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Oregon hot springs--VERY LONG REPORT!

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November 16, 2011 12:54AM
I post this long essay-length report because I had fun writing it and remembering it all, but also because it has the kind of detail on some well-known Oregon springs that might be hard to find. I surely would have liked to read something this detailed before I planned me trip, to get a sense for what I might like or not from the below. Here goes:

I was lucky enough recently to have to travel to Oregon for work, where I rented an AWD vehicle to get around in for almost two weeks. I can’t really remember when I first became interested in going to Oregon, but it was during childhood and I have never been. I remember when I was a teenager and I got a copy of Lee Baxandall’s guide to nude beaches, the photographs of hot springs in Oregon caught my fascination. Such images of places I have never been, and the palpable legacy in many of them of the counter-culture of the 60s/70s/early-80s, still fascinate me. During my time up in Oregon I not only hiked in many beautiful places out in nature but also made a point of visiting a few of these hot springs and wanted to post about them here. Feel free to spread this post to other soaking boards more frequented by Oregon travelers or soakers if you use them, but please let me know what these boards are so I can check them out myself.

First, I was able to drive out to Bagby Hot Springs on Sunday Nov. 6. The drive after Estacada into the Mount Hood National Forest is tear-producing beautiful, and as it was my first time out in the Oregon forests, it made even more of an impression on me. Bagby is not hard to find with online directions, and as opposed to what I am used to at Deep Creek, the roads without snow are a breeze, all paved, no dirt, even the forest service roads. I got to the Bagby trailhead around 10:30 am and there were probably about 7 cars parked there. The lot is pretty large. I was careful not to leave anything attractive in view in my vehicle given the warnings about break-ins I read online, but couldn’t do much about my suitcase - a little worrisome but nothing happened that day to my things. You pay a five-dollar fee, put an envelope in a box and a slip on your dash.

The hike in to the spring takes about 35-45 minutes, a good mile and a half I think. It is a beauty of a hike, nothing like Deep Creek, all level with a few impressive wooden bridges over creeks and cascading streams. Old growth pine forest. It was an overcast and moist day, with water in the air but not really rain, temperature in the 40s. After a while, you sense a clearing in the woods up ahead, and then the old bathhouse structures of Bagby come into view, like a welcome settlement in the wild. Even after the recent renovations and changes, it is a stunning place, the carved wooden troughs carrying volumes of water from the spring source to the tubs, the tubs themselves, the rough-hewn wooden bathhouses, etc. I peeked into the four or five “private” rooms, the ones that still have the old carved logs as tubs, but they were mostly in use and closed. So I made my way to the communal bathing area behind the private tubs, which is the one area where you can be nude, though it also seemed fine to wander a bit outside this area for cooling down and cold water from the cistern or to use the bathroom, and people were doing this nude during the course of the day. The tubs in the communal area have been “updated,” and are now one big round tub that can hold--and did hold by the end of the day--about 10 people; and three smaller ones of varying depth and shape but like open wine barrels, or like bathtubs from the pioneer days. They have small step-stools so you can climb up into them. When I arrived, each tub was occupied by one or two guys, but two guys had just emptied their tub and offered it to me. So I stripped down to use it, but they let me know that I would have to go back and forth a few times to the cold water cistern outside the bathhouse to fill buckets of ice cold water to regulate the temperature. There is a lever you turn at one end of all the tubs and it lets piping hot spring water into a small trough to start filling the tub from above. Some scrub brushes and the like around. A bit of trash honestly, but I guess here people expect to be cleaned up after as they leave things in the provided cans. Lots of remnants of wax and candles, and, actually, metal fixtures to place them on. Strangely, someone had left two bright neon-colored g-strings or panties, and their rain boots on the floor. Seems like you might want to forget your g-string, but not your rubber boots in the wet wild! These caused some laughter over the course of the day.

