Historic downtown Baker City pulls out the stops for solar eclipse

Historic downtown Baker City pulls out the stops for solar eclipse

The open spaces and clear summer skies in eastern Oregon’s Baker County make it a prime spot to view a major astronomical event like Monday’s solar eclipse.

“The nice thing is, you’ll have a really nice view just about anywhere here in the valley floors,” said Baker County director of tourism Timothy Bishop.

Bishop says the county has been preparing for the eclipse, with help from state resources, for about a year and a half. They originally budgeted for 50,000 visitors to the county, but Bishop says it’ll likely end up looking more like 35,000 people.

Per a 2015 census, the population of Baker County is roughly 16,000.

Baker City, the county seat, has just shy of 10,000 residents. It was a gold rush town – a ‘Paris of the American West’- and much of it’s historic downtown remains intact, including the Geiser Grand Hotel.

“We had two opera houses here, this is where you got your French dress from Paris and all of that so this hotel, when you understand that past, this hotel makes sense that it’s here,” said Barbara Sidway, who owns the historic hotel.

The Geiser Grand opened in 1889, 19 years before the last cross-continental solar eclipse made Baker City famous as the U.S. Naval Observatory’s viewing spot of choice. Sidway and the hotel staff have been preparing for Monday’s event for awhile.

“Over three and a half years ago, a guy came to the front desk wearing some kind of eclipse-y t-shirt and he says ‘you don’t even know what’s going to be happening to you, let me tell you,'” Sidway said.

Within a year from that encounter, all the Geiser’s rooms for this weekend were booked.

“This is the biggest tourism event of the century. That’s it, I mean, no question about it,” Sidway said.

To get her guests prepared for the eclipse, Sidway brought in NASA recognized scientists Larry Crumpler and Jayne Aubele. The husband-wife duo traveled from Albuquerque, New Mexico to teach a number of presentations on Saturday and Sunday to show attendees what the eclipse might look like, when exactly it will reach totality in Baker City and how best to photograph it.

“This really unusual lighting, and it’s just a strange eerie sort of thing,” Crumpler said.

Having seen several eclipses, including one total eclipse, Crumpler’s advice holds. But he recommends spending at least part of the brief totality with the phones and cameras off.

“Stand there and look at it. Don’t try to take pictures and don’t try to capture the experience because you can’t,” he said.