Should I move to Baker City, Oregon?
February 14, 2012 6:03 PM   Subscribe

Should I move to Baker City, Oregon?

A job opportunity has come up in the Baker City area and I am thinking about picking up and moving. I'm super excited about the opportunities for recreation in the natural areas around the town, but I am worried about the culture. What is your sense of the town? Are there cool cultural opportunities?
posted by kuatto to Travel & Transportation around Oregon (15 answers total)
Where are you moving from?
posted by oceanjesse at 6:08 PM on February 14, 2012

Response by poster: I'm living in minneapolis currently, pretty far from the mountains!
posted by kuatto at 6:25 PM on February 14, 2012

Man, it's really way out in the middle of nowhere. The nearest cultural center is Boise, and Boise is famous for not having a lot of culture. It's not just a small town. It's a small town in a vast dessert and hours in a car from a large city. There are 16,ooo people in the entire county. It's an extremely remote part of the world. The county just to the south is one of the most sparsely populated in the continental U.S.
posted by chrchr at 6:35 PM on February 14, 2012

"Cultural opportunities" covers a lot of ground. What do you do now that you consider both cool and cultural? And remember it's not 1912: you can get books and movies in the mail, and I'm sure they have internet access, even if it's not lightning fast. And Skype with friends, although you'll probably see a lot of them when they want to go somewhere cool to play outdoors. What do you think you'll miss? The town has less than 10,000 people, so whatever's going on will be very local (tiny museum, community concerts), but that means that you're likely to be welcomed immediately as a participant, if you're interested.

This is my experience of moving from a big city to a small town for the first time. To my surprise, the only two cultural activities I really missed were live theatre and author readings. So I have a subscription to the big city newspaper, and I treat myself to regular trips to the Big City to get a taste of both.

I have a friend who lives just outside Boise, and it's not the cultural black pit that you might think. It has a performing art center that gets acts from George Jackson to the Blue Man Group, and more touring Broadway shows than even Seattle. ("War Horse" for instance. But it really is too far for me to drive to Boise for a theater production.) It's a university town and there are lots of things going on there. According to Google it only takes 2 hours to drive from Baker City to Boise.

My personal advice is to take the job if it interests you. The country looks magnificent, and you'll never be younger than you are now and better able to take advantage of recreation in gorgeous mountains. You may truly hate living there, but you can always move again. But if you don't go, it will end up one of those things you wonder about -- and probably regret -- for the rest of your life. And what the heck, Baker City has two Chinese restaurants!
posted by kestralwing at 7:05 PM on February 14, 2012

Response by poster: chrchr, I'm ok with that, having spent a lot of time in small towns of the southwest and west. The remote/natural part of it sounds really fun.

Re: "Cultural opportunities", kestralwing I think I'm on the same page. I like small town festivals and discovering the local community. It looks like they have a food coop, which is really great.
posted by kuatto at 7:36 PM on February 14, 2012

Eastern Oregon is not, I repeat NOT Portland. It is the polar opposite. I've met more than a few people who think Oregon and think Portland, but don't consider that nearly 2/3rds of the state has more in common with Wyoming or Nevada than the west coast.

Baker is in a fairly rural area as noted above. Baker is in the Powder River valley, a small valley that sits between the Wallowas (northeast) and some of the Blue mountain ranges (west). The Wallowas are rather beautiful mountains and if you are up for outdoor activities, they are a hit. The Snake River is also within a short-ish drive. It's a two hour drive to Boise or three hours to Tri-Cities (Richland, Kennewick, Pasco, WA). Walla Walla, Pendleton and La Grande are the other available towns within a few hours. Portland is five hours away. To the south is desert. Southeastern Oregon is truly desolate land. There are pretty areas there such as Steens Mountain, but it's a long drive through empty terrain.

The weather shouldn't be much of a change, although winters shouldn't be as bad as Minneapolis. Summers can get very hot, but usually will be drier. Driving will be more treacherous in the winter. To get in and out of Baker requires going through a mountain pass no-matter-what. The snow won't get plowed as quickly, and snow+hills = holy hell. The pass to the north between La Grande and Pendleton on I-84 tends to get extremely foggy, be aware of it.

