Environmental Uniqueness of Oregon Yellowstone
From a geological point of view, Mickey Hot Springs are simply a series of small hot-spring systems with relatively basic landscape scenery in southeastern Oregon. That, however, is until you go there. Witnessing first hand, the natural mud pots bubbling amid well-patterned choreography of 60 steam vents, is always a moment to remember. Add to that profile the fact that the springs are now a scientific mastery of a mineralizing environment with sodium borate deposits in the soil, and you have a tourism hotspot becoming increasingly popular.
Mickey Hot Springs scenes might not be as gigantic as Yellowstone Park, but the colorful hot pools inserted naturally among a series of small boiling mud pots, hissing vents, and Oregon's only natural mini-geyser, a unique and picturesque geothermal zone. Located at the northern edge of the Alvord Desert, to the east of the Steens Mountain, the miniature Oregon Yellowstone area is among the most notable features of South Oregon. The thermal pools' temperature varies from year to year and can be as much as 206°F (97°C). The large glassy pools with yellow-green edges have the temperature between 130-170°F (54-77°C) and the small streams flowing through grasses heat up to 180°F (82°C).
This means that visitors find most of the geothermal pools available are too hot for soaking. However, browsing the environment, basking under the steam vapors, and harvesting the benefits of a mineralizing environment is a wonderful outdoor experience.
Unique Environmental Profile
Most notably, however, the hot springs are gaining unprecedented attention today for a unique environmental profile. Indeed, the scientific significance of the region is what is driving the scientists there, by the dozen. Geologists have been able to identify and collect an overwhelming arsenal of thermophilic bacteria unavailable anywhere else in the globe, from the spring's outflows. None of the bacterial organisms have been identified or even related to adverse effects on humans, and scientific research is continually affirming the value of the mineralizing environment.
Mickey Hot Springs have a water pH that ranges between neutral and slightly alkaline. Having an ecosystem extremely friendly to thermophilic organisms, packed in a mineralizing environment, and then sustaining bacterial life with a precision of different temperature stratum makes the springs a rare natural occurrence. Consequently, Mickey Hot Springs have now been designated as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern by the US and placed under the management of the Bureau of Land Management, Burns District.
Unfortunately, scientists have deemed the attractive hydrothermal masterpieces as progressively waning, towards extinction. Perhaps this explains why 11 among the 60 steam vents are already dry. It is therefore important that you plan your visit soon, to witness and cherish the rare and unique natural masterpiece of Mickey Hot Springs, soon. Enjoy the mineralizing environment before it is too late. To get there, you will drive to the remote Harney County, on a 6-mile gravel road on the east side of the Steens Mountain. The springs are relatively accessible and always welcoming to visitors looking for a brief outdoor experience, Oregon style.
Oestreicher, Z. & Cady, S. L. (2003). A Unique Bacterial Mineralizing Environment at Mickey Hot Springs, Southeastern Oregon. The Geological Society of America, Bulletin 87: 846850. Available at <http://www.oregongeology.org/pubs/ofr/O-96-04.pdf>
Oestreicher, Z. (2003). A Unique Bacterial Mineralizing Environment At Mickey Hot Springs, Southeastern Oregon. Presentation on Geology, 2003 Seattle Annual Meeting. Seattle Annual Meeting held on 2 – 5 November 2003, at Portland State University. Session No. 82, Booth no. 53. 17 Cramer Hall, 1721 SW Broadway, Portland, Oregon.