The Phoenix One Journals Stories from the dawn of RoadTrip America
to Lakeview and Valley Falls, Oregon; Highway 31 to Summer Lake Hot Springs
November 22, 1998
Goose Lake is a big, gray expanse of water that straddles the border between California and Oregon. Highway 395 runs up the east side to Lakeview. We drove on through the town because little red letters spelled out "Hunter's Hot Springs" on our map. It was a chilly day, and the thought of a steamy soak was enough to keep us rolling until, sure enough, a sign rose on the left side of the highway.
The parking lot was deserted, but Hunter's Hot Springs was nonetheless open for business. After chatting with Ron, the man at the front desk, we learned that Lakeview is famous among hang gliders. "See that tower up there on the mountain?" Ron asked, pointing. "They jump off the top. The world championships were held here last year."
Ron pointed out the road that led to the launching area. "You could go up there in your rig," he said. "The view is fabulous."
After making arrangements to spend the night in the motel parking lot, we headed back into Lakeview to explore. Sure enough, a small road leading northeast from the center of town bore a sign that read "Hang Glider Port." The sky was blue and clear.
"Want to go up there?" I asked Mark, and in reply he turned the Phoenix up the hill.
The road rose sharply, and soon we found ourselves in a winter wonderland. The snow was brilliant on the pines, and the road was dry and clear. We arrived at a fork.
Not going anywhere
"I don't know which way to go," said Mark. "Maybe we should turn around."
Maybe we should have, but we didn't. We took the path that looked more traveled and continued. The snow was deeper now, the forest even more beautiful under its sparkling blanket. The road was narrower, too. There was no place to turn a 32-foot behemoth around.
And it came to pass that we arrived at a spot from which we could proceed neither forward nor back, a spot where we metamorphosed from jolly observers into immobile pieces of landscape. Four-wheel drive was useless. The Phoenix was stuck in a deep rut. It started to snow.
Mark went to work with a shovel, and I did the same with a cellular telephone. Mark dug icy mud from under the tires. I called RV Emergency Road Service.
Maybe we could have regained mobility on our own, but I for one was relieved to see the red lights of a tow truck crawl slowly up the hill. I was thrilled to be on the receiving end of the winching skills of Roger Bryant and his crew, and even happier to know we'd get down the mountain before dark.
B & T Towing winches the Phoenix back onto the road
The first yank with the winch freed the Phoenix from the rut and enabled Mark to back down the road to a wide spot. Yank number two pulled the Phoenix out of a snow bank and pointed it in the right direction to follow Roger, Dale, Lyle & Jeremy sheepishly down the hill.
"We could have done itourselves," said Mark as we sat under the stars in the hot pool at Hunter's that night, "But I guess I'm glad you called for help." And we probably could have.
On the other hand, we might still be up there, digging and swearing and uprooting innocent trees with our winch cable. As I sank under the steamy water and watched the Leonid meteor shower under an endless sky, I was glad our pride had not been too large to swallow.
The next morning, we drove north once more, passing the Albert Rim. Discovered in 1843 by John Fremont, this basalt scarp rises 2500 feet above the valley floor, making it one of the tallest such outcroppings in the United States. Highway 395 follows the rim, skirting the east side of Lake Albert. We would have followed the historic route if we hadn't spied another set of little red letters on our map. "Summer Lake Hot Springs" they read.
"It'll probably be closed," I said, "But it's worth a detour to find out." Mark readily agreed, and soon we were heading northwest on Highway 31, across endless golden hay fields.
Summer Lake Hot Springs was open. A little sign by the road said so, and when we turned into the driveway, a man with long hair and a big smile shouted us a welcome. Although we'd thought we might push on to Bend that afternoon, "We could stay here," said Mark. "Why not? They've got RV hookups."
View toward Summer Lake from Summer Lake Hot Springs
And so we stayed a night, and then another. A third night suggested a fourth. By the time we depart, we will have spent five days basking in the steaming pool and watching weather blow across the valley. We've made friends with Rick Hash, the man who'd greeted us, and Diana, his wife. The new managers of Summer Lake Hot Springs, they've created a haven of warmth and welcome that goes beyond geothermal activity. Tomorrow, the highway beckons. We'll be on it, but getting out of hot water to hit a cold road will be tough.