Hot water springing from the earth

Sunrise on the dessert

Bagels with cream cheese and lox goes great with Batdorf & Bronson coffee!

After a magnificent sunrise and breakfast on the desert, we headed out to explore. I had found three springs (Wild Horse Spring 1, 2, and 3) on an online map and wanted to find them and Borax Lake was also on our agenda.

We took note of the geographic features near us and checked to make sure we’d dropped a pin, then headed out.

Never pass a potty

The bathroom at Alvord Hot Springs was a very welcome sight. The people waiting to use it were a little disappointing, but I like meeting new folks. The woman I chatted with (both masked and distant) was quite nice.

While I was using the facilities, Bill had an, um, fascinating? conversation with another woman. She and her husband were travelling–and sleeping–in separate cars because she needs her own space. She was fascinated with Brave Horatio and explained to Bill that it would be perfect–she and her husband could travel in one car, then he could sleep in the car while she slept in the teardrop.

While she’s explaining how much of her own space she needs, she’s also continuing to crowd in close to Bill. He said he just kept backing up and backing up.

I’m thinking her husband might want to reconsider his marriage contract.

Hot springs are gorgeous and they don’t always smell

I am fascinated with hot springs. I’m always thrilled that hot water just comes out of the ground. Magic. That said, I’ve been in very few hot springs. Sometimes I want to, but am not sure how one goes about it. Sometimes they’re kind of a smelly mess …fascinating, but a smelly mess.

I wanted to be brave enough to soak. It’s a stretch for me, but I would have liked it. Bill was not going to join me. Because we’re in the middle of Covid-19, I would have to occupy the tub all by myself. I’d have to wait until it was available and then try to nicely dissuade others from joining me.

I did not even get my towel out of Freya.

BUT–hot springs are about more than soaking. They are magical, beautiful, and fascinating even if you never dip your toe in. I walked down the path and followed the steaming stream back up toward the road. So cool. Big pools and small cascades and tiny trickles. All steaming. All coming right up from the ground all by itself. Everything surrounded and surfaced with a skim of odd colors and textures.

Searching for Wild Horse Springs

While researching this trip I ran across a map that showed three springs: Wild Horse Springs 1, 2, and 3. They looked close-ish to roads and I wanted to find them. I had unlikely thoughts about herds of horses drinking and milling about.

I’d clipped three snaps of the map, close in then farther and farther out. What I didn’t have was a map that actually showed where they were in relation to the desert or the mountain. Somehow I thought they were just up the road from Alvord Hot Springs. We turned right out of the driveway.

Have you ever looked at several maps and thought you had a good idea of where things were in relation to each other…then they’re just not? This was one of those times.

We drove with Steens Mountain on our left, down the Fields-Denio Road a lot farther than I expected. We passed Mann Lake and Juniper Lake and Ten Cent Lake. When Fields-Denio T’d with 78, we turned right. Bill kept asking me if I was sure of the directions. Of course I wasn’t sure. This was an adventure.

Past North Fork Ryegrass Road (which I’d also like to explore) and Iron Mountain Road (which I’m sure is lovely, but didn’t capture my imagination) and a whole lot of wide country.

We finally found the road we wanted and it was closed. Oh well. Onward!

We stopped to top off the tank at the intersection with 95, then turned south to head back to Fields via White Horse Ranch Lane.

White Horse Ranch Lane is gravel, but nice gravel. Wide and open with low plants on both sides. Another vehicle turned in ahead of us and we saw it parked on the road a little bit in. We waved at the guy crouched off the road a couple feet. He didn’t wave back. As we passed I noticed that his backpack was making a rudimentary shield as he squatted to do his business. A mile or so farther on we noticed that him turn around and head back to the highway. Clearly just a comfort stop. Bathrooms are few and far apart out here–never pass a potty.

We had the road to ourselves the rest of the way into Fields. It’s a great road! Slow gentle rises and slow gentle curves delivered us to view after beautiful view.

At the top of one rise a driveway rambled away to the left curving around a little hill. I think I’d like to meet these people. They’ll probably never know how much I enjoyed their roadside art installation.

Down some more gentle swoops, through ever greener, human-touched land we turned right toward Fields.

I’d read about the amazing milkshakes at Fields. They also have gas and potties–a pretty much perfect triad.

Fields also has hotel rooms–two of them–we sat in the sun at a picnic table in front of room 1 and thoroughly enjoyed our milkshakes. They come in those tall metal containers, all frosty on the outside and are nice and thick. Of course we didn’t split one. Bill had fresh banana and I had raspberry.

Our dinner plans quickly changed to less.

We chatted with some folks who come here every year, staying at Fields and spending their days on the desert. The hotel rooms were cute. Separate little buildings with tiny green lawns.

Borax Lake sits above the surrounding desert

I don’t always suck at map reading. I took us pretty much right to Borax Lake and Borax Hot Springs.

