Borax Lake Hot Springs - Hot Springs in Oregon


An arsenic-contaminated hot spring lake, endangered fish, and the industrial legacy of the early 20th century.

It is a must-visit spot.

Borax Workstation Ruins

Alvord Desert in southeastern Oregon.

Located at the eastern foot of Mount Steens, it is a basin surrounded by faults.

Desert 01

The terrain is called playa lake and usually has the appearance of a dry lake bed.

Rainwater and geothermal water that flows into this area can only run off by evaporation, and salt minerals are deposited on the ground surface during it.

Caution 02

Borax Lake Hot Springs springs gush from a fault zone running north-south through the desert.

It is about a 25-minute drive northeast from Fields, a settlement with a population of about 20.

Caution 01

Because of the rough dirt roads, vehicles with high road clearance are recommended.

There were two gates to the hot springs.

Closed Gate 01

The first one was open, with a warning that the water was scalding hot and contained arsenic 25 times the critical limit for the human.

The second was closed, so I got off here.

Ignoring the warning sign?
It's not off-limits.
Trail 01

Hike about 0.4 mile one way, relying on ruts.

Dried Lake 01

To the right was Little Borax Lake, which collects water runoff from Borax Lake and was dry at the time of my visit.

Trail 02

At the end of a gentle curve, a strange fill was visible.

Carelessly discarded, these were the industrial legacy of a former borax workstation.

Ruins 02

In 1897, a Nevada businessman who heard about the inexhaustible supply of sodium borate in the area founded the Twenty Mule Team Borax Company.

The following year, after a trademark dispute, the company changed its name to Rose Valley Borax Company.

Ruins 01

About 30 Chinese were said to have shoveled the sediments from the surface of the ground and put them into iron tanks.

Borax crystals were purified by mixing with lake water in a tank and heating.

View from the Ruins 01

The resulting crystals were apparently transported to Winnemucca, Nevada, in a stagecoach pulled by mules.

In 1907, the business was terminated due to the declining quality of the deposits.

Fish Gaining Tolerance to Poisons

Borax Lake 03

Borax Lake was located right next to the fill.

The lake is obviously filled with yellow water and is circular in shape with a diameter of about 0.1 mile.

Borax Lake 01

The average depth is about 3 feet, but there is a huge vent at the southern end of the lake bottom, and boiling hot water is said to be rising at the deepest depth of 100 feet.

The temperature near the surface of the water was a lukewarm 99 degrees F.

Water Temp 01

Borax lake chub is the only fish that lives in the lake, which is contaminated with arsenic, borax, and lead.

It is a small fish of the carp family that has somehow acquired a tolerance to the poisons.

Borax Lake 02

In 1993, the Nature Conservancy purchased a large tract of land, including Borax Lake, to protect the endangered fish and its environment.

That is why soaking in the lake is prohibited.

Dried Vent 01

Not many people may just want to get muddy and soaked in toxic water!

Several hollows in the lakeshore were seen that appeared to be geothermal vents or the traces.

Geothermal Vent 01

In particular, a series of vents about 400 feet further north from Borax Lake appear to be referred to as Borax Lake Hot Springs in the narrow sense.

The ground at the edge of the vent is fragile and hot enough to be fatal if you fall in, so be careful not to get too close.

A geothermal vent at Borax Lake
USFWS Pacific Region


Borax Lake Hot Springs, Alvord Desert, Oregon, U.S.

My rating

Type: Undeveloped

Rule: Soaking is prohibited

Chemical use: No

Water temp: Up to 99 degrees F

  • Writer

Hot Springer Ken

A hot spring enthusiast based in Japan. Toured over 300 North American hot springs while working in Texas from 2016 to 2022. For updates, visit X or Instagram!