Downtown Baker City
“Tommy” and “Diamond” will give you a ride through Baker City that you won’t soon forget. The two giant Percheron horses are well-muscled and known for “their intelligence and willingness to work,” according to Ron Colton, who – at nearly eighty years young – held tight to the reins to the giant horses. “I really like the Percheron draft horse,” noted Colton. “They are a bit more docile than other breeds and have a lot of heart of the work.”
Ron Colton is a man that locals call the “real deal” in Baker City; he’s a cowboy and horse wrangler who has worked with draft horses most of his life. These days – he and his sidekick, Barbara Sidway, are teachers who share the town’s history on weekly horse-drawn tours in rain, shine or snow! “We thought this idea was a great one because it is too much to walk through the town,” said Sidway. “And driving doesn’t allow the time to see enough – it’s too fast. So, a horse-drawn tour of our town is just right!”
Sidway is owner and operator of Baker City’s landmark Geiser Grand Hotel. It was built in 1889 and its elegance will spoil you. There are fine crystal chandeliers, rich mahogany millwork and a spectacular stained glass atrium, plus 30 guest rooms that invite you to linger longer.
Back out on the town’s streets, as the hooves meet the pavement, Sidway seemed right at home aboard the large wooden wagon. She said that she loves sharing Baker City’s remarkable story. “Baker City is the largest intact 19th-century street-scape in the American West. There are more than 100 buildings on the National Registry of Historic Places, so this tour is like visiting a museum of Victorian architecture. The horses provide the perfect pace to get to know it.”
Sidway said that Baker City largely escaped the boom and bust cycles that plagued many Oregon towns over the past century. Plus, the current population of nearly 10,000 people hasn’t changed much in the past 120 years. Most of all, the town was so wealthy from gold and silver mining, the city father’s built landmark stone structures that endured.
One of those buildings offers a warm and welcome stop and chance to meet Davey and Alyssa Peterson of Peterson’s Gallery & Chocolatier who have a love of rich, delicious chocolate. The two locals have traveled the world but they came back home five years ago to open a business that blends their passions for art and sweet chocolate.
In the kitchen, we were treated to a sneak peek of Alyssa’s daily truffle-making process. One of her prized recipes combines cocoa powder, cinnamon and chili powder covered a rich ganache that’s 65 percent pure dark chocolate. “I am always experimenting with something new and it is fun to surprise customers who will sample a truffle and suddenly a unique flavor pops out,” said the longtime chocolate-maker.
Alyssa said she learned her way around the kitchen at an early age from parents who loved to travel and eat. Her chocolate truffles are out-of-this-world delicious! In fact, they were so good, I offered to move in and go to work for the couple – for free. Everyone laughed at my offer – and yet I remain hopeful and my offer stands!
”For me,” added Alyssa, “chocolate making is like creating a masterpiece painting every day! I can make the same piece each day and lots of people will enjoy it.”
Back on the trail, Barbara added that Baker City sits at a crossroad for Oregon adventures. In fact, many call the historic town, “Basecamp Baker” for the many activities waiting at every turn. “Consider us your base camp to explore our region! There are so many more things to do than you can find the time for.”
about author Grant McOmie
Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.
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