At 28.6 m. is the southern extremity of SUMMER LAKE, discovered by Fremont in 1843. He wrote: “December 16. We traveled this morning through snow about three feet deep, which, being crusted, very much cut the feet of our animals. … Toward noon the forest looked clear ahead, appearing suddenly to terminate; and beyond a certain point we could see no trees. Riding rapidly ahead to this spot, we found ourselves on the verge of a vertical and rocky wall of the mountain. At our feet—more than a thousand feet below—we looked into a green prairie country, in which a beautiful lake, some twenty miles in length, was spread along the foot of the mountains, its shores bordered with green grass. … Not a particle of ice was to be seen on the lake, or snow on its borders, and all was like summer or spring. The glow of the sun in the valley below brightened up our hearts with sudden pleasure; and we made the woods ring with joyful shouts to those behind; and gradually, as each came up, he stopped to enjoy the unexpected scene. Shivering on snow three feet deep, and stiffening in a cold north wind, we exclaimed at once that the names of Summer Lake and Winter Ridge should be applied to those two proximate places of such sudden and violent contrast. …

"When we had sufficiently admired the scene below, we began to think about descending, which here was impossible, and we turned towards the north, traveling always along the rocky wall. We continued on for four or five miles, making ineffectual attempts at several places; and at length succeeded in getting down at one which was extremely difficult of descent. Night had closed in before the foremost had reached to bottom, and it was dark before we found ourselves together in the valley."

Oregon, End of the Trail (WPA, 1940)

Gale winds shake the Airstream, splashing water from the kettle warming over the stove. Instinctively, I nudge the waning bottle of whiskey away from the edge of the countertop, avoiding catastrophe. We need what little liquid courage remains in order to make the 100-yard sprint from our weathered Airstream to the hot spring without getting scoured by the wind or flanked by hurtling debris. The reward is well-worth the risk; within the barn lies a 95-degree natural hot spring protected from all aspects of the elements besides its roaring howl.

We find ourselves at Summer Lake Hot Springs, outside of Paisley, Oregon, primarily out of necessity. We’ve spent the past three days following an itinerary decided by the Oregon atlas and an abundance of geologic curiosities scattered about the Oregon Outback. Situated east of the Cascade mountain range, we’ve avoided the brunt of the storm battering the western topography of the mountains, but the winds have traversed the range and are picking up across the high desert. Hand written notes posted on general store windows warn us of impending 70mph winds.

In 1843, explorer John Fremont discovered and named Summer Lake during a mapping expedition. The expedition team recuperated in the lake’s hot springs for several days, proclaiming it some of the best water they had ever come across. Still saturated from last night, our three-season backpacking tents might withstand the force of winds to come, but we’ve discovered a plot of economically-priced Airstreams amongst a natural hot spring and submit to the oncoming weather front. Abetted by an excess of whiskey, I compare our fortunate discovery of the Airstream camp to that of Fremont’s exploration; both trips dictated by maps, but reaping solace in warm waters. 

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Rick Olson understands there’s more to be garnered from sleeping in an uncomfortable bed for free than a comfortable bed unfree. He’s rarely afforded the opportunity to travel abroad but he geographically prospers in the American west. He considers Portland, Oregon a second home to his tent, but one day intends to dwell in a windy town powered by only one power line. Keep track of his writing, photography and woodworking at

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