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A Million Little Pieces Of My Mind

Oregon Hot Springs

By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 4/15/2024
Posted: 9/17/2007
Page Views: 249
Topics: #HotSprings
A visit to a couple of Oregon's hidden hot springs.
Grand Canyon from the air.

Michael and I just spent a mini-vacation in Oregon's Cascade Mountains, soaking in hot springs and driving in the unparalleled beauty of the coastal high country. Here's the report and photos.

I originally described this trip last month, when I thought I might be making it alone. But Michael stepped up his massage schedule and found the money to buy his own amazingly-cheap ticket. So, Saturday morning we got up at the ungodly hour of 4:30 AM in order to be at the airport by 5:30 AM, in order to have time to go through security (which actually moved very fast, as there were not many fliers heading out that early) and get to our gate for our non-stop flight on Alaska Airlines to Portland, Oregon.

I love Alaska Airlines. The seats are placed so that there is actually room between them for a person to sit. (As opposed to United Airlines, where the only thing you can do when the person in front of you reclines his seat is his hair. And United has the nerve to offer at check-in time, for $28, an extended seat with breathing room!) The fact that the two flight attendants in the rear cabin were cute guys didn't hurt, either. Our flight actually took off early. One of the flight attendants later explained to me that they're allowed to do that, if they are the first flight of the day and all their passengers have checked in.

I slept through takeoff, and most of the flight except when Michael woke me up asking if that huge gash in the earth below us was Grand Canyon. (It was.)

The next thing I knew we were in Portland. Did I mention we stayed up until 1 AM packing? So I had had three hours sleep; five hours if you count my sleeping on the plane.

Michael and I stopped at an airport restroom after we landed. As we left, I jokingly called out, The police are coming, Senator! Three men in suits rapidly grabbed their bags and departed their stalls.

I had brought with me printouts of all my reservations and instructions on how to get to the hot springs I wanted to visit. (Michael announced his intention to just relax and go along with whatever I wanted to do and wherever I wanted to go. He didn't even want to register as a potential driver of the rental car.) Except, the reservation for the rental car wasn't in my packet. I called home and asked Karen to check my email, but the car rental reservation wasn't there, either. I was pretty sure I had made a reservation, but if I did whoever I made it with had never emailed a confirmation. So I stopped at the Budget desk, getting a vehicle for about twice the Internet price I had originally arranged (the bad news) but it was a Ford Escape, a roomy SUV for Budget's economy car price (the good news). I declined a navigational GPS, fearing I would become so involved in its operation I would drive off the road (a decision I was later to mildly regret).

So by 10:30 am we were on the way to Oakridge, Oregon, in the foothills of the Cascades.

We did stop for brunch at Denny's, where I had a steak-and-egg omelet—and it was surprisingly delicious, even though the waitress told me that they didn't have real butter. That was a slogan I was to hear at every place we stopped to eat in Oregon, whether chain or privately owned, usually spoken with pride. Apparently these people hadn't yet heard that the fats and oils in margarine are less healthy than those in butter, leading to increased risk of obesity. And, looking at the waiters and waitresses who served us, you'd have thought they'd have begun to suspect!

The Oakridge Motel

The downside of our meal is that it took over an hour for us to order and eat. So it was 3 PM before we finally arrived at our motel in Oakridge. The owners' daughter (and her three babies) were running the place while her parents attended a big wedding. She couldn't find my reservation but it didn't matter because the room I had reserved—the only one with a king-sized bed—was available anyway. So we checked in, unloaded our luggage, and changed into shorts for the visit to McCredie Hot Springs.

McCredie was so much just as I had left it, that there was no point in taking new pictures…which was just as well, because there had been an incident with my new digital camera. Seems I had left it at a restaurant the family and I had gone to Thursday night, and hadn't realized it was missing until I began to look for it on the way to the airport. Michael had a throwaway digital camera from CVS, and of course we had our cell phones. But I'll have to apologize in advance if the photos that follow aren't up to my usual high quality.

This time, however, I determined to visit the other McCredie Hot Springs on the far side of Salt Creek. You can see them, or rather the visitors to them, easily from the side nearest the highway (Oregon SR 58). But the river runs too fast and is too cold to make wading there practical. I knew there was another place to park, further east along the road, where a short hike would bring us to the far side pools. The turn off was easy to find, crossing the creek via one-lane bridge. Michael and I parked the SUV near another vehicle and set out on a trail through the old-growth forest that seemed to head in the right direction. Big-leafed maple and alders mixed with firs to form a high canopy over us; the spicy, clean scent of living things kept us focused on where we were.

The trail was longer than we'd expected, but eventually we found ourselves at the far pools. The only other person there was a retired gentleman from Roseburg named Gale. He chatted with us about his favorite hot springs while Michael and I sampled the pools. Most of them were pretty hot, better for therapeutic purposes than long, relaxing soaks. Most of them were also pretty shallow and all were lined with grit.

