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Summer Lake Hot Springs pond

Summer Lake Hot Springs shed

A Summer, Summer Lake

We are looking forward to the dry heat and sun of the eastern Oregon deserts after a long wet spell, but we are experiencing some diabolical atmospheric trick: hot sun on the western slopes of the Cascades; cool drizzle starting near Bend and continuing the 130 miles through the desert until we reach our destination at Summer Lake. Naturally, there is enough real precipitation to generate a leaky roof in our cabin. And of course, the water couldn't drip into the bathtub, sink, or onto the floor, but had to find its way dead center on the bed in one of the bedrooms. We have arrived late and don't want to bother Rick and Diana, the thoughtful managers, who have left the porch light on and a heater going. Besides, what's a little rain? There is plenty of spare bedding, three couches, another bedroom and a spare twin mattress to accommodate us — my sister Sue and her college-bound daughter and the daughter's boyfriend.

All four of us spring into action as we quickly move the bed, find three plastic waste bins to catch the drips, strip the bed of its soaked blankets, hang them around the room to dry and get down to the real business of arriving — changing into our swimsuits and finding the hot tub. The kids do a scouting trip in the yard and return saying they have found nothing. I was certain the owners had told me that this, their house that they rent out when they're not in residence, had a private hot tub apart from the covered hot springs pool in the center of the property that other guests use. Sue and I then roam outside in the near dark and find not one, but four tubs – real ceramic bathtubs, one of which is pink – sitting on the ground surrounded by conveniently placed boulders on which to toss our towels or place drinks, novels, sandals or whatever one might bring to a hot tub outing.

We fill the tubs with the garden hose that delivers the perfect temperature water, about 102 degrees Fahrenheit, having cooled on its journey down the hill to us from its 118-degree hot springs source. Relaxed and reclined, we each luxuriate in our private hot tubs as we watch the moon half hidden by racing clouds while bats and nighthawks swoop over us and the nearby pond hawking for mosquitoes and other insect delicacies.

The next morning we awake to sun and the beautifully stark surroundings – 8,000 foot Winter Ridge rising behind us and the blue stretch of lake giving way to the vast landscape, a mix of basalt lava flows and volcanic ash dunes from ancient eruptions. Summer Lake, shallow and edged by green vegetation is spectacular but not a swimming nor boating lake. It is a wildlife refuge (bird-watching heaven; hunters’ delight) flooded then frozen in winter; diminished by evaporation in summer.

While the kids play basketball in the mineral pool enclosed in the ancient rustic shed, Sue and I wander the property then visit with Rick, who had his scope focused on a herd of bighorn sheep on Winter Ridge, and Diana, who offers home-made cinnamon rolls.

We spend the day as tourists, much to the chagrin of the teenagers, backtracking and driving way too much exploring geologic wonders including Fort Rock (10,000 year old sandals), Christmas Valley and Picture Rock Pass where we find some of the petroglyphs and pictographs for which the pass was named. We take a lunch break at the Silver Lake Café where we order perhaps the largest milkshakes in Oregon.

Back at Summer Lake we stay at Summer Lake Inn, the antithesis of the hot springs, with manicured lawns and flower beds flanking a 1902 lodge and custom built cabins along with satellite TV and a library of movies. After canoeing on the pond and unwittingly scattering new clutches of pintail ducks, Sue and I join our enthusiastic hosts, Darrell and Jean, for dinner — a birthday celebration family affair with the other inn guests included as though we all belonged.

Summer Lake is just like that. Perhaps it is the immensity of the landscape and sky that makes everyone so friendly. One can't help but be reminded that we are but tiny specks in the vast scheme of things. And happy specks at that.

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