May 12 - Bronze and Hot Water

  • Explored Hot Lakes Springs
  • Toad Miles Today:  2
  • Total Toad Miles Spring12:  1,284
  • Tonight's camp: Eagles Hot Lake RV Park near La Grande, OR. elevation: 2,700 ft.
  • Weather: morning low 37f.  afternoon high 70f; Warm sunny day
  • Notables: 1.) Found far more than I expected at Hot Lake Springs. 2.) Met sculptor David Manuel and learned about the process of creating cast bronze art. 3.) Amazed at the extensive collection of historic artifacts in the History Center.
  • Link to photo album for today

Eagles Hot Lake RV Park got it's name from a large historic facility just up the road called Hot Lake Springs. There, a natural spring spews some 30 gallons of 208f degree hot mineral-laden water out of mother Earth every second... making it one of the largest/hottest hot springs known.

In 1812, early explorers traveling through the valley on their way to the mouth of the Columbia River (present-day Astoria), found and recorded the existence of the springs. Shortly after, a crude early trading post was set up at the site making Hot Lakes one of the oldest established towns in Oregon. Later, as westward migration really caught hold in the 1840s and 1850s, the Oregon Trail came right through Hot Lake Springs (and right through what's now our RV Park). After months on the hot dusty trail, and now being so close to their destination, the chance to rest and soak in hot water for a while must have been a welcomed break. Some called this area "the promised land".

Later, the railroad came through, literally within a few hundred feet of Hot Lake Springs, connecting Portland to the transcontinental railroad system and, thus, to the rest of the country... and many more people came for the curative and healing power of the water. A hotel, restaurant, and a medical facility/hospital grew to accommodate the demand. During the 1920s and 1930s, belief in the beneficial health effects of hot mineral baths reached it's zenith... and this was also the peak of Hot Lakes popularity. We found the same time-line at Hot Springs Arkansas when we visited in April of last year.

After a devastating fire in 1934 that destroyed a portion of the complex, things started down-hill. A series of owners... declining customers... WWII...  changing medical opinion about the benefits of hot mineral baths... all combined to keep it's previous grandeur just out of reach.

In 2003 a new owner, an entire family, purchased the property. Famous Sculptor David Manuel, his wife, and a collection of other sons and daughters were the new owners, and they set out on, what turned out to be, a 9 year project to restore the place and make it a going concern once again. Recently, they opened for business and are working hard to continue renovations and return Hot Lake Springs to the map and into the consciousness of those looking for an experience you can't get just anywhere.

During our tour today, we listened to an extensive presentation by Lee Manuel, David's wife and the real driving force behind the restoration project. We visited the 2-level History Center which showcases David's extensive collection of Indian, American Pioneer, and US wartime artifacts, the Bed and Breakfast floor with it's uniquely decorated rooms, the foundry building where David's sculptures are converted from clay to cast bronze, and finally a meeting with David in his studio where he was working on this year's piece. We also had lunch in the restaurant and wandered around the grounds looking for signs of the old Oregon Trail and checking out the hot baths, pools, and tubs. About the only thing we didn't do was get into any hot water ourselves. You gotta leave something for the next visit.

Our visit to Hot Lake Springs turned out to be far more interesting and rewarding than I had hoped for. And Dar... well, she was just glowing. She loves stories of history and renewal... bringing the old back to life again... regaining that sense of what it used to be. She just loves it.

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