• Borax Hot Springs is a geological phenomenon of the Alvord Basin
• Slightly alkaline water is extremely friendly to thermophilic microbes
A geological phenomenon of southeastern Oregon, Borax Hot Springs is one of the three main geothermal springs of the Alvord Basin. Belonging to the same fault zone, Alvord and Mickey Hot Springs are located 2 and 4 miles north of Borax Hot Springs accordingly. All of those hot springs occur within the valley bounded by rotational fault blocks of Steens and Pueblo Mountains on the west and the Sheepshead and Trout Creek Mountains on the east. Borax Lake, numerous hot springs, and vents are aligned exactly along the active fault line.
The 10-acre Borax Lake, also known as Hot Lake, is created by a powerful spring's flow of the southernmost hot springs outlet that sits deep, 100 feet (32 m) below the lake's surface. The temperature of geothermal springs outflow ranges between 104 and 300°F (40-140°C). The temperature of the lake itself can vary between 61°F and 100°F (16-38°C). Borax Lake overflow nurtures Little Borax Lake.
Near the lake, there are rusting ruins of the steel vats, the old Borax workstation where borax was extracted and hauled by a mule train to Winnemucca, Nevada.
A commercial borax production was opened by Charles Taylor and John Fulton in 1898. Those two men moved their business from the Black Rock Desert in Nevada to Hot Lake in Oregon. They built two steel vats and hired 30 Chinese workers. Sodium borate from the desert surface was mixed with the water from the hottest lake's center; also, sulphuric acid as a precipitating agent was added. The mixture in the vats was heated to the boiling point. Later, when the solution cooled, the pure crystalline borax was formed.
In 1907, the quality of sodium borate near the lake's deposit was declined and borax productions were ceased. Finally, the business was closed.
At the time of its commercial use, the lake and surrounding area acquired a new name - Borax Lake.
Unique Profile of Borax Hot Springs & Borax Lake
The unique nature of the geothermal ecosystem and mineralizing environment with great sodium borate (borax) deposits in the soil is driving researchers to the Borax Lake. Many ecological, geochemical, geological, paleontological, mineralogical, and hydrological studies have been done. Surveys of aquatic invertebrates and geothermal microbes have been taken in the lake and the adjacent hot springs.
Scientists have monitored the population of the rare and endangered species of the Borax Lake chub found near the shore; the chub prefers the cooler temperature - around 85°F. This miraculous cyprinid fish survived and evolved within the last 10,000 years in extreme environments and can be found in Borax Lake and Lower Borax Lake only.
The pH of the Borax water ranges between neutral and slightly alkaline which is extremely friendly to thermophilic microbes. The thermophiles are distributed on a temperature basis and the ratio of chlorophyll and carotenoids creating colorful edges of the thermal pools. Read more about a variety of pigmented bacteria of the microbial mats in the hot springs.
In 1993, The Nature Conservancy bought 160-acre private land including Borax Lake to save endangered species of the Borax Lake chub, as well as the fragile and unique geothermal ecosystem. Currently, the area is managed by The Nature Conservancy, BLM, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Due to Borax Lake being a biological preserve, only foot traffic is allowed after the second gate.
Visitors or tourists can visit this site, however, swimming in the lake and soaking in the hot springs are forbidden due to health hazards and to preserve this exceptional and delicate ecosystem.
Cautions: The scalding temperatures, steam, and fragile ground surface - all of those make this place unsafe. The posted signs warn about the dangers of the area. Watch your step, the thin ground surface could break under your weight and expose you to boiling water.
Camping & Lodging
Camping isn't allowed within Borax Lake & Hot Springs area. Primitive camping is available at Mann Lake and Alvord Playa. Alvord Hot Springs offer accommodation options including camp sites and bunkhouses.
Borax Lake Hot Springs | Facts
Managed by: BLM
Distance from parking: 0.5 miles
Road Access: High-clearance vehicles, the road can be inaccessible during wet weather
Day-use fees: None
Elevation: 4,070 ft (1,240 m)
Borax Hot Springs and Borax Lake are located:
- 7 miles north of Fields
- 116 miles south of Burns
- 421 miles southeast of Portland.
Directions to Borax Hot Springs
- Travel north 1.4 miles to the junction of Highway 205 and Fields-Denio Road (Folly Farm Road or East Steens Road)
- From the junction, bear right and go 0.25 miles to the power substation
- Turn right just after the power substation and follow the dirt road which parallels the power lines for about 2 miles
- Turn left and continue 0.9 miles to the first gate - open and close the gate.
- Go next 0.5 miles to the second gate.
From this point, the road is closed to all motor vehicles. Park your car and walk 0.5 miles to Borax Lake. Borax Hot Springs are located northwest of Borax Lake.