The water did come out super hot, hotter than you could stand, and I think I mixed in at least five or six buckets of ice water before I could get in, and it takes a while for the tub to fill. But really amazing when you do: super hot, much hotter than DCHS, but cooling over time, and with the freezing cold day and rain at times coming down through the openings in the roof above, you can regulate your temperature and have a great soak. From time to time I would get out of the tub and just sit on one of the benches nearby or stand in the cold air on the open deck over the stream that runs downhill from the bathhouse. Your whole body would turn red or pink and steam in the cold air, like you were on fire. Also when I got warmed up enough I started going out to the cistern from time to time, grabbing a big bucket of ice water, stepping into the forest nearby, and dumping it straight over my head. A bit of a scream, a whoop, or perhaps a yelp. Then back to the tubs. Sometimes you brought the buckets of ice water to the tubs, to be dumped over your head while still inside. Water splashing and overflowing everywhere, much fun, like that scene in Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings where the hobbits all bathe together after their hikes and troubles in the forest. (I think of this for Oregon is very Tolkein-like, it seemed to me, and someone had carved “J.R.R. was here” on one of the walls of the bathhouse.) Then you could empty out some of the water by lifting the plug at the bottom of each tub and heat things up again if you wished by reopening the valves. If the private tubs were being filled up above, the water would be sluggish at best down in the communal bath, sometimes non-existent; you had to wait until that upper flow was stopped for the water to gush again.

There was an interesting moment of transition when suddenly the small group of us (all men) using the four communal tubs in the morning, one to each basically, found ourselves confronted with a lot of newcomers around noon. A bunch of groups of 20-somethings hiked in at that time, men and women, one a group of 12 or so, with a small kid in tow. One woman came in on her own. There was a little awkward period, it seemed to me, as the groups stood around in the small bathhouse waiting, clothed, while four or five guys soaked nude in the four tubs. I thought this silly and so broke the silence and awkwardness. “I don’t know the etiquette here,” I said, “as I’ve never been before: I definitely don’t want to stop soaking yet but I don’t claim this tub as ‘mine.’ I cleaned it before I got in, I took a shower this morning, and where I go to use hot springs, we all share the pools together.” There was a palpable sigh of relief, and I actually got out of my tub to cool off for a while, and the young folk started stripping down and getting into “my” tub, and the others, as the other guys all echoed my invitation for all to start to share the tubs together. Eventually, I would say that from around noon until 3 pm, we were about 20-25 young people, using the four tubs together (which could probably only hold 18 or 19 max at any one time), all of us nude except for that one single young woman who came on her own, and chose to wear a bathing suit. She was cool though and mostly soaked with me since I was there on my own too. I was touched by the fact that when she was done, she got changed and dressed and then came back over to my tub and thanked me for letting her soak with me. What a smile, I thought, and what a beautiful thing to thank each other for, and I wished her well as she continued her travels and hiking. With the exception of the 10 person round tub, which has a built in bench, the other tubs are small, so it is an interesting experience to crowd in and share! You have to be cool, and it is definitely social on a weekend and nice to meet and talk with lots of people. We were having fun like little kids by the end of the day all together--well one of us was actually a little kid, he couldn’t have been more than four--and so an older woman in her 60s or 70s from Florida came into the bathhouse and asked to take our picture since it looked so amazing and fun. No one minded. Guys being guys, some of the young men stood up in their tubs and posed, laughing and hooting, and more pictures were taken. Some older folks in Florida will be seeing quite some tourist pictures when that lady returns home. I have to say it was much “freer” than down at DCHS usually is, the youth up here in the Northwest seem much cooler about social nudity and were really into the experience of the springs.

Before some of the guys in the big group of 12 got nude and in the tubs, they did some mushrooming just in the woods nearby, mostly within sight of the bathhouse. I watched them closely from the bathhouse, as I have always been fascinated by mushrooming/foraging, my grandfather used to do it but never had the chance to teach me his knowledge. They came back with at least five huge chanterelles, as big as my fist, and one purple mushroom as big as my forearm. Well, almost. I was amazed by this.