Both here and on the other side, I had noticed that the water seemed hotter than I remembered it. Michael and I returned to the North side of the creek bank, where we found a pool right on the edge of the creek that mixed the hot spring water with cold creek water. Michael adjusted the rock dam someone had created to let less river water in; soon the temperature was, as Goldilocks would say, Just right. I immersed myself and drifted away.

By the time I woke up, I was thirsty and hungry. People are often surprised that a long soak can have a dehydrating effect. It was after 8 PM when we returned to the SUV. My cell phone had somehow picked up enough signal to notify me I had voice mail waiting. But there wasn't enough signal for me to place a call. In fact, I would be unable to make or receive calls until returning to the vicinity of I-5 the next evening.

We put on dry clothes at our motel, then set out to find dinner. Oakridge isn't a large town—it has 3320 residents, according to the sign—and not a lot of dinner choices, though among them are the ubiquitous McDonalds and A&W. We chose a local establishment, Manning's CafĂ©. We walked in the door at 8:45. It was small place that promised little, with two or three tables and maybe four booths, plus a counter with five or six stools. The waitress made it clear that the place closed at 9 and she was looking forward to the end of her shift. A poster on the wall requested information regarding a double homicide of teenagers that had taken place some three years earlier.

And yet—and yet!—the food was delicious! Michael had breaded veal with mashed potatoes and brown gravy; I had fettuccini Alf redo with prawns. Each meal came with homemade bread that was out of this world. The downside? We don't have real butter.

The king-sized bed in our motel room had a visible depression in it. Fortunately for me, it was on Michael's side. But it didn't matter. We were profoundly exhausted. I set up our CPAP machines while Michael used the bathroom; we fell into bed, put on our breathing masks, and fell into a deep slumber. It was no later than 9:30.We slept about twelve hours. It seemed silly to shower when we had spent hours the previous day soaking in a hot springs, and were about to do the same again today. Besides, there was a little handwritten sign on the bathroom wall explaining that there was only one water line, and that we should listen so as not to inadvertently flush or shower while someone else was taking a shower, as to do so would engulf them in the opposite temperature of water. But there was no sound of other use. So I went ahead and it turned out to be a pretty good shower after all.

Michael and I checked out and decided that we would not return to McCredie. Instead, on the recommendation and description by our fellow soaker Gale, we decided to find Umpqua Hot Springs.

There had been free wireless Internet access at the motel, and I had looked up directions on Google Maps and written them down. The shortest distance, by far, was to follow National Forest roads over the mountains to the place. It should take about two hours, versus four or five if we stuck to the highways.

We left town on Kitson Springs Road, which the instructions told us turns slightly right and becomes NF-21. Sure enough, there was a bend in the road and we happily sailed along, confident we were now on National Forest road 21. The fact that we repeatedly passed signs in the shape of a brown shield with the number 23 on it didn't cause us to hesitate. Deeper and deeper into, and higher and higher up, the mountains we drove. Huge meadows of course green grasses punctuated stands of alder, poplar, aspen and then, as we rose even further, pines and junipers. The road enough went from two lanes to one, and then to gravel, and then to dirt.

This is the kind of place you'd expect to find Satchmo, Michael said, still a little sleepy.


You know, Bigfoot, Michael clarified.

You mean 'Sasquatch'. But now I had a vision of Bigfoot lumbering into a clearing with a trumpet in one hand and a white handkerchief in the other.

When finally we reached a dead end, I admitted we must be on the wrong road and set out to retrace our path. Nearly all the way back to Oakridge, we discovered that it was actually a sharp turn that would have gotten us onto NF-21. By now we had wasted about three hours on the wrong road, if you can call wandering the high country of the Cascades and taking dozens of photos (albeit cell phone photos) wasted. I now regretted having turned down the rental GPS. But we decided to make one more try.

This new route was only more promising than the first in that all the metrics from the Google Maps route matched to the tenth of a mile. The double-lane paved road also dwindled to a single lane, and then degenerated to gravel. The scenery was similarly spectacular. Here's a sampling of what we saw:

North branch of the Umpqua River. There be hot springs here!

The second time was the charm. We soon found ourselves crossing a bridge over the North Umpqua River, which to me was more of a creek, though for certain a deep and fast-flowing one.

A mile and half beyond the bridge was a parking lot and campground. Despite the fact that web pages describing the springs say there is no fee, the parking lot in which we stopped did have a $5 fee, which would have allowed us to camp overnight—certainly a reasonable amount. (We found out later there's another parking area just beyond at which no fee is charged.) The campground supported tent camping only; no RVs. There was a pit toilet (not clean, lots of flies) but the campsites themselves were well-maintained and close to the river so the rush of water would have made for great sleeping.

Nude bathing is common at Umpqua Hot Springs. If this makes you uncomfortable, 
		we recommend you not go into the area. Please be considerate of others and remain 
		conventionally clothed at the parking lot.

A helpful sign with the bold letters NUDITY advised that Nude bathing is common at Umpqua Hot Springs. If this makes you uncomfortable, we recommend you not go into the area. That's tellin' 'em!

