Sunday, July 14, 2013

Ghost Springs and Hot Towns (Day Twenty-one)

Cloud cover blown off in the night, it promised to be another hot day. Our conversations the previous day tipped us off to the nearby mining town of Bayhorse, a remote canyon settlement built on lead, silver, and gold. The boom town busted like many due to harsh winters, high transportation costs, and dwindling lodes.

After a short mile from the campsite we turned onto an old wood and steel bridge. A sign warns visitors they will find no potable water along the crystal clear creek running through distant tailing piles. We stashed our gear and proceeded unencumbered. A well worn gravel road pushes its way through the steep valley and dry forests. Reaching out of the foothills we catch a glimpse of the rough valley. Dramatic cliffs of granite and shale riddled with caves dominate the sky. A thin layer of the biosphere clings to the rocky slopes and holds the impossible angles where undisturbed.

Despite climbing in elevation the heat of the day mounted on the exposed gravel trail. Finally we could see the roof of a mill in the distance and knew the river of rock would end. A well preserved stone hut dug into a hill caught our attention and we momentarily escaped the heat to explore. The low head beam bore an inscription in faded charcoal barely legible, though "1886" stood out.

A few hundred more feet and we reached the sizzling asphalt of the visitors parking lot. Bayhorse proved to be more developed than we had thought. It turns out the site was "parkified" in 2005 as part of a greater effort to manage the toxic mine wastes. Visitors are restricted to fenced paths and warned to wash their hands before eating or drinking. All of the structures sport warnings of waste contamination. Thousands of tons of lead were mined and concentrated here. We had to remind ourselves of this as tempting currants hung over the railings.

A curious mixture of 19th and 20th century machinery was strewn about the site. Some buildings look to have been occupied fairly recently, creating an eerie feeling of anachronism. One particular house was especially foreboding yet beckoned with magnetic charge. This one was one of the longest continually inhabited structures in Bayhorse, built by the town physician. Walls cracked and second story held up by raw timbers, the house clearly had stories to tell. A noose hanging from the foyer rafters was enough to end the exploration.

The suffocating heat back at the tarmac was too much for us and we escaped before becoming Rip van Winkle'd in the spook zone. We flew down the rough gravel amazed at the amount of elevation gained earlier. Dropping back onto the main road we were met with the stiff headwind pouring in from the South.

Along the meandering pavement, led by the river in reverse, we continued our geology lesson. The ancient river gorge cut through decaying columnar basalt flipped and folded. Batholithic granites broken long ago now filled with wide quartz deposits. Great masses of sandstone and shale lifted from long gone seas.

The persistent headwinds and broiling thermal onslaught drained our energy. Yet in each refuge we found the citizens clued us in to hot springs along our route. Miles passed and we gained more details, crystallizing the location of the springs. As the sun fell the winds dropped off and we reached top speeds. Finally Sunbeam hot springs came into view.

Steam billowed off the geothermal water pouring out of the highway-side culvert and mingled with river water amongst boulders. The riverside hillside is covered in red biofilm. We searched for an unoccupied pool, eventually settling in next to some cool cats. As soon as we mentioned our Oregon origins Sherri and Mike asked if we would pass through Bend, our intended Cascade crossing. They graciously offered their house if we needed a break. We soaked in the steaming sulfur springs glad to have made it.

Muscles relaxed we travelled the final miles to the Mormon Bend campground, enjoyed another taco buffet, and laid our heads to rest under the twinkling Milky Way.

1 comment:

  1. The old mining town looks so intriguing, and the hot springs must have been a great way to end the day.