It was a gorgeous day in May, traveling along the Columbia River on I-84. The bright blue skies and the deep blue waters of the river buoyed my heart. One must take care not to be so focused on the road and the destination as to fail noticing the grand gestures of geology, especially east of Hood River. Great layers of rock tilt right into the river, and columns of basalt stand as vertical bastions of the canyon. Memorial Weekend 2021 was still early enough in the spring that the farm fields were agreeably green, late enough not to have tilled up dust devils blowing in the wind.
If you need a break along the way, Arlington OR is just about 2 hours east of Portland and has a delightful family-oriented park on the water, with playground, train car, accessible restrooms, fast food nearby, and information about the area and the Oregon Trail. A motel across the street from the park has been there for many years . . .
My original impetus for going to Baker City was its connection to the Oregon Trail. I had to travel there several times to gather what I wanted. Next it seemed I should include Pendleton, as we traveled through it a few. And if those two, surely La Grande as well. Finally, I decided to include Haines, in the Baker Valley while I was in the vicinity. I would like to have explored Sumpter, North Powder, and Union (near La Grande) likewise--I’ve included some links here, maybe in future I can get a chance to explore more. There are ever more places it would be great to incorporate, but it becomes too much for one article. However, as I needed gas at Boardman on the way home, I did add a few photos to show what it has to offer.
If you don’t stop along the way, Pendleton is only about 3 hours east of Portland, so I was able to visit both the Heritage Station Museum and the TAMÁSTSLIKT CULTURAL INSTITUTE, then go to dinner at Cimmiyotti’s in downtown Pendleton. I almost literally ran into the downtown Farmer's Market that Friday. Downtown celebrates its western heritage with diverting bronze statues. There are plenty of other museums and venues to see in and near Pendleton, including the famous Pendleton Woolen Mills. Generally, around July 4 Wildhorse Resort & Casino sponsors a Native American powwow. The famous Pendleton Round-up is held in September.
The Heritage Station Museum is quite a complex, including also Museum Park that is pleasant for a picnic and has an Oregon Trail pavilion. There’s a schoolhouse I forgot to ask if one can look into. The museum itself has a nice collection of exhibits about the area and history, and within the grounds are a fun wooden train for kids to play on, some military vehicles and a war exhibit in the old signal house that uses every inch of the small building, a train car (not accessible), and a small farmhouse and buildings (farmhouse not accessible) showing what a farmstead was like “in the old days”. Very nice, I thought, and so important a collection for generations to come. It was only $6 to visit, as a senior.
The Tamastslikt Cultural Institute near the Wildhorse resort costed $10, as I remember. They were in process of creating a new exhibit or two, but I found it very interesting, and it showed the past and the present from a Native perspective. No photos or recordings are allowed inside the exhibit halls. They have a restaurant open for lunch, and a gift shop. It's a little hard to find--beyond the Arrowhead Travel Plaza (where tourists and truckers can find about all the services they need for travel), and the Wildhorse Resort and Casino (hotel, restaurants, RV & Tipi camping, cineplex, bowling, golf, pools ...), turn right on Wildhorse Blvd and have patience til you reach the Cultural Institute.
I explored downtown Pendleton on more than one trip. See photos below.
You can cross the Umatilla River to see what’s on the other side, driving north on Main St. You’ll pass Brownfield Park. At NW Despain I think you can turn left (west) and you’ll pass or stop at Pioneer Park (bathroom, playground, power, seating, tables, grill, reservable group shelter). Continue west on Despain to NW 10th St and turn south to cross back over the river right by Roy Raley Park, which is next to the Pendleton Round-Up venue, and across from the Pendleton Round-Up & Happy Canyon Hall of Fame. Roy Raley Park is one end of the 2.5 mi Pendleton River Walk. Roy Raley Park has picnic tables, restrooms, basketball court, winter ice skating and other events.
