Luinil - Traveling with the Blue Star


September 2016 — Hot Springs Tour
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Copyright © 2017 Larrie Easterly

September 2016

Ann, McKenzie, our dog, Jason, a friend and I spent six days exploring eastern Oregon and soaking in five of the many hot springs in the area. The trip took us along back roads with surfaces ranging from pavement to gravel to rock. Along the way we met wonderful people that live in the area and ate some great food.

Monday we loaded up the camper van headed east to Bend where we enjoyed dinner and conversation with friends. That night we stayed at Tumalo State Park just north of the city.

Tuesday morning we met Jason, our traveling companion, at the Oregon High Desert Museum south of Bend. After touring the museum we headed down Forest Service Road 18 in the Deschutes National Forest towards Fort Rock. The van was shaking and rattling along the washboards in the road. We pulled over to reduce the tire air pressure from 50/60 psi front/rear to 30/40 psi. This made for a much smoother ride and improved the handling.

Summer Lake

Summer Lake — Photo Galley

Lunch was in the sunshine at Fort Rock, an extinct tuft ring volcano located in Christmas Valley. After lunch we continued south on some of the longest and straightest roads in Oregon to Highway 31. A left on 31 took us past Silver Lake and Summer Lake to Summer Lake Hot Springs. The hot springs is operated as a commercial operation. There is a campground, cabins and cottages that you can stay in. The camping sites are gravel and very basic with the only amenity a fire ring. There is a shower building as well as showers in the soaking building. There is some low bushes around the camping area that is dusty gravel lot. The dust comes from the storms that blow across the dry Summer Lake bed.

After checking in with the hostess and setting up camp we headed for the hot springs building for a long soak. The concrete hot spring pool and metal building were constructed in 1938 and has a nice rustic feel about it. The pool is large and ranges from about three to five feet deep. There are changing rooms, showers, and toilets in the building. The water was clear and warm with lively conversation among the soakers. There are also three outdoor soaking pools of varying depths and sizes that were under construction when we were there. Clothing is optional in all the pools after 9:00 p.m.

Wednesday morning we soaked again. One of the people we met while soaking was from Tillamook. The small world syndrome got smaller still when we found out that another woman in the pool was from Neskowin which is about 32 miles south of Tillamook.

We drove the few miles to Paisley for fuel. Backtracking a couple of miles to Red Horse Lane took us into the back country on a gravel road that was sometimes bad washboards, other times rocky, and finely some nice high speed gravel. The road eventually led us to U.S. Highway 395 where a left and then a right put us on to the road that would lead to Hart Mountain Wild Life Refuge and our next hot spring.

Twenty five miles of washboard gravel rewarded us with the sight of a heard of prong horn antelope standing in the middle of the road. We slowed down for them as they scattered off into the sagebrush. A few more miles brought us to the campground at the base of Hart Mountain and lunch.

The camp hosts were very friendly and told us there had been a cougar with cubs sited in the area were we're going to. From the campground it is about twelve miles to the hot springs. It is also a one thousand foot climb up the mountain to get the to there. The road up the mountain is steep and mostly washboards. To balance this is the view of the valley below. Just pay attention to where you are as you drive up. There is no outside guardrail.

The campground at Hart Mountain has dispersed sites and all are a short to medium walk to the first of the three hot springs in the area. The largest has a concrete apron and a nicely done rock wall wind break around it. The pool is small. There were six of us in it swapping stories of traveling the world. A few more people and it would have made the pool crowded. The middle pool is located south of the main pool in the prairie grass and is shallow and small. It might be possible to fit two or three people in it. The third pool is even smaller. When we were there it was covered with algae and not something we wanted to get into.

One of the people we met while soaking regaled us with stories of his travels all over the world by bicycle. Some of the stories were about his ride from the arctic circle in Alaska to Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America. He wrote a book about his this. Another couple lived in Canada but were originally from Ireland. There were lots more stories as about traveling in Ireland.

Mule Deer

Mule Deer — Photo Galley

The basic campsites are nestled into the trees so you have some privacy and great views of the surrounding mountain. While I was grilling chicken and rice for dinner I looked up and there was a mule deer about 50 feet away already eating its dinner. Later we saw a teenage deer and two other does.

Thursday we woke to a couple of inches of snow. Surprise! After breakfast we brushed the heavy wet snow off the items that were left out overnight and loaded them wet into our rigs. Turning east at the headquarters building we headed off the mountain towards Frenchglen. The gravel road out was covered in snow but not sloppy or slippery. Once we dropped about 500 feet in elevation the snow was gone and we were once again on dry gravel. The road eventually lost the washboards and smoothed out into a high speed gravel roadbed.

Oregon Highway 205 was a welcome site after fifty miles of gravel road. We turned left towards French Glen and found ourselves part of a cattle drive that was using the road. This was the real deal including cowboys (complete with six shooters and rifles) on horses, dogs, and several hundred head of cattle. One of the cowboys told us to drive on through so we carefully worked our way though the herd and into French Glen.