Reluctantly, most of us got dressed at the same time around 3 and I hiked out, leaving the bathhouse to a completely new group as more crowds were arriving at that point in the day. I passed at least 15 people as I hiked out to drive back to “civilization.” My only regret of the Oregon trip is that I did not have another day where I returned to Bagby. I will dream about it until I do return. I had a ball, and fell in love with the bathhouses there. Perhaps it was just a really fun crowd, but I think it was both the people I happened to share it with, and the place itself.

Some days and much work later, I was closer to Eugene and on a beautiful, 55-60 degree sunny day drove out to Cougar (or Terwilliger) Hot Springs. It only takes about 50 minutes to get there from Eugene, a beauty of a drive through farmland and then up the MacKenzie river to the turn off for the Cougar Reservoir which is stunning as well. If I lived in Eugene, I’d probably be there several days a week! At this time of the year, water level was low, and so the landscape around the reservoir looks quite surreal. The water is intense turquoise, the earth here almost red as opposed to the black volcanic soil I saw in most other places in Oregon. The visit started off strange. It was a Thursday. Upon arrival around 9:30 am, I noticed two vehicles parked near the small cabin at the trailhead, really a hut for an attendant who takes fees and the like. No one was in the parking area, which is a few hundred feet further on the road past the trailhead. I noticed a lot of broken car window glass in this parking lot unfortunately, in at least four spots. I uneasily parked my car, and while I got my stuff ready, I warily eyed a transient looking young fellow slowly making his way from the trailhead over toward me. He told me the springs were “closed.” It was a bit confusing, but I guess on Thursday morning they close the springs until noon for cleaning each week. There was a small paper sign saying this, taped to a table near the attendant’s booth. I saw nothing about this in any of the things about Cougar I read online, so I was pretty disappointed. I decided to hike in to the springs anyway, which is not difficult as the springs are only about five minutes from the roadside on a clearly marked trail into the woods. The transient guy hiked in with me, and we talked. He wanted a ride from me back to Eugene, he told me a group of his friends had come to Cougar four days earlier and had been staying ever since and had run out of provisions. I came across his five other friends, guys and girls, a few hundred yards in. He stayed with them and I continued on to the springs. Two guys were cleaning the whole area, emptying and power-hosing the tubs, scrubbing, collecting trash, washing the changing area, etc. I talked to them a bit, told them I came all the way from California, but there was no way they were letting me use the springs until noon they informed me. Cougar is now run by a group for the forest service, and they often have an attendant at the booth and clean the springs each Thursday morning. So note to all: Cougar is closed on Thursdays from 9 am to 12 noon. Like at Bagby, the fee for day-use is $5.

So I hiked back out. Now the whole group of transient-seeming youths were milling about my car in the parking lot. They didn’t ask me for a ride again, as it was clear I wasn’t heading back to civilization so easily or so soon. But they did ask me for food and water. I thought about what I could give them, realized I had myself been given some soda and had it in the car, and gave it all to them. They were really grateful, and took the soda and hiked off to get back to the main road and I guess a bus back to Eugene, a hike of some miles. I started driving around the Cougar Reservoir area, including some off-road ambling down to its shores, very beautiful. By 11:30 am, I was back at the springs. The cleaning guys greeted my persistence with a smile, and in fact they were pretty much done, just watching the pools slowly fill back up, and throwing buckets of water on the wooden changing structure. There are five pools that descend a gentle vale in-between two old-growth wooded slopes, with a tiny two-foot or so stream gurgling along one side. It is a bit muddy but there are rocks to walk on all around the pools. The source emerges from a small cave or opening in the rocks, big enough to crawl into like a steaming sweat lodge for one or two non-claustrophobic people. The spring water is unlike Bagby as it is strongly sulfurous, with a very intense odor at least that day, and after a thorough cleaning. The top pool is then the hottest, not as hot as Bagby, temperature around 108. Pretty warm, but on a cold day you can regulate your temp by getting out and sitting on a rock nearby, the pool is pretty large and beautiful, maybe 20 feet across, or by standing or sitting on a bench in the wooden structure just above. The pools get progressively cooler as they flow down, the cleaners told me not to use the lowest or fifth pool as it receives all the “filth” of the years, they said. A user later in the day called the second pool the “Goldilocks” pool, as it is “not too hot and not too cold.” Just right. I loved the third pool, like a nice bath, temperature in the 90s, and a beautiful waterfall into it from the pool above and rocks to prop oneself on while floating. You could probably fall asleep in that one, all day long. No one used the fourth and fifth pools while I was there.

