If you’re on an Oregon hot spring spree, don’t leave the Borax Lake and Hot Springs off your list. They're located in a beautiful and quiet place, embedded in a serene desert landscape. But be prepared to keep your feet dry, as these special water features are as unsuitable for bathing and swimming as they are lovely.
Located in southeastern Oregon near Steens Mountain, the area around Borax Hot Springs is known as the Alvord Desert, a dry desert landscape where a few glimmers of water remain. Take in the unique desert landscape, including the white, salty appearance of the soil. This is caused by high levels by the salt of boric acid that commonly occurs around seasonal lakes. It’s more commonly known as sodium borate, and is the base ingredient of borax.
Amazingly, a species of fish still thrives in Borax Lake. Named the Borax Lake chub, these endangered fish can be found in this isolated desert spring with no inlets or outlets. They’ve adapted to both the temperatures and high levels of arsenic found in these waters.
The hike to both the lake and the hot springs takes visitors across Nature Conservancy land, as the area was purchased by the nonprofit in 1993. This makes it a remote and quiet trek, taking adventurers first past the Lower Borax Lake Reservoir (which in the summertime will appear very shallow).
During the last ice age, the Alvord Desert was a giant lake and tributary of the Snake River. But now only a few wet spaces remain, including Borax Lake and the Borax Hot Springs.
Before heading out to visit the lake and hot springs in this area, note that the area is not developed for human convenience. Although there is a dirt track to traverse with a motor vehicle, it’s bumpy and can swiftly turn to mud in a rainstorm. Also, be prepared to park on the border of this sensitive ecosystem and walk the rest of the way.
For more information, including how to respectfully navigate this landscape, visit the Nature Conservancy’s webpage: http://bit.ly/1dzwU4H.
Note that swimming in any of the lakes or springs is prohibited due to the health dangers and the fact that they are nature preserves. Visit these nearby hot springs if you'd like some sublime soaks out in nature:
Alvord Hot Springs: https://www.shareoregon.com/en/listings/124955-soak-in-the-alvord-hot-springs
Crystal Crane Hot Springs: https://www.shareoregon.com/en/listings/125075-soak-at-crystal-crane-hot-springs
Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is also a must-see if you are into nature: https://www.shareoregon.com/en/listings/125270-bird-watching-in-malheur-national-wildlife-refuge