There were six of us, three guys and three girls, all friends. One of the guys and one of the girls were married. They had an older Ford Econoline van. It was a crisp winter morning and all of us were wearing various types of winter clothing; boots, jeans, shirts, coats, scarves, gloves and watch caps. We piled into the van and headed east. We were in our twenties and the world was in the nineteen-seventies.
We made our way through the city of Portland, Oregon, and to the outskirts of town where we were happy to see a bright blue sky all around and a smooth blanket of snow covering the flat farm land as far as we could see. We were still sixty miles from Mt. Hood but could clearly see where the tree line intersected with the snow cap.
The two-lane road we were traveling was, for the most part, clear but wet. Occasionally we’d run over some slushy not-quite-melted snow with a crunch and splatter. Signs of the city were behind us now. We passed several closed fruit and vegetable stands, all buttoned up for winter.
The temperature was still pretty chilly in the van so we were looking forward to reaching our destination.
We were up in the foothills of Mount Hood within about an hour. We were on a winding two-lane road heading up toward Timberline Lodge, the ski lodge above the tree line. At a fork in the road we veered left In a couple miles we turned into a fairly small graveled parking area which had a simple log fence so you’d know where to park. We’d arrived at the trailhead. There was not another vehicle in sight.
Walking up the trail was quiet. There was a carpet of green ground cover under different earth toned fallen leaves. We were in the old growth forest of the Cascade mountain range surrounded by large Douglas-firs with western red-cedar and western hemlock and an understory of yew, vine maple, and Oregon grape. The light was dappled in places, barely getting through. We felt almost small compared to the big trees.
The height gain was only 200 feet on the nearly one mile hike. It was an easy walk. When we arrived we were at an elevation of 2,280 feet.
There was the sign, “Welcome to Bagby Hot Springs Recreation Area”. We were at one of three parts of the recreation area, the lower part. We could have gone on to the middle part and further to the upper part but we were fine here. We had this area all to ourselves.
The bath house looked like an oversized log cabin. There were three doors on the front side, the side we were facing, and there was a four or five foot deck on the front and the two sides. The creek running from the hot spring was just in back of the bath house. The pitched roof was raised three or four feet above the entire bath house to allow for ventilation and to make a cover for rain and snow. Each of the three partitions in the bath house was separated by a wall and each partition had wooden pegs set at an angle for hanging clothes while in the tubs.
The tubs were made of large logs that had been hollowed out like a canoe. They were about ten feet long and plenty big enough for two people. In one end of the tub there was a plug both in the bottom and further up where the water spigots would be on a regular tub. There was a five gallon bucket nearby. The idea was to fill the bucket with cold water a couple of times from a creek twenty feet away from the bath house and pour the contents into the tub. Then you would pull the top plug and let the steaming hot water come gushing in until the mixture was right for soaking. When the temperature was right you would climb in and get comfortable. Generally it was a good idea to have cold water ready in the bucket in case you wanted more hot water and needed to adjust the temperature.
We paired up, the married couple, then guy-girl, guy-girl and went to fill buckets. Back in the bath partitions we went through the process of pouring cold water into the tub and adding hot water until the temperature was like a hot bath. We quickly took off all our clothes, hung then on the provided pegs and climbed into the water. As we settled into the water we could feel ourselves warming up and relaxing.
The smell of the forest along with the faintly wet smell of the worn wood of the bath house was relaxing in itself. The tubs had been there so long they were smooth to the touch. It wasn’t long before we added more hot water and as it rushed into the tub and hit the cold water steam hissed, rose and quickly escaped under the raised roof.
After a while you were so warm that if you needed more cold water you didn’t have to bother getting dressed to go after it. Even your feet were warm enough to crunch through little bits and patches of snow.
We laid in tubs, usually the guy leaning on the back of the tub with the girl laying between his legs so we could get down into water as far as possible. We switched the other way around. Once in a while we splashed and frolicked like children.
After a couple of hours of soaking we all decided it was about time to head back to the city.
The “Friends of Bagby” made sure there was a brush along with the five gallon bucket. After pulling the plug in the bottom of the tub and letting the water out we used the brush to go over the inside of the tubs.
The short hike down the trail to the van seemed like it went quick. We climbed into the van and got back on the road. For a long time we all seemed to be alone with our own thoughts.
Looking out the back window of the van we could see snow-capped Mount Hood. The sun was beginning to go down. The snow on the mountain and the surrounding farm land had a pink tint to it and the sky was a darker blue than it had been all day. This day would stand out as one of the best in memory.