Given the closure, I had the place to myself from 11:30 until around 12:30. The entire springs to myself, with the sole exception of my only companion, an immense and chatty raven in the dense trees above. People, mostly guys at first, then started showing up with increasing numbers as the day wore on. Cougar is more like Deep Creek than Bagby, as it is a natural springs, but the rock work and structures to shore up the pools built there recently by volunteers are pretty ambitious and kind of amazing to behold. Another difference is that the whole area is “officially” clothing-optional. It is posted as such at the trailhead, which is nice. The only rule on nudity is that you can’t be nude within 50 feet or yards of the road, I can’t remember which. It must be nice in summer, as you could amble nude around the trails in the warmth, and about two minutes into the woods from the road there is a side trail on the left that leads to a swimming lagoon with a really tall waterfall feeding it from the mountain above. At this time of the year, it was not a question of cold water though - the lagoon was gone. No water at all, it had been drained completely, even though the waterfall was still falling. As I got hotter after soaking for a bit, I did do some nude ambling around the springs area and the nearby woods no matter, to cool off and just enjoy the freedom of the nudity and the feeling of being one with the forest. There are some simple amenities near the springs, two outhouses or toilets up a trail uphill from the area, a small posted section for tying up your dogs, some benches here and there. Like at Bagby and other Oregon hot springs, there is a covered changing area with benches where you can strip down and hang your clothes on many wooden pegs. Given the rainy climate, these structures are necessary to keep your clothes and possessions dry. It is lovely and communal, and makes the springs more “bathhouse” like even though there were no other structures like at Bagby.

I was able to stay and soak until around 3 pm again. Mostly single guys, but also a few single women came on their own too, so people obviously feel safe here during the day (having an attendant at the booth by the road surely must help in this). Pretty much everyone was nude. I had nice long chats with some of the regulars, about this and other springs, about the history of Cougar too from a regular who had once “run” Cougar he said in the 90s, and lived out by the springs for some time. It seems like it was really different in the past, lots more drugs, and people living out there. During my visit, it was all guys in the morning, but by the time I left things had completely changed. Most of the guys had hiked out, and a group of 4-6 women arrived, a mother and her adult daughter, other female friends. Chatted a bit with them then hiked out myself. I passed only women hiking in while I was hiking out, another 6 or so in pairs, so the afternoon crowd was different than the early crowd on this crisp sunny day. The only thing I was missing at Cougar without the ability to swim in the lagoon were some buckets for collecting the cold trickle of stream water to cool yourself off with, some kind of cold plunge would be amazing. I would say no more than 8-10 people at any one time were using the springs while I was there Thursday, but all were talking about the crowds to come Friday and Saturday, as for the Veteran’s Day holiday the attendant informed me and others that the springs would be free, no charge. I wonder how that was. Cougar would definitely be interesting to visit in the snow, in the winter, and would be high on my list of places I would want to visit in the summer, when you could hike and swim more in the vicinity.