Not to far off the south end of the Alvord Desert flat is Borax Lake–home to the endangered Borax Lake chub. There’s a short, reasonable dirt road to a gate then a walk to the lake. As you get closer the ground begins to be covered with white crystals. They look a little like those dribble sand towers we used to make when we were small, very delicate feathery crystals. That’s the boric acid and arsenic. Don’t taste.

It’s odd to be walking on a flat, flat part of the earth and have to walk up a 20-30 foot rise to the edge of the lake. There were a couple ducks near the edge and you could see where the water wells up in the middle. The lake is elevated above its surroundings because it continually brings up minerals, so keeps raising itself higher. The lake is pretty warm, it varies between 61 and 100 Fahrenheit at the edge.

It’s a pretty little lake. We didn’t see any fish, but weren’t looking for them. I didn’t know they existed until I googled for more information on our way back to camp.

From the lakeside we could see the surrounding country really well. I didn’t see any hot springs.

We went further down the road, through some squelchy stretches of grassy vegetation and finally saw steam rising.

These are pretty incredible hot springs. You look down and down and down. Holes right into the middle of the earth. These springs run between 105 and 300 Fahrenheit and the ground near them is undercut and fragile. We were extra careful.

After not-passing-the-potty at Alvord Hot Springs, we were back on the desert.

Did I mention that there’s nothing to do on the dessert, except what you bring to the experience?

I walked, and twirled, and made bubbles. Bill played guitar and took pictures. We talked and read and shared some wine.

Then I took our little wine charm guys for a hike up one of the little sand bumps.

Brave Horatio’s first ferry ride!

Sarah and Erik gave us a gift certificate for whale watching–not last Christmas, but the one before. I was in school, we wanted to upgrade to an all day adventure, and I consistently forget to check my email. So almost two years went by and we opted for the more easily scheduled half- day trip.

We were excited to get it all figured out.

Maya’s Legacy is on San Juan Island. They leave from either Friday Harbor or Snug Harbor, depending on the tour,  the weather,  and the whales.

The people at Maya’s were wonderful. First they scheduled a second trip for the Sunday we wanted. Then they quickly called back letting us know they could make it into an all day trip. Perfect!

We started planning.

Bill scheduled our ferry and I reserved our campsite.

Bill had a Pinniped show at the Olympia Farmer’s Market on Friday, so we left earlyish on Saturday, lattes in hand.

I continue to be pleased with our habit of getting Brave Horatio ready for the next trip each time we return. I also like my decision to designate some clothes as teardrop clothes and keep them ready to go in my little cabinet. This time I swapped out some shorts and swapped in more tights and some rain gear. Quick and easy.

Bill continues to pack his side for each trip. Works for him.

Coffee and Anacortes exploration

Traffic was light and we got to Anacortes with time to spare. We’d never looked around before so we got another coffee and cruised.

Nothing like Penguin Coffee on your way to watch whales!

We found a Farmer’s Market and a parking spot by city hall. There are full body portraits of past mayors on the wall by the sidewalk. I’ve never seen that before. A little history right in your face. Kind of neat.

Note the portraits of Anacortes Mayors painted on the building wall. Maybe that’s a judge above the entryway?

We walked through the market. I recommend it if you’re up that way. Looked like lots of good prepared food, veg, cider and art.

Bill spotted a boat. It was a BIG boat and pretty well hidden behind a building. Of course he knew it. (Bill is really interested in boats, particularly work boats). The WT Preston is a steam powered paddle-wheel snagboat. She pulled snags and other debris from the Puget Sound (Olympia to Blaine) from 1929-1981. She’s enjoying a land based retirement as part of the Anacortes Maritime Heritage Center.

We spent an enjoyable few minutes in this small-but-nice museum and I left with a new book–Bijaboji is Betty Lowman Carey’s account of her solo trip from Anacortes to Ketchican rowing her dugout canoe. Betty was 22 when she made this trip in 1937. Perfect for this trip.

On the ferry

Brave Horatio on his first ferry ride. Windy, windy, windy…but once on island, the weather turned kind.

Spot 10 is one of the few at San Juan County Park that is not strictly tent only. It turned out to be a beautiful spot, to one side of the big meadow that overlooks the water. There’s a path from the meadow to a sweet little beach. (The larger, but still small kayak-launch cove is down the hill and around the corner. It’s a small park.)

I found out later that my niece and grand-niblings camp here every August with a couple other families. They love this park and I understand why.

The only new gear we had were a couple collapsible canvas buckets we thought might make nice reusable trash and recycle bins and help reduce our reliance on plastic.

San Juan Island has so much art!

On the way to San Juan Park we passed by Kevin Roth’s sculptures. These little houses made from cement mixers are too marvelous. I wanted to be six again and move in.

Kevin Roth Sculptures
Fine art in a cement mixer turned goldfish house!

San Juan Sculpture Garden

We drove to Roche Harbor and walked around the San Juan Sculpture garden. Another wonderful surprise on this beautiful island. The sculptures ranged from joyous to whimsical to contemplatively beautiful. Slowly spinning the five prayer wheels after adding our hopes to each brought us to a peaceful meditative frame of mind. Perfect for this short vacation.

Our home for the next few days