The culture there will be significantly more "Western" than anything else. The couple of times I've been people have been friendly. There's more conservative attitudes in general, which isn't surprising. Plan on owning a car or a truck. I've gone out camping and shooting guns near Halfway and it was a great time. Most people keep to themselves in the Western US sort of way (as opposed to the rude way). If you want to go, GO! You can always move somewhere else.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 7:45 PM on February 14, 2012

Yeah, being a former Central Oregon/SW Washington resident, I can state with authority that the east side of the Cascades is a whole 'nother experience from what people usually think of as the Pacific Northwest. I don't know Baker City, but I am personally acquainted with some fabulous people in Pendleton who are not right-wing, gun-carrying pickup drivers. The area may be dry and stark, but that type of terrain makes my heart flutter. Go watch "Meek's Cutoff" for an extended viewing of Eastern Oregon topography.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 8:09 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Baker City is pretty far from the mountains, too, from what I remember. I lived in Bend for a few years which looks like it is a few hours away. I remember going out near that area (Alvord desert) to check out the desert landscape and hot springs. If you do like small towns and outdoorsy stuff I think it could work...and you would be close enough to Boise and Bend for day trips to civilization if you need it. But, yeah, echoing above that eastern Oregon is not like Central Oregon and a far cry from Portland/Eugene/Willamette Valley
posted by fieldtrip at 8:41 PM on February 14, 2012

Baker City is pretty far from the mountains, too, from what I remember.

Take a look at photos like this or this. Those big tall things with white stuff on top? Yep, mountains, and just on the outside of the town. Flying around in Google Earth gives a sense of the topography, too.

I haven't lived there, but have visited. The location is crazy beautiful, but like everyone says it is small, isolated in the winter, and big city amenities are sparse. I'd live there quite happily, but it's not a place that would work for someone who needs to have six vegan cafes within walking distance.
posted by Forktine at 9:58 PM on February 14, 2012

IT will be more conservative than Portland but understand that doesn't mean the town has lynch the minority days or anything. It is more the william f buckley/hobbesian kind of conservatism. More of leave me alone and don't come in and screw up our way of life without a damn good reason (and you not liking it is NOT a good reason). You say you are famalair with small towns in the west US, this isn't going to be much different. Being different in a small, insular community like this part of Oregon tends to be can be not much fun, so consider that (and I don't mean a skin color thing-it is more of new cultural things and you refusing to assimilate into the dominant local culture can make you really unpopular).

I would do it in a hearbeat if I could make a living out there. I once was considering trying to get on with the US forest service to try to live in a small rural town in New mexico or, well someplace like eastern oregon.
posted by bartonlong at 10:11 PM on February 14, 2012

I live near Portland, my parents live a little farther away and are farmy-types, my grand-parents live in the dusty part of the northwest near the Gorge, and Eastern Oregon is like the Moon. That said, the Moon is awesome. THAT said, I don't know how many people would want to live there. But you only live once, etc, etc!

If it's at all possible for you to visit first, I'd definitely recommend it. Failing that, watch some Oregon Field Guide. There's also a bike race that comes / goes through there once a year, I think it's called the Elkhorn Stage Race or something similar. So there's that.
posted by Chutzler at 10:22 PM on February 14, 2012

Don't know if you like to ski, but oh man, the Wallowas are the shit. Seriously, been skiing many days a year for 20 years all over the world and my favorite four days of skiing ever were in the Wallowas. A hidden gem if there ever was one, just don't expect there to be lifts...
posted by alpinist at 1:55 AM on February 15, 2012

You have to get in touch with what you truly value. There is a difference between enjoying a place for vacation and wanting to live there. Some people just don't value urban life---even hipster cities with lots of self-indulgent narcissists who don't know what to do with themselves if there isn't a Starbucks or a vegan cafe with WiFi around the corner (sorry---I had to get that out). And others really don't value natural beauty and quite modest living in a rural setting (you know---those "farmy" types). So who are you? Which would you rather come home to EVERY DAY after work?
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 5:56 AM on February 15, 2012

even hipster cities with lots of self-indulgent narcissists who don't know what to do with themselves if there isn't a Starbucks or a vegan cafe with WiFi around the corner (sorry---I had to get that out).

Baker City has a Starbucks and maybe a Vegan store. It also looks like there are two local non-Starbucks coffee shops.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 10:36 AM on February 15, 2012

It's a small town, far from any larger towns. In some ways this situation tends to encourage more local organized activities than a small town or suburb next to a large city. There may be more of an empasis on people "finding their own things to do," and choices for what to do in your free time will greatly depend on who you know, for instance it's hard to play rugby by yourself.

OTOH, it can be easier to start things that need a group of people than it could be somewhere with more choices, and if you want to do volunteer work there are often more interesting options and less competition.

If your idea of 'cultural opprotunities' is anything along the lines of acting in community theater, starting a band, hosting a slam poetry night, etc. there will be a lot less competition in a small town, generally speaking.
posted by yohko at 11:50 AM on February 15, 2012

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