An interesting thing happened to me on the drive back to Eugene. It is a bit of a story. Earlier, during my Bagby visit, some of the young women there were telling me that I should definitely go to Breitenbush Hot Springs if I love hot springs. I had not planned on it, given that Breitenbush is more of a resort/hotel than a natural or park-land spring. But seeing how they recommended it to me so strongly, I changed my mind and called by Monday for a reservation the following weekend. It is hard to get in touch with people at Breitenbush, but you can email and call. They eventually email and call you back. When I was finally able to speak with someone over a day later, they informed me that the place was absolutely booked, with a waitlist of some 19-20 people, and no room for any day-use visitors either, which they do allow in small numbers. (Breitenbush is a developed spring area, a former or old resort repurposed by hippies in the ‘70s, with small cabins and Lodge rooms you can rent, and vegetarian meals served as part of your fee for staying. From what I could gather before visiting, it seemed like a more rustic, isolated Esalen Institute or Harbin Hot Springs, though actually I have been to neither, just spoken with others about them.) They were very kind about delivering the bad news. So I concluded that a visit to Breitenbush was not meant to be. Then a day later I received a late-day email informing me of a cabin availability. I called back, very excited, and when they returned my call another day later they seemed perplexed, and reiterated to me that no cabins were available, it must have been a mistake. Crushed. Thursday morning before heading out to Cougar, I emailed them one last desperate time, wondering about coming on Friday, the next day, and staying the night if there were any cancellations. While at Cougar, the four women who arrived later and with whom I chatted were all talking about their times at Breitenbush, and how amazing it was. Again! I told them my saga, my sorry tale. They were sorry to hear it, and wished me luck as I left, calling out to me, “We hope you find a hot spring tomorrow to soak in!” I didn’t think it would be a problem given their numbers in Oregon. But just minutes later as I was driving back to Eugene, and came back into cell phone range, I saw that Breitenbush had emailed me during the day, saying that now two cabins had available spots in them. I pulled over at the side of the road and was able to reserve and pay for a space in a shared, non-plumbing but heated cabin for the next night. Bursting with excitement.

I had work Friday morning, but after lunch was able to drive north along country roads to Route 22 eventually, and east to Detroit, Oregon, where one finds the forest road 46 and the (finally dirt) roads after a one-lane bridge to Breitenbush. The weather had changed, colder, and with wet obviously on the way. I knew it would be a rainy stay. They ask you to arrive after 3 pm, which is when I was able to get there, though you can come earlier if you have a reservation and pay a small additional fee. It was very new and foreign to me, but I was open to the whole experience. Very much carrying on the spirit of the 60s/70s, the spirit of a commune, I was greeted at the gate by a young woman, who hailed me: “Welcome Home.” A big smile. She explained the rules: I was to park and then walk “500 steps” down a road to the main office where I could pay any remaining fees and obtain my cabin assignment. The whole area was very wooded and already dark with trees and fast-moving rain clouds. The Breitenbush river roared noisily nearby. It seemed very isolated, the cabins near the parking small and sturdy, the main Lodge on the way to the office beautiful and grand. Young post-hippie-looking guys were working the grounds, doing communal chores, raking and gardening and such. I could hear people cooking in the communal kitchen building, and it already smelled pretty nice as I passed by. In the main office, seemingly original members of the community greeted guests, an older generation in charge of things. They smiled at each other sweetly as they worked. Everyone seemed very unperturbed and happy. Various books were there for sale, New Age volumes, things about love and consciousness, guides to hot springs and mushrooming, texts on yoga and massage, etc. Body products, like the Alafia brand, were for sale, as you can only use biodegradable products on the grounds, and they require that you refrain from using all scented products like deodorant or perfume too (you are also not allowed to bring or consume drugs or alcohol, cigarette smoking is allowed in only one small area pretty much off the grounds near the parking lot, and you have to bring your own caffeine if you are addicted -- I came armed with two units of Starbucks espresso in a can.). Some craft objects were also for sale. As were toe rings and other body decorations. I was informed that sheets and towels would be waiting for me in my cabin, as I had reserved them (most folks bring their own); that none of the cabins had locks or keys, all was open; and that I would have a male roommate following a yoga course. He turned out to be from Alaska, an easy-going guy with an interesting name (many people had non-traditional names that often I asked them to spell) and his quiet demeanor made sharing the small cabin uneventful and comfortable. Most people I met were doing some kind of class or longer retreat, mostly for yoga, though some were doing other classes like meditation or “tantric massage.” There were classes or forms of yoga I did not know, like “Erdu.” I think. “What is Erdu?” an older woman asked me that night at dinner. Wrong person to ask! But I went with the flow. I was one of the ones there just for what they call a “personal retreat.”

