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The Geiser Grand, Baker City

At the Geiser Grand

Baker City

I am sitting under a palm tree. I can see blue skies but I also can see passersby in fur-lined parkas. The temperature looks like it's warmed to around 25 degrees Fahrenheit from the early morning 11. I am glad not to be outside but in the Palm Court dining room of the Geiser Grand Hotel in Baker City drinking hot cocoa. It is a Sunday around 11 a.m. and a man and woman arrive looking as though they may have escaped the kids for a few hours to enjoy a quiet brunch. They are followed by a group of four elderly ladies, quaffed and neatly decked out in wool suits who go directly to what looks like a favorite table in a corner. I imagine that they have come from church and this is a weekly ritual. Another couple is easy to peg, tourists just like me, who can't stop ogling the stained-glass ceiling soaring two stories above us. It’s the couple lingering over coffee at a table at the far end of the room between two exquisite four-foot tall Chinese vases that makes me curious, though. When I'm in restaurants alone, I often try to guess if people are locals or tourists. This couple looks as though they are holiday travelers, but they also look too comfortable in the surroundings. I have to ask. Turns out they live in Baker's turn-of-the-century hospital, now renovated into condos and often come to the hotel to dine. The husband tells me that his wife now lives in the same place she was born.

This Italian Renaissance Revival building, built in 1889 during the gold rush days had fallen into disrepair during the Great Depression and languished until Barbara and Dwight Sidway took possession. The dark interior with its ornate wood paneling, enormous columns seems have come alive, shining and welcoming.

My sister Sue, her teenage daughter, Brooke, and I are staying here on a Thanksgiving visit to our mom who lives in Baker. Brooke has never stayed in a hotel before and it's great to watch her fall in love with this place. When we arrived Brooke was agog, amazed that we were actually going to stay in this grand hotel. We opened the door to our Parlor Suite and Brooke was dumbstruck for a moment, agape. The rooms are spacious and beautifully furnished, but it's those 14' tall ceilings and 11' tall arched windows that get you. Brooke danced her way through, spinning and twirling in the living room and huge tiled bathroom, then taking a full body leap onto the four-poster canopied bed, sprawling luxuriously.

We played scrabble until late and the next morning were awakened by the sound of cattle. Brooke, was the first to hear it, "Are those cows?" she asked. Half awake and disoriented, I thought, well, sure, we're east of the mountains in wheat and cattle country. It took me a few seconds of listening to the ruckus outside before it registered: wait, we're downtown. Hey, I thought, excited, a cattle drive! Just like the old days. Brooke and I ran to the windows, while Sue merely pulled a pillow over her head. Three stories below us on the street, much to our disappointment, was not a city full of roving bovines driven by cowboys on horses, but a rig stopped at the stop light pulling a double trailer full of noisy cattle.

We were awake and up so I suggested we might as well order room service. Brooke quickly commandeered the menu and we began discussing choices while her mother made gagging noises from beneath the pillow still crammed on top of her head. (Sue is not a breakfast eater. Coffee only.) Brooke and I didn't have to argue at all. We’d share a veggie omelet pancakes. When our food arrived, I opted to be a good auntie and not influence Brooke with bad habits, so we ate like adults sitting at the table. In our pajamas.

From the hotel we walked along the half-frozen Powder River to the park and Baker’s wonderful library. Easy walks also to several antique stores and Betty's Books, as well as our favorite Mexican restaurant El Erradero, where, if you go with an attractive teenage girl, the young waiters will be certain to keep filling your chips container and water glasses to overflowing.

Baker City, I-84 300 miles east of Portland.

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