The view down the canyon from the hotsprings.
The night before we were supposed to drive home, it rained and thundered all night long. If you've never been in a desert thunderstorm, they're pretty spectacular. The thunder booms and reverberates off of every rock face and canyon wall for miles around. It made for an exciting night! We did make it back across the river, through the mud pits, over the jeep road and up the grade to the canyon rim unscathed. There we found a very muddy 30 miles of road to drive out on. We made it, but realized there was no way our friends could have. It was probably for the best they didn't make it in, because there was no way they would have made it out! A cel-phone message awaited us, saying that the mud would not let them pass, they were alright, and had gone to camp at some Idaho hotsprings north of Boise. They certainly had adventures of their own to tell us about. Hopefully they're up for another adventure with us someday!
The goal was to have a vacation both adventurous and relaxing, and I'd say we met that goal. My annual fall wanderlust has been satisfied, and I am now ready to settle into the cold, rainy Oregon winter. While we set out on our journey well prepared, I see now that we still had a lot to learn about coordinating with friends and the reliability of remote dirt roads. Never take a river crossing lightly. In October camping, the weather can be a serious factor to consider. So can planning around hunting season. The most important thing I was reminded of, is when adventuring, always remain flexible. It's key.
If you are reading this and thinking that you will never feel truly fulfilled in life until you travel to Three Forks Warm Springs, here are a few words of advice: Plan to go sometime in June through the end of September. October is pushing it for weather and road conditions, and you will compete with many hunters all wanting a soak once hunting season starts. Don't attempt the final jeep road without 4-wheel drive. You can drive in to Three Forks with your car, provided the roads are dry, and backpack in. Plan for very hot weather during the day and pack in obscene amounts of drinking water. Plan for cold weather at night and bring warm sleeping bags and clothing. Let someone know where you're going. Don't do anything reckless or crazy in your vehicle out there. I heard stories of a thousand dollar tow job. Watch for poison ivy around the edge of the pools. It has leaves in clusters of three and turns bright red in the fall. Bring a snake bite kit, since there are rattlesnakes out there. And always be ready for adventures big and small!
Directions to Three Forks Warm Springs:
If you are feeling burly and up for big adventures, travel to the farthest southeastern corner of Oregon to U.S. Highway 95. If you are coming from Burns Junction, continue 30 miles east to a road marked with a sign