After Farewell Bend, the landscape becomes a lot more dry and hilly. Although there was a river running through the valley (the Owyhee) and there were crops planted in the flat lowlands, there were dusty hills all around. The trail meanders through this country, and then all of a sudden it starts to get green, and it climbs. Up we go up another set of mountains to Baker City. This is a smallish town, first settled during the westward migration, but it started to boom when gold was discovered there in the late 1800's.
When I arrived, I had just crossed a time zone so I had an extra hour. One of the first buildings I saw was the Baker City Historical Museum, open 1-4, and it was only 3:10! I had time to see this today. At least I thought I did, until one of the docents, who was very knowledgable, and very excited about her position, started telling me ALL about the museum. By the time she finished, I had 25 minutes left! One of the features of the museum is called the Rock room; it is the accumulated collection of rocks by two sisters who grew up in Baker City. It's a great collection, and one of the best parts of it is the Carnelian collection. These are cut and polished rock slices that look like landscapes or modern art, but the rocks occur naturally and slicing them reveals the designs.
The other great collection in the museum is one of vehicles of all sorts -- from covered wagons to horse drawn school busses to stage coaches to mining cars and more.
When I came out of the museum, it was pouring with rain, and I was hungry; in fact, I was craving pizza. I knew I couldn't cook, and luckily there was a Pizza Hut in town that was still serving the lunch special (personal pizza, salad and a drink for $8). How could I resist?
The next morning I went to the other great museum in Baker City, the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. This museum has it all -- a great setting high on a hill with nothing else around, great exhibits of life on the trail, costumes, vignettes of common events, and knowledgable rangers. Besides, since I have a National Parks Senior Pass, it was free! You could even see a section of the trail winding around the hill just out the window of the museum.
After leaving there, I continued up that mountain and down through Ladd Canyon. The uphill was hard, but the downhill was downright frightening, especially if you are in a wagon! But it all opened into a beautiful valley called the La Grande valley. There were several parks with monuments or other memorials to the Westward emigration. The first of these was Pioneer Park, a small city park with a playground and a number of pillars along a path. At first I thought these pillars would have plaques on them with information about the park, or the pioneers, but instead they had artistic panels on them that seemed to be either natural stone or hand-painted tiles. They were unusual, and quite beautiful.
The second park was really just a pullout on the highway, but there was a log cabin next to it that the romantic in me could imagine as the cabin of an emigrant who came into the valley and said enough, built a log cabin, and surrounded it with yellow rose bushes. The roses were blooming, and the sight was just lovely.
From here, I drove up to Washington to visit with some friends who had moved from Albuquerque to Walla Walla, and we had a very pleasant evening of wine tasting, visiting, and then sightseeing the following morning.
On my way back to Oregon for the last couple of days of the trip, I got my first view of the Columbia River, and a more majestic river I have never seen. As one New Mexico friend commented, "It sure puts our Rio Grande to shame."