La Grande started life in the late 1800s as a farming community. It grew slowly while most towns along the Blue Mountains were booming or busting in the violent throes of gold-fueled stampedes. When the railroad companies were deciding where to lay their tracks through the valley, a clever local farmer donated 150 acres to ensure that the Iron Horse would run through La Grande. With steam power fueling a new boom, the town quickly outgrew its neighbors, took the title of county seat from fading Union City (Union City claims it "was robbed"), and with its current population of 12 thousand sits at the urban center of the Grand Ronde Valley. Though you can appreciate it for its own charms, La Grande is a convenient stop if you're heading to the nearby Wallowa Mountains.