My personal feeling is that if you are willing to wade into unusual waters, you’ll be gifted with something unexpectedly rewarding. That’s the way it was Memorial Day weekend at Summer Lake Hot Springs. As a local resident of Summer Lake said to us during our stay, “People either love it here, or they think it’s the middle of nowhere.”
Perhaps the truth of the place is somewhere in between. Summer Lake is in the central-southern part of the state in an area cryptically known as Oregon’s Outback. Just two hours south of Bend, the lake in this section of quintessential high desert—dry, open, thick with sage brush and jackrabbits—feels much more otherworldly than it even has a right to. Flat with a wide alkaline-white rim, Summer Lake serves as a mirror to the sky, which is utterly, astonishingly expansive and just the perfect shade of baby blue. The sky becomes a part of you at Summer Lake. It presses down, getting into your business, dominating your impressions of the world. You can’t keep your eyes off of the sky even if you want to—it’s too vast and too stunning.
But it’s true that, at Summer Lake Hot Springs, visitors must absorb a little bit of the funky along with their dose of big ol’ marvelous sky. The bath house, which surrounds a delightfully warm hot mineral swimming pool, was built in 1928, and is correspondingly droopy. A couple of cabins were recently added to the rustic assortment of lodgings: visitors can also hook up an RV or pitch a tent.
The whole motley place sprawls on 148 acres of desert ripe for exploring. The upshot of this diversity is that just about anybody can, and does, show up at Summer Lake Hot Springs. A spandex-ed road cyclist came in at dinner time, just after two pick-up-loads of Wrangler-wearing teenagers and a gigantic RV. I met fish and wildlife biologists from Klamath Falls and students from Warrenton in the outdoor soaking pool—the source for which varies between 106 and 113 degrees, with a view of Winter Rim. The owner, Duane Graham, is himself a Portland transplant who bought the property in 1996 and moved from the city permanently a few years ago. Duane is friendly, passionate about Summer Lake and this old hot springs, and looks like I felt by the time we left—wind-whipped, relaxed and happy. Seems like when it comes to our feelings about Summer Lake, Duane and I both fall into the “love it” category.