I have stayed and eaten at the Wildhorse Casino & Resort 2 or 3 times (years before I started this blog), and found the rooms comfortable and accommodating. I wanted to try something else, so I called to see if I could get in at Cimmiyotti’s that eve. Fortunately, they were able to provide me a table. The waitress was friendly and supportive, and helped me choose what would not offend my diabetes. She arranged for a double portion of asparagus instead of the potato option and a shrimp cocktail instead of the deep-fried appetizer that looked and sounded so appetizing. I ordered the prime rib, and it was excellently seasoned and prepared. The gazpacho was great, as was all the food. https://www.virgilsatcimmiyottis.com/gallery
I thought the Pendleton Hampton Inn would be a known quantity, as I had little time to check out other accommodations, but it was definitely not on a par with “Hampton Inn and Suites” I’ve stayed in at other times and places. I was not able to book the room directly so that I could make sure that “hearing accessible” would also be “mobility accessible”, and I could not get ahold of reception to find out either. When I checked in, the receptionist switched me to a ground floor room to be sure it was. They need to hire more staff (if that’s possible in these trying times), but she was helpful with my baggage. I did suggest that the door to the room was way too heavy to manage from a wheelchair with a load of luggage. The room was clean, the view from the window was the back parking lot, they were in the midst of renovating the dining area, but for COVID it was a breakfast box anyway. The pool was closed for COVID. So, the stay was acceptable, but not to rave over. There are several hotels and services along the same road as Hampton Inn.
Traveling east from Pendleton is an immediate climb into the Blue Mountains. I remember as a youngster traveling with my family when there was a real concern about cars overheating on the way up Emigrant Hill (also called Cabbage Hill). We empathized with those cars that did overheat, even as we worried about getting stuck behind them in danger of overheating ourselves. How grateful I am now there are 3 lanes ascending that hill. Trucks must stick to the two on the right.
La Grande OR
La Grande is only about 50 miles SE of Pendleton. Google says the fastest route is I-84 . . . I suppose there might be some other routes, driving all over mountain roads, but let’s say that I-84 is virtually the only route from Pendleton to La Grande. It’s a beautiful route. In the summer it will make you want to live there. I have to remind myself what the winters are like. Still, some people do live between the two cities.
Wikipedia says La Grande was forced to change its name from “Brownsville” (because there was another town of that nomenclature), but how much more wonderful is the name “La Grande” than “Brownsville”?! “Located in the Grande Ronde Valley . . . name comes from an early French settler, Charles Dause, who often used the phrase ‘La Grande’ to describe the area’s beauty. The population was 13,082 at the 2010 census. It is the county seat of Union County.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Grande%2C_Oregon
I took my usual exit for gas at the Flying J gas & convenience store at exit 265. They have a more reasonable price than most in the larger area, and good amenities. Staff have always been good to me, pumped my gas even though they weren't required. I get someone to go in and ask for help so I don’t have to get out and then heft myself and chair back in the car: a drain on my joints and energy. It's a truck stop, so they have showers, laundry, lounge, game room, and such that truckers would need.
Only 8 min further from the Lodge at Hot Lake Springs, on the La Grande-Baker Hwy (Hwy 203), is the small town of Union OR, about 2100 residents. I’ve heard glowing remarks about the historic hotel in town. Naturally, I would like to check out Union County Museum, with local history and something about the Oregon Trail. And 16 miles SE of Union is Catherine Creek State Park. Their site says they have accessible camping, picnicking, exhibits, and flushing restrooms. Group picnic shelters can be reserved, but if not in use, are open to 1st come 1st serve.
Next priority was to find the Oregon Trail connection in La Grande, as promised. From Flying J, I drove into town on Hwy 30 (which becomes Adams Ave). I followed the signs up the hill into a residential neighborhood to the end of the steep street and surprised 3 deer browsing the yards there. I didn’t find the promised historical site until I came back down B St and noticed an engraved stone against a rock in the corner of a yard!
As I headed up the hill my eye spied a park, so I went back to explore that. It turned out to be Birnie Park, one that I had hoped to check out. That was a connection between the La Grande area and the Oregon Trail. The diverting playground included a representational pioneer wagon for kids to climb on. A somewhat rough path led along a series of interpretive signs about the La Grande portion of the Oregon Trail. There were accessible restrooms, picnic tables, and room to run for fun.
Across from Birnie Park is one end of Eastern Oregon University. https://www.eou.edu/
To arrive at my hotel, the Google Gal led me by another discovery from another era: a drive-in theater! See http://www.lagrandemovies.com
When I contacted places to stay in La Grande, it was difficult to find ADA accessibility. I found a room at Travel Lodge, total $72.27 for a 1 king bed, mobility accessible, non-smoking room. It had a tub/shower with a hand-held adaptation, a frig, microwave, and safe. It’s an older motel, family owned, some renovations. It wasn’t fancy, but I thought it satisfactory, especially on a budget. See photos and
The motel receptionist recommended breakfast at Smokehouse restaurant just across Adams Ave from Travel Lodge. It was a good choice, obviously popular.
