city center. If the Wild West was in any way elegant, the historic Geiser Grand Hotel in the middle of BC's downtown captures that plush antique, polished wood look you might expect to find. Take a gander through the streets, wandering in and out of speciality shops like Sane Jane and Rainbow Records. Once you've worked up an appetite or a thirst, stop for ice cream at Charlie's Ice Cream Parlor or a beer at Barley Brown's Brewpub. The streets are quintessential small Western town, and it doesn't take long to get through all of the shopping the center has to offer. However, there are still plenty of nooks and crannies to discover in BC. The Geiser Pullman Park sits next to the Powder River, where you can rest your weary feet for a few minutes before touring the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, where you can overlook seven miles of preserved trail ruts.
About 140 miles separate Boise and Baker City, so maybe more than a day trip is in order for those who don't care to be stuck in the car four hours out of their day. Bu if you're thinking about getting out of town while the weather is still on the warmer side of autumn, BC does have several events happening in the near future. The Fall Festival is a weekend of cooking classes, beer sampling and downtown festivities that happens Friday, September 22 through Sunday, September 24, and on Saturday, September 30, the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center hosts a guided trail hike from 9 a.m. until noon, Pacific time.