The three main towns of northeastern Oregon — Baker City, La Grande, and Pendleton – made me feel like I was visiting another time, just dropping in via Volkswagen.
In this rugged slice of the country, the Gold Rush, fur trade, and Oregon Trail feel both quietly alive and properly labeled. Its towns are small, friendly places to lose yourselves for a while, reconnecting to America’s pioneering spirit and gentle sense of humor.
Just when Boise had shown me that southern Idaho isn’t all scrub grass, cows and windmills, it was time to push on to northeastern Oregon. Surprisingly easy, it took less than an hour.
I stopped in Baker City on the recommendation of my dear friend Jessica, who lives in Portland and wanted to make sure I saw the very best of the I-84 as I made my way to her house. La Grande was little more than a pause on my way, but their visitors center has some great outdoor-mounted maps that show off the best of the area, including the Oregon Trail. I visited Pendleton because I was then in the market for a new blanket; the dowdy factory store didn’t end up sparking my fancy, but I was thrilled to discover the country’s oldest cowboy outfitter right in the heart of downtown.
Here’s what I saw on my few hours’ journey through the northeast of Oregon. I’d love to go back and stay awhile, especially when the cold passes on and sunshine returns.