The springs are on the far side of the river from the campground. There once was a bridge crossing the river, from the looks of it a pretty sturdy affair. But high waters in some previous year had washed it away, leaving a tangled mess of logs and concrete. A replacement bridge had been made of a fallen tree a few dozen feet downstream. Someone had bolted planks to it to make for an easier walk across. I crossed it singing Planks For The Memories.

Planks for the memories. There's a long, long trail a-rising.

The hike was short but very steep. Michael and I both had to stop frequently for breath. One section was so steep that someone had constructed a railing. Another section also had a railing, not because it was steep, but because of its precipitous placement at the edge of a sheer cliff.

Me relaxing in the uppermost of three connected pools.

A short, level section led to the springs themselves.

Located on a bald rock section overlooking the river some three or four hundred feet below, surrounded by pines and maple and alders, the springs spout from breaks in the rock into a series of pools made of native stone and mortar. Each pool in a series is lower than the one below it, so water pours from the upper pools into the lower ones. The upper pools are therefore hotter than the lower ones. The hotter pools are suitable for therapeutic purposes; the lower pools, for long relaxing soaks. The picture on the right shows me in a soaking pool, with two other (cooler) pools below me. The green is from algae that grows there naturally; the orange is made up of sulfur deposits from the water.

Michael and Paul in hot water.

Most of the pools are large enough for two people, and deep enough for full immersion.

One of the pools is covered by a roof, though I can't imagine why a person who's already in a hot spring would worry about getting wet. Maybe it's to keep their clothes dry? (It was beautiful weather when we were there, so we hung our shorts and shirts on a tree branch.)

There were several other soakers there when we arrived: a twenty-something couple, a family including three small children, and a single guy. All were nude except for the mother. Michael and I stripped except for our Tivas and tried the unoccupied pools. I found the upper ones to be uncomfortably hot; but when the family left the young couple moved to the covered pool the family had been using so I took theirs. It was perfect. I lay back and was soon drifting and dreaming.

When I looked up again an hour or so had passed. The sun was still kissing the tops of the trees of the mountaintop across the river. A man was now sharing my pool, who introduced himself as Kenny, and explained without my asking that he was a former computer hardware guy and part-time personal trainer who had decided to retire and live in his car, traveling from place to place and sleeping, whenever possible, next to a rushing river or roaring stream or in a hot spring. He then went on to describe the woman he hoped to marry (he hadn't met her yet); she would have to be 100% naturally blonde with no tattoos and no more than two piercings (one per ear).

Kenny was interesting at first. However, he went on and on, never allowing an interruption or contribution to his monologue. It began to get tiresome, and then I began considering gnawing my own leg off if it would help me escape. Fortunately Michael, who had been soaking in a warmer pool, came over and suggested we leave before the sun set. After all, the trail was hard enough to navigate in full daylight. So I waved goodbye to Kenny—he wouldn't stop talking long enough for me to say goodbye—and we got dressed and left. Kenny was still calling out to me as we walked over the hill and out of sight.

Michael risks his life by drinking river water.

Our return hike, which was almost all downhill, was uneventful except that we began to realize we had each become extremely dehydrated in all the hot water over the past two days. When we got to the river, we drank from it. It was cold and fresh and delicious, though I had to drink first and Michael watched to be certain I wouldn't drop dead of Unclean Water Poisoning before he would try it. It always tickles me how people just assume anything in a plastic bottle (made of known carcinogens) is going to somehow be safer than something in its natural, pristine condition.

We did take our time. When we got to the car, Kenny came running up to us. I almost forgot—two more things I wanted to tell you guys. He then mentioned a book author he recommended, and asked what he should do about a muscle he'd pulled, though he interrupted Michael's answer with a suggestion of his own. He was still talking as we drove away.

When we come back here, I told Michael, we now know two more things to bring with us. Water, and…

Earplugs! Michael finished for me.

The long Northwest twilight made our trip to Roseburg on SR-138 most beautiful. The road followed the Umpqua River between towering peaks and sheer cliffs. Interesting rock formations punctuated the trip.

Twilight in the Cascades.

By the time we got to Roseburg, my blood sugar level was a negative number and we had to eat. I had planned to drive through a fast food place and eat as we continued on I-5 to Portland (a three-hour drive). But Roseburg had no fast food places that we could find, other than a small non-chain drive-in with carhop service where the waitress volunteered that everything on the menu was overpriced ($9 for three small chicken nuggets and fries). We took her advice and ate at Denny's.

The moment we hit I-5, our cell phones came to life. There was a message on mine from home: The restaurant found your camera. I repeat, the restaurant found your camera! Do not buy another one! We'd been having so much fun at the springs I hadn't even thought of going shopping. But I was glad my camera had been recovered.

It was 1 AM before we checked into our reserved room at Motel 6 in Portland. I had noticed that women in Oregon are supersized, but this motel clerk easily weighed 450 pounds. Her stomach poured down almost to her knees, as I could see from the folds in her caftan. Margarine is a costly substitute.

After sleeping for three hours Michael and I staggered out of bed to get to the airport for our separate flights home. In 36 hours we had managed to visit and soak in two hot springs, toured the Cascades, and enjoyed a couple of outstanding meals. Not bad for a weekend's vacation.