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Home arrow Features arrow Outdoors arrow It's going down tonight

It's going down tonight

Golden rays at sunset glance off gently rolling waves on Phillips Reservoir and silhouette Canadian honkers drifting toward deeper water. Baker County offers many locations to record sunsets, from high-mountain peaks to the depths of Hells Canyon. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).
Golden rays at sunset glance off gently rolling waves on Phillips Reservoir and silhouette Canadian honkers drifting toward deeper water. Baker County offers many locations to record sunsets, from high-mountain peaks to the depths of Hells Canyon. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).

By JAYSON JACOBY

Of the Baker City Herald

Pity the poor sunset.

So spectacular, yet so common.

Happens every evening.

Too predictable to receive the accolades afforded less reliable events such as rainbows or the Northern Lights.

But few places are better than Baker County for refreshing you appreciation.

Here you can watch the sun plunge behind the dark smudge of mountains four counties distant, or cast its pupil-shrinking rays across an expanse of water.

Sunsets can pull tricks, too, that no magician can match.

Only the sun can turn a dark-green pine into gold, or so embarrass a slope of snow that its cheeks go pink.

Here's a handful of nearby places perfectly suited for sunset-watching:

Flagstaff Hill

It's barely outside Baker City, and you won't even have to get out of your car.

How to get there: From Baker City, drive east on Ore. Highway 86, the road that leads to Richland, Halfway and Hells Canyon. A couple miles east of Interstate 84, the highway climbs Flagstaff Hill. Near the top there's a couple of gravel pullouts from which you can gaze down at Baker Valley as the sun slides behind the Elkhorn Mountains.

Highlight: Contrasts in colors: the imposing wall of the Elkhorns, progressing from dark blue to black as the sun descends; the valley's puzzle-piece patchwork of khaki wheat and green alfalfa.

The Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, which sits on the summit of a nearby knoll, supplies even better views, but the center, and the road that leads to it, close before the sun disappears.

Elkhorn Summit

A longer drive (36 miles one way), but the only paved road in Oregon that climbs higher is at Crater Lake.

How to get there: From Baker City drive north on U.S. Highway 30 to Haines, then turn left at the sign for Anthony Lakes. Continue two miles past Ski Anthony Lakes to the summit, where there's a turnout with room for a few vehicles. A sign notes the elevation: 7,392 feet.

Highlight: A chance of seeing Mount Hood, even though you're nearer Boise than you are to Oregon's tallest mountain.

You'll need a fair amount of luck, though. The mountain, about 166 miles away as the magpie flies, is visible only when the atmosphere is exceptionally clear — a rare occasion during the smoky summer.

But even if you miss Mount Hood, the view extends far across the Blue Mountains to the cusp of the Ochocos.

Mount Ireland

You're more apt to see Mount Hood (and perhaps Mounts Adams and St. Helens, Hood's volcanic neighbors across the Columbia) from this vantage point 1,000 feet higher than Elkhorn Summit, but your lungs will wheeze and your heart will thump like a bass drum before you get the chance.

How to get there: Hike. Up a mountain with slopes so steep as to seem sinister. The 3-mile trail, which climbs about 2,300 feet to the 8,321-foot summit, starts along a forest road between Sumpter and Granite, about 45 miles west of Baker City. For specific directions, check the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest's Web site, www.fs.fed.us/r-6/w-w, or buy a map at the Whitman Unit office, 3165 10th St.

Highlights: Don't fixate on the western horizon. Look east and watch the yellow boundary between day and night creep down the tan slopes of the Elkhorns, like a shade being drawn.

Bring a flashlight to show the way back to your rig, or pitch a tent. Just don't plan on sharing quarters with the fire lookout who lives in a glass-and-metal building on the summit.

Phillips Reservoir

Water ensures a brilliant conclusion to even the most routine sunset.

How to get there: Watch the show from the top of Mason Dam, the rock wall that impounds the Powder River. Drive Ore. Highway 7, the Sumpter Highway, from Baker City. About 14 miles from town, turn left on gravel Black Mountain Road, which crosses the dam.

Highlights: The interplay between sunrays and water, a scene instantly transformed from tranquil to wild by an evening breeze.

 
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