Frenchglen is one of the few towns in far SE Oregon. There is a historic hotel, an old store with an eclectic selection of goods including food and local crafts, a school and most importantly (expensive) fuel.

After we bought some goodies and fuel at the store we backtracked a bit to the north entrance to the Steens Mountain Loop Road, the highest road in Oregon. The drive took us past beautiful vistas of aspen trees shimmering in the wind. They were in the middle of the color change filling the slopes with brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows.

As we neared the top we met another vehicle coming down. We stopped and asked what the road were ahead. They said that they had gotten turned around by deep snow about a mile ahead. Jason and I discussed the situation and decided to push on. The deep snow turned out to be two or three inches deep that was already melting. We reached the 9,500 foot level without incident. The view from the top was amazing. On the way down the south side of the mountain we met another truck coming up the hill. We stopped and talked about the road conditions above and they told us of the conditions going down.

We got to the south Steens campground around 1:30 and ate lunch. The original plan was to camp there for the night. Jason checked the weather report and saw that the temperature was headed down to 19F degrees. Based on that we decided to head for Alvord Hot Springs on the east side of the Steens. A left turn off the loop road on to Highway 205 led to a Y in the road. Left again led past the town of Andrews, population one, and on to the hot springs.

Alvord Hot Springs is a privately owned springs on the edge of the Alvord Desert. The campground is a rock parking area with a few picnic tables and fire rings. There are also a few cabins that can be rented. The two soaking pools are concrete about four feet deep. Both pools are open air. One is enclosed by a metal walled wind break with no roof. The other does not have walls and had great views of the Steens and the desert. There is also a unisex changing area and gravity shower, that you have to fill with water, adjacent to the pools. The soaking pools are clothed optional at all times. Alvord is the only hot springs that we went to where you could adjust the soaking pool water temperature. Open the red valve to make the pool hotter. Close it and open the black valve to maintain the temperature. The campground host told us to be careful how hot we got the pools because there was not way to cool them down.

Friday we headed to Willow Hot Springs on the east side of the Alvord Desert. Throughout our trip we had been relying on county road maps loaded into the Avenza PDF Maps application on my iPad. Rather than taking the long way through Fields to Willow we decided to take county road just south of the Alvord that looked like take us directly to Willow. The road surface started off as firm gravel but soon disintegrated into dirt and then dust.

Our van did great for a while but then bogged down in the deep ruts and dust. We were stuck. I got out of the van to assess the situation and immediately stepped in a rut that came to mid calf with my foot buried in six inches of fine dust that came above my ankles. It was time to breakout the recovery gear. Luckily Jason was behind me and had not gotten bogged down. We connected two recovery straps together and put the TRED Pro traction matts under my rear wheels. The tension on the straps was enough to get the van up on the recovery ramps and from there back out along the ruts to a place we could turn around. Once we were out of trouble it was time to take the long way to Willow through Fields.

On the way we stopped at Fields Station for lunch and fuel. Fields Station is renowned for its burgers and milk shakes. Both are very tasty.

Willow Hot Springs

Willow Hot Springs — Photo Galley

Willow Hot Springs is about 35 miles from Fields. Twenty six of those miles is on a decent gravel road with some very rough patches. The road winds its way through a beautiful landscape of low hills and sagebrush with the Steens Mountains in the background. The spring is tucked in next to a low butte on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Camping is free and there are a few picnic tables and fire rings. There are two soaking pools separated by a rock divider. The smaller of the two is the hot one and the other is cooler.

Willow is not the end of the world but you can see it from there. It is truly in the middle of nowhere. The good thing about this is that the stars are incredibly bright. The constellations were clearly visible as was the Milky Way.

We were not the only ones at the springs. A women her daughter and son in law, were setting up camp too. The women was a local rancher. She told us a lot about the area. How ranching had changed and how she came to be there by marrying a rancher. She was originally from a large city and is enjoying the ranch life.

Saturday morning we said goodby to Jason as he headed back to Portland. We packed up, said goodby to the rancher and, headed to Crystal Crane Hot Springs. Once we were off the gravel it was pavement all the way.

Crane is a commercial hot springs. It had the nicest camping area of all the commercial springs we stopped at. It also has the largest natural pool about the size of a small pond. There are also cabins, rooms or a teepee for rent. There is no food service available at Crane but they do have a community kitchen and a local restaurant is a few miles east.

Sunday morning was Ann’s birthday. She got her card and present after we ate breakfast. We then packed up we headed home. All in all it was a great trip. We will probably visit some of the springs again in the future. Of the five springs we visited Willow and Hart were our favorites because of their locations.

Resources County maps Avenza PDF Maps MVUM HEMA Explorer MotionX-GPS Apple iPad

Statistics Total miles = 830 Approximate gravel miles = 310 Fuel = 79.8 gallons MPG = 10.4

Past Travels
282 feet below sea level

282 feet below sea level

Summer Lake Hot Springs

Summer Lake Hot Springs

Twin Rocks

Twin Rocks