Most people plan a vacation. They decide the place, the date, what they are going to do, and all of the other details that make a vacation as enjoyable as possible. In a perfect world, that is how it usually goes. However, I am truck driver, so nothing ever goes exactly as planned, and sometimes my truck will dump a vacation in my lap wherever it chooses to break down. Such was the case a few months back, when my truck’s transmission decided to stop shifting around Baker City, Oregon. But let me tell you, that truck made a great choice, and I had a fantastic “breakdown vacation” for a few days in eastern Oregon. For those of you who run I-84 through Oregon, I wonder if you have any idea about all of the neat things this area has to offer, besides the Baker City Truck Corral.
Getting my truck parked in a spot before the old girl decided she wasn’t going another inch, I went to bed and figured I would will deal with it in the morning. In the morning, another driver tried to help me, but with no success, so I called a local company, Roadrunner Towing, and they hooked me up and took my truck and loaded trailer on a whooping one-mile trip to Grumpy’s Repair. JR at Grumpy’s could not have been more helpful. Since it was Saturday, there was not much we could do until Monday, and I was pleasantly-surprised to hear that this repair place offered rental cars. It was awesome – I rented a car right there, and JR told me about a few places I might like to visit while I waited. And that is exactly what I did – right after I got a room at the quaint Oregon Trail Motel.
Carmen Hill at the motel’s front desk could not have been nicer. Since they welcomed pets at this motel, my cocker spaniel “Mr. H” was set. I was happily-surprised to see that the motel also offered a fenced-in area to walk your pets, complete with pooper scoopers and trash cans. A sign on the door leading into this enclosed area let you know in advance if anyone else was already out there with their pets. It was pretty cool – I wish more motels were like this.
Following JR’s recommendation, my first stop was the Interpretive Center just north of town. It was filled with history from the Oregon Trail, and even had a bunch of wagons circled outside. That night, I walked downtown and decided to have supper at the Geiser Grand Hotel, and I have never had better prime rib anywhere – it was mesquite-smoked, and it was awesome! The waitress told me about a hotel tour they would be having the next afternoon, and that I should sign-up at the check-in desk, which I did – and I was not disappointed!
Since the hotel tour didn’t start until later in the afternoon, Mr. H and I got up early and hit the road to go check out Hells Canyon. If you ever get the opportunity, I highly recommend it. We wound along the Snake River, crossed into Idaho, and then went all the way to Hells Canyon Dam. With the beautiful river, the rock formations and the stunning blue sky with fluffy white clouds, it was a spectacular drive. If I didn’t have the hotel tour appointment, I would have went even further, but I was really excited about the tour, so I headed back into town.
During the tour of the Geiser Grand Hotel, we learned a lot about the history of this “Grand” (pun intended) hotel. It was built in 1889 and was the third building west of the Mississippi to have an elevator inside (it was the first in the northwest). At one point, it was 30 days from being torn down to make way for a public parking lot (of all things), but, thankfully, it was saved and brought back to its glory days. This charming historic landmark features ornate mahogany, crystal chandeliers in every room, a beautiful stained-glass ceiling, and northwest food at its best. The menus often included things like Maine lobster, which were brought in by train. I urge you to go online to check out the interesting history of this beautiful old hotel – some say it is even haunted! There are so many stories to tell, but just not enough space here now.
After the hotel tour, I went to the Baker Heritage Museum. Housed in the historic 1920 Natatorium, the Baker Heritage Museum displays and interprets the rich history of the region. Permanent and changing exhibits of mining, timber, ranching, agriculture, early Baker City life, Chinese culture and wildlife fill the 33,000 square foot building. Whether you spend an hour or spend the day touring the museum, you will come away with an appreciation of the area and the people who settled there. Before becoming a museum it had been the local swimming pool. During World War II, the pool was buried and the building was used to manufacture truck beds for the war effort. Later, it was abandoned, became run-down, and was almost demolished.
Early Monday morning a diagnoses was made on my truck and the parts were ordered. And, since I had more time, I was off to do more sightseeing. My next adventure took me up to Sumpter, OR to the home of Sumpter Valley State Park, which features an old gold dredge. It was pretty interesting to learn how it all worked, and I was happy to see that they were working on refurbishing the old dredge. Next, I stopped by the Sumpter Municipal Museum. I asked the man there about all the Chinese that had worked in the area and he told me about a museum in John Day, OR called the Kam Wah Chung Chinese Heritage Museum. Sadly, I wasn’t able to make it there, but it gives me yet another reason to go back! I did, however, make it to the Grant County Museum. I think it’s so cool to go through these places – the people who work there are all so eager to share their knowledge and stories about the history and the displays.
Since the part for my truck wasn’t going to arrive until sometime late Tuesday afternoon, I headed back toward Sumpter to do a little more exploring, which led me down a gravel road that said Wildlife Viewing Area. I have to say that I was a little disappointed when all I saw was a bunny and a squirrel, but it was still a fun adventure. When I left Sumpter, I went to the tiny town of Granite. While there, I found a wonderful little store where I bought this amazing carving made from a pine tree knot. Again, there were friendly people, happy to tell stories of their little town.
When I got back to the shop to check on the truck, I have to say that it’s the first time I can remember being that happy to hear they had sent the wrong part and that I would be there for one more day! I made a phone call right away and was able to make an appointment to see the Adler House the next morning. This house had been built the same year the hotel was built, but was pretty run-down when four women decided to restore it. They accomplished all the work for $140,000 using prisoners to do most of the demolition work – they were able to get 10 men for $30 a day. The completely renovated and restored 1889 Italianate home was the residence of Baker City philanthropist, Leo Adler, for 94 years. The downstairs parlor has been restored using elegant period-correct wallpaper, and all of the furniture, artwork and light fixtures in the old house are original. I would like to thank Coleen Brooks for giving me such a wonderful tour.
Come Wednesday afternoon, five days after my original breakdown, the truck was finally fixed and I was rolling out of town. I would like to thank everyone who made my stay in Baker City such a pleasant one. I would love to go back one day, and I already know where I would stay and what places I would visit. If you a planning a “normal” vacation, I really think it would be worth your time to consider checking out Baker City, Oregon and its surrounding areas – I don’t think you will be disappointed. And needless to say, for me, it was the best “breakdown vacation” I ever had!