Within a block or so of Travel Lodge are a fitness center (across the street), Les Schwab, Safeway, a car wash, a good variety of restaurants. Candy Cane Park (picnic and playground) is probably about a half mile away, but you might need google to guide you. La Grande has a modern side, but as you may have noticed, I am drawn to the historic side—see photos.
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Baker City OR
I have always been attracted to the Baker valley. I find rural valleys rimmed by mountains and their small communities appealing. I love history and historic architecture. Baker City and surrounding communities have all these. Winter ice and snow would be difficult to deal with in a wheelchair, still, I like to visit, and there are ample sights to see and things to do in the area.
A good place to start would be the Baker County Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center, right off I-84 at exit 304 (take Sunridge Ln off Campbell St, the main thoroughfare from the highway through town). The Chamber of Commerce has a ramp to the left side as you face the frontl of it from the parking lot at the Quality Inn. Even if they don’t happen to be open you can browse the interpretive signs, with information about the communities in the county, and they have an old pioneer wagon on display.
As you pass East St, it seems to me things start getting interesting: at left is York’s Covered Wagon a something-of-everything kind of store with its awesome map murals (“World’s Largest Map of the Oregon Trail”) and statues of cattle; on the right side of the street is the substantial brick Baker City Armory, and north on Grove St is the Baker County Fairgrounds Rodeo Arena . . .
… south off Campbell St, on Grove St is the Baker Heritage Museum…
… across Grove St from the Museum is the fabulous family & community oriented Geiser-Pollman Park, through which the Powder River flows, with a bridge access to the Baker County Library (also accessed from Resort St and Madison St).
The Leo Adler Memorial Parkway Trail is a pleasant, paved path about 2.5 mi along the Powder River through town. When water levels are good, kids float down the river on inner tubes. But there are access points you can dip your toes in, if you can use your legs . . .
Baker City Central Park is along the Leo Adler Memorial Parkway Trail.
West of Resort St is Main Street, historic downtown Baker City, center of an abundance of antique architecture.
If you continue on Campbell St to 10th St (aka Hwy 30) you can turn north and eventually reach Haines, and beyond that, I-84 or the tiny town of North Powder. Near there are signs marking the 45th parallel, both on Hwy 30 and I-84.
Back in Baker City, South of Campbell St on 10th, Hwy 30 bends into Broadway, and if you travel east on Broadway to Dewey Ave (aka Hwy 7) you can turn south on Hwy 7 to go to Phillips Lake and Sumpter, the Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area, and the Sumpter Valley RR are about a half hour away from Baker City. (South on Hwy 30 takes you back to I-84.)
Exit 302 from I-84 takes you to the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, some heritage markers, and access to old Oregon Trail wagon ruts—a tremendous treat for history buffs.
I enjoyed staying at the Geiser Grand Hotel in historic downtown Baker City. They were accommodating, the ADA room was nice and big with a spacious bathroom. Dinner and breakfast via room service was excellent (the lovely dining room was closed for COVID). They have an interesting small museum of sorts in the basement.
It’s not necessarily easy to find ADA accommodations in Baker City. I stayed a night at the Bridge Street Inn on the Powder River. It’s an older motel that is being updated, renovated. The room they gave me as ADA was down a narrow hall: difficult to turn into and out of the room. The room was pleasant enough, though access to the AC unit was a bit challenging. The shower required a leap of faith to transfer from my chair across a little barrier onto the shower chair. I made it without falling, but it was a close call. Still, I give them credit for trying to make it all accessible, and staff was friendly and helpful. The breakfast bar was better than the Hampton Inn at Pendleton, which hotel was twice the price.
I rolled on over to the intriguingly named Oregon Trail Restaurant for dinner (associated with the Oregon Trail motel--across the street from Bridge Street Inn). Some of the items had Oregon Trail-like names, but it was just a typical café with typical fare. The décor had some interest, and the staff were nice.
One time I stayed at the Quality Inn, just off I-84. It has an associated restaurant I didn’t try, and a private outdoor pool that is not accessible. The handicapped room I had was difficult to work with and the carpet looked dirty. The renovations to the bathroom were not helpful.
More info about Baker City OR:
I've been in a wheelchair for 30+ years. It poses some challenges for traveling. Maybe others can benefit from my experiences.