Borax Hot Springs

December 28, 2013.

Borax Hot Springs road out-and-back | 3 miles | 60′ ele gain | 3 hours

Photos from the entire trip are on Google+


We had a long day yesterday, so we savored a late wake-up time and a big, tasty breakfast.

Before heading to the Alvord Desert, we decided to take a detour to Borax Hot Springs. It was a short, level hike between the Pueblos and the Alvord, with a mildly interesting description in the Sullivan guidebook.

When we arrived, we were greeted by a sign with the following assertions:




Okay, now this roadside attraction had captured my attention.

We parked by a gate and walked up a dirt road through ordinary, brown sagebrush. In the distance, we could see large patches of golden grass. We passed through another gate, then the road began to take on a different texture. It was spongy, and there were patches of white crystals coating the road surface.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”The road cuts through this very wild place” type=”image” alt=”DSCN1702.JPG” pe2_single_image_size=”s600″ ]

On the side of the road we saw some old, rusted boiling vats that were used when this was an active borax mining operation over a century ago. These vats were used to process the raw sodium borate gathered from the area into crystalline borax, which could then be sold for use as a household or industrial chemical.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Old steel boiling vats left behind at Borax Hot Springs” type=”image” alt=”DSCN1711.JPG” ]

Continuing along the road, we came to the muddy shores of Borax Lake, the only home of the Borax Lake chub. This tough little fish thrives in the warm waters of Borax Lake. Although arsenic levels in the lake are 25 times the lethal limit for humans, they pose no threat to the fish. We chose not to take a dip in the lake.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Algae decorates the pool” type=”image” alt=”IMG_20131228_124121.jpg” ]

As we walked up the road further, we began to come across the hot springs, lined up in a row on the right hand side of the road. We were amazed by the delicate shapes on the lip of each lake. Algae of all imaginable colors grew in intricate, unusual structures in the steamy water. Each pool was unique. We wandered slowly, investigating each pool, and choosing the least mucky way to walk from one pool to the next. My winter Crocs were a poor choice; boots would have been better to negotiate the deep mud and standing water on the road.

We kept walking down the road to a stair-step ladder that took us over a barbed wire fence, then continued to the last couple of large pools. From there, we baked in the warm sunshine and enjoyed the silent, never-ending views of the desert and surrounding mountain ranges. We could see Pueblo Mountain (where we were yesterday), the Steens, and the Trout Creek Mountains. 

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Crossing the barbed wire fence” type=”image” alt=”IMG_20131228_123937550_HDR.jpg” ]

As we slowly and carefully returned to the car, I reflected on the last minute choice to come here. I wasn’t particularly interested, due to the short mileage, minimal elevation gain, and lack of soaking options, but I quickly warmed to the experience of visiting such a unique and isolated place. I highly recommend a stop here if you ever make the drive along the east side of Steens Mountain.

We ate lunch at the car, and drove up to the Alvord Desert next.

Continue reading about our eastern Oregon adventure here:

West Side of Steens Mountain
Pueblo Mountain
The Alvord Desert
Pike Creek Canyon
Mickey Hot Springs and Mann Lake 
Diamond Craters

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