I found my cabin with some help from a woman on the cleaning crew, and she delivered me my sheets, blankets and towels. She was cool, super friendly, and I would see her cleaning hot spring pools too during my stay. She always greeted me when she would see me like we were friends. She wore a jaunty hat with a feather stuck in it at times, and seemed both Latina and perhaps lesbian. I only mention this as the place was extremely female friendly, with a very strong lesbian presence, many female couples often with their children. I do think during my visit that women definitely outnumbered men at the resort. This is rare and remarkable I think for clothing-optional places, and it testifies to the supportive and nurturing spirit of the place, all are welcome and many women find it to be a place of comfort obviously. On their calendar, they do have a few women-only days and events like a sweat lodge ceremony.

The cabin was cozy if small. The beds were probably full size though, and turned out to be quite comfortable. All was clean, it was definitely what my friends call “glamping,” glamorous camping. The coolest thing about the cabins is that even the rustic ones without plumbing are toasty and warm, with a radiator that provides geothermal heat to the structure. All of the heat comes from the hot springs on the grounds. I thought this was amazing. The commune is off the grid and makes their own electricity, purifies their own water, etc. I got myself settled and made my way out onto the property to do some soaking. I would be there to soak for the next 24 hours. It was intense, the longest I have ever done such a thing. By the end I really wondered with some envy and amazement at people I would meet who were there for five days, ten days, two weeks...some longer.

There are basically two different hot spring areas. Down below the Lodge, toward the river are the Spiral Pools. These are four man-made concrete tubs, round, with raised edges each decorated with a different tile or a different painted color. Set in a geometric pattern, they circle around a central changing and seating area. One is meant to circulate between them and each one gets progressively hotter, with the warmest tub at 108 degrees. An attendant comes by and measures the pool temperature frequently, even later at night. Someone must have come by to take the pool temperature at least three times while I was there. A drinking fountain with crystal clean water is there, and a wooden cold plunge barrel tub, filled with icy water. The pools are pleasant and chatty. I was immediately joined in my tub, the second hottest, by two older woman, one from SoCal, one from France. They were visiting together, and much fun really. I noticed other Europeans were around me, one woman from Germany, another from England, maybe two from England. They say the bathing areas--and only the bathing areas--are all clothing-optional, but to be honest I did not see a single person use the pools and springs with clothing during the entirety of my stay, with the exception of one or two small children. You have to be dressed everywhere else, but in the pools, everyone goes nude. It is really, really nice.

And what people! All different ages, all different sizes, all different backgrounds, all different reasons why they were there. It was quite lovely, and also at times intense, with much New Age speak and also serious talk about life, crises, problems, hopes, dreams. After soaking for over an hour in the Spiral tubs, I got dressed--this is the cruel part about Breitenbush, if you don’t bring a robe you have to keep getting dressed to go from pool to pool on the grounds, though admittedly it was pretty cold, and I guess you could just run about in your towel if it wasn’t. Then I made my way back up to the Lodge and past it to the adjoining meadow, where you first pass a Steam Sauna building and then come upon three more natural hot spring pools, called the Sacred Pools. Each gets progressively hotter as you walk away from the Lodge, and are set on the edge of a meadow overlooking the river to a mountainous vista on the other side. The last pool is a silent pool, with no talking allowed, and where people mostly come to meditate. It is probably around 106-108 degrees as well. I started in the first pool: the stonework is cool with crystals embedded in the rocks, and lounge-chair-like structures built into the pool with the rocks. Amazingly comfortable to lay and soak in. Amazing view. Nearby are more cold-water fountains, and instead of a cold plunge, they have ice cold showers to cool off with. Changing areas with benches abut each of the three springs. Some couples were doing watsu massage in the middle pool. By the time I made it to the silent pool, the sun was in deep retreat. It was getting dark. You should come better prepared than I if you visit with a good flashlight. Breitenbush has installed hardly any lights at all, surely none near the pools, and the place especially with a storm coming gets truly pitch black dark. I had a cell phone flashlight, but that was all. It was not enough.

Fifteen minutes before each meal--dinner at 6 pm, breakfast at 8 am, lunch at 1 pm--a bell or gong rings out “across the land,” as they put it. It rings again when the meal is served. Everyone gathers at the Lodge, and the vegetarian feast begins. They are known for the quality of the cooking now, I remember rice and a tofu stir fry, peanut curry noodles, a full salad bar, miso soup, intense lemon ginger tea. No sugar, no dessert. The French woman from the Spiral Tubs brought me a French magazine to read that she had finished with, as a typical gesture of friendship; you just start talking to people, most are very open and friendly. A woman named Ronly sat down with me, and she turned out to be one of the invited yoga masters/instructors, and her fiancé was also holding “kirtan” sessions with some kind of musical instrument, a harmonium, for sound and meditation. I told them of my various hot spring adventures and they laughed and thought a hot spring tour would make a good honeymoon idea. But by the next morning, word got around, and I was known to some as the hot spring guy, when I would talk to people in the pools they would say: “Oh, we heard about you, you are the guy traveling in Oregon and going to lots of hot springs.” Like there is something weird about that? “Oh yeah, I heard about you. The hot spring guy.”

By the time dinner was over, it was raining pretty hard. Struggled in the rain and with my weak flashlight to hike back to the cabins, and to even find my own. Thought I should get some things I forgot from my car--like my cell phone charger!--but when I wandered out in the pitch dark and the rain, I got disoriented and defeated, and so made my way back to the cabin. Barely! I regrouped and read a Ray Bradbury book, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and chuckled to myself at the potential perversity of reading it at this hippie paradise of sorts. My roommate was out at a yoga session. Finished the book, and decided around 8 pm I would get to the Spiral Tubs again to soak, by hook or by crook; they are less precarious in the dark than the natural pools. It was still raining, and very cold, almost freezing. Some spoke of potential snow. A few folks were at the Spiral pools when I arrived, and your eyes adjusted to the dark, and you eventually got the shivers and chills out of your bones. We all discussed the strategy of finishing your soak with a cold plunge, and how it would “seal” in the heat and make it easier, ironically, for you to walk back to your cabin in the cold, cold night. It took some bravery to do something like this given the cold. I soaked until around 10, by which time the rain had stopped and there was a full moon through cloud breaks, amazingly beautiful and eventually the moon made it easier to hike back to my cabin. I returned there by 10:30, to find my roommate sleeping already but with the lights left kindly on for me, and so I quickly sacked out too. A deep, intense sleep without dreams.

