The sign read:
Nude bathing is common at Umpqua Hot Springs. If this makes you uncomfortable, we recommend you not go into the area.”
Did it make us uncomfortable? We were in a remote area – as far “off the beaten track” as I’ve possibly ever been – with minimal people around and the chance to do something a bit different. No, we were not uncomfortable. Quite frankly, and without sounding like an exhibitionist, we were encouraged. So my boyfriend Alan and I walked on to have a naked dip in Oregon’s little-known Umpqua Hot Springs. Why not?
It took us a missed turn, a closed off rickety bridge and a very gravelly dirt road in our rented car to get to the start of the walk to the springs. Neither of us had expected it to be so out of the way when I first mentioned it, after stumbling upon an image of Umpqua Hot Springs on Pinterest. They had reminded me of Pamukkale in Turkey (another place I managed to get naked) in the way they overlapped and tiered down a slope, hot water spilling over the edge into another rock pool underneath, and so on.
But Umpqua was all ‘Oregon-ed up’, vivid green everywhere rather than the milky white of Pamukkale. At Umpqua, fir trees enveloped you, leaving just enough space open for the hot springs.
Volcanic activity nearly two million years ago created the area, and it’s still cooling down now. Imagine how hot that had to have been before, when these springs at 42 degrees Celcius/108 Fahrenheit we bathed in kept a constant sheen of sweat glossed over us. The springs are formed by molten rock a few thousand feet under the surface heating and forcing water upwards – and voila, there they are. The strange rock pools are actually made out of silica mineral, which are dissolved and then deposited as the water flows over the surface and cools. That’s why the little area looks so strange compared to the otherwise tree-covered landscape.
Science class over, let me say again how hot the springs were. I imagined a bath-like dip, surveying the landscape and resting my head on my arms… instead I was spending a lot of the time adjusting to the temperature and hopping out when I started feeling a little dizzy – not bringing drinking water was a mistake. The time out of the water was the strangest part, because then I actually felt and realised I was naked. I reminded myself that it didn’t matter: why should the others there care what I look like? They’re doing the same thing, naked and enjoying the springs. Sometimes I think it’s strange how we place ourselves as the focus when people probably aren’t giving a second glance – but at the same time it makes complete sense that we have that tendency.
Here was different though; I was so aware that I was on a mountain, in the wilderness. I could see layers of trees in every direction, and a flurrying stream at ground level… I felt tiny compared to the vast environment. I’ve said it before, but I love this feeling. And in this situation, I could only laugh inwardly at myself for feeling self-conscious when I was so insignificant and small here. Just one nude girl in a massive forest (well, in the company of a few other nude girls and boys, too). To my surprise, I then easily embraced it. It was liberating, but in a relaxing, calm way. In a no-big-deal kind of way.
After a while, we decided it was time we pull ourselves away and head on to our next stop (Crater Lake!). Alan turned to me and said, “I can’t decide whether that was refreshing or sweaty”. He had a point. Although it wasn’t as relaxing as we thought and we were both clearly quite taken aback by the gloss we had acquired, it was an experience I’d gladly have again. I may have been a bit sweaty with steam-frizzed hair, but I still felt refreshed, a little more chilled out (ironically), and strangely free.
Entry into the Umpqua Hot Springs is supposedly $5, although we couldn’t find someone to actually give the money to…
Location (but ssshh, this place is definitely still a secret):