Bubbling Hot Springs

Larry assured me of this: each day on the river, the image of Bubbling Hot Springs got more and more appealing. In addition to being my friend, Larry was an experienced river guide on the wild and scenic part of the Rogue River in Oregon. He was also something of a storyteller, as all river guides seem to be, so as we slowly paddled downstream in the rain-swelled Rogue river one June afternoon, he told me the story of Bubbling Hot Springs.

Working as a river guide is entertaining, but the pay ain’t great, as they say, and it can be a real grind after a few weeks, particularly if you have an unpleasant customer or two. Running a raft through the rapids is one thing, but cooking and cleaning up for a pack of demanding tourists is something else entirely. Of course, what pay there is comes from paying customers, so you do what you can to keep them happy, sometimes even to the point of lending them warm clothes they should have had the sense to bring themselves. You do all that and more, and sometimes the bastards still stiff you on the tip at the end of the trip. As a result both the customers and the river guides, lying awake and cold at night, dripping with river water and rain, dirty and water-wrinkled, they both have good reason to look forward to Bubbling Hot Springs.

If you’re a paying customer, any of the guides will tell you (after some prodding) that one of the joys of rafting the Rogue river wild and scenic wilderness area is the pre-dawn hike to Bubbling Hot Springs. Normally this would occur on the fourth day of the trip, and I can tell you from experience that by the fourth day of the trip, the ice-cold waters of the Rogue have lost some of their charm. The vision of a steaming spring emptying into a natural hot tub is a tempting one.

No customer is expected or even encouraged to go on the hike to Bubbling Hot Springs; it isn’t on the official itinerary so it has to be squeezed in early. It isn’t suitable for the aged, the pregnant, the halt and lame. To make the trek you have to wake up early and hike hard and fast. You have to get up when stars are still just twinkling in the western sky, when the cool river mist is still curling around the reeds, when the birds are tuning their morning songs.

You follow the sure-footed river guides up up up on a short but steep hike during which time few people really have the energy or inclination to talk. The guides are moving fast now in happy anticipation. Scramble over a rock ledge and walk across a small clearing and there it is: Bubbling Hot Springs, bubbling and steaming just like you’d expect. The river guides hop in first without the least hesitation. In with a mighty splash and then they float blissfully up to the surface wearing contented smiles.

And well they might, too, because they’re the only ones who know that the water of Bubbling Hot Springs is only slightly warmer than the frigid Rogue itself. This information tends to become widespread rather quickly. On a bad trip, someone will stick a toe in prematurely and ruin the fun. On a good trip, two or three customers will actually hop in before the comprehension is general. In fact, one or two customers have actually been known to regain their composure as they float to the surface and emerge with a convincing enough smile to induce the rest of the crowd to jump on in. River guides really like people like this.

River guiding is hard work, and the pay ain’t great, as they say. But it has its own rewards, as Larry will tell you. Customers and river guides, lying awake and cold at night, they both have good reason to look forward to Bubbling Hot Springs. It may well be, however, that only the river guides look back on it with the same warmth.