He was up by 6 am for more yoga. It is like that there, a true retreat and purification place. I rose by 6:30, and after showering and washing up (in the cabin area, they have bathhouses for men and for women), made my way by 7 am to the Sacred pools. Thus began an intense day of soaking and sweating. From the Silent pool, I could see across the river and in the higher elevations that it had indeed snowed the night before; the pines were frosted white with snow (I would also find some snow on my car later that morning). The morning soak was beautiful, the light increasing, the clouds still persistent but mixed with breaks of blue. But then a short-lived fog rolled into the area, and by the time it was gone, so too were all traces of the snow. I made my way back to the first Sacred pool with the places for laying and lounging, and was joined by a very wise-beyond-her-years sixteen-year-old young woman. She chatted with me a lot, and told me she had been coming to Breitenbush since she was a young child with her family, and like many youngin’s I met out there, even speculated that she might have been at Breitenbush some months before she was born, when her mom was pregnant. A third woman joined us, and then some more. I was the only man, and this was very common during my stay in any pool I visited. The breakfast bell rang out.

Breakfast was eggs with zucchini and cheese, peppermint tea, hot oatmeal with almonds and honey. Lunch later that day was my favorite of all the meals, with more sushi rice, a “roasted red roots” dish--carrots, squash, red onions, etc.--that was amazing, a jalapeno salt for flavor, hunks of fresh baked brown break with slabs of butter, apple spiced tea. Between meals I returned to the Sacred Pools, but then discovered the Steam Sauna. I hadn’t used it at all the first day, but once I discovered it I was hooked. It was, in my opinion, the best thing on the property. You can find pictures of it online. It is an old wooden hut, with windows--some covered in glass, some with sliding wooden slats you can open or shut for temperature control--and low-slung wooden swing doors to enter. The entire inside is wood, with wide wooden benches that could seat maybe 12 to 15 on all sides, and a wooden slat floor, with slits open to a gurgling hot spring a few feet below the ground. The hot spring heats the whole building and fills it with glorious steam. There is a water fountain inside, and a hose for spraying ice-cold water on the benches and on yourself, eventually, creating more steam, and an intense feeling of invigoration. There was also a leather strap on a beam up by the ceiling, for hanging on and stretching--a woman showed me how to use it, and there hanging on it before her, she insisted, “Now raise your legs!” and I began to spin and rotate in the center of the small space. In fact, Breitenbush is the kind of place where upon arriving at the sauna, I entered to find a young guy buck-naked and upside-down on his bench, doing a yoga pose up the side of the sauna wall, balls and buttocks where his head should be. I proclaimed, “Oh, now I know how I am supposed to sit when using the sauna!” Laughter all around. Outside, there were comfortable wooden benches in the open air, an ice cold shower with heart-shaped openings in its nozzle (homemade?), and a claw-footed tub for taking bracing cold plunges. The sauna was a friendly, social place; talked to many people in the two hours or so that I used it, especially the upside-down naked yoga guy, who was a people magnet and looked a lot like James Franco. I admired his spirit a lot, and enjoyed the conversations.

By midday, I was feeling pretty blissed out. Also potentially getting to the point of bodily limits, no matter how intensely I kept myself hydrated, nor how frequently I took short breaks and cold plunges. It was a lot of soaking and sauna use. Also, they mention that there is lithium in the hot spring water, and maybe it was my imagination, but I did feel kind of “high” using the waters of this place. There was just something magical about it, and while I had to move on by 2 or 3 pm, another return to “civilization,” I know I will come back someday, hopefully with my loved one.

And so ended the saga of the Oregon hot springs. Bagby, Cougar, Breitenbush. I will want to return to all three, but for different reasons, and add to them others that I discussed with more local hotspringers in my travels, like Umpqua or McCredie perhaps, or others to the east. It is my hope that my times in Oregon are just beginning. For I fell in love with the place.
SubjectAuthorViewsPosted

Oregon hot springs--VERY LONG REPORT!

neogeo5829November 16, 2011 12:54AM

Re: Oregon hot springs--VERY LONG REPORT!

Paul P.834November 16, 2011 12:30PM

Re: Oregon hot springs--VERY LONG REPORT!

mdskibum720November 16, 2011 01:39PM

Re: Oregon hot springs--VERY LONG REPORT!

neogeo1259November 16, 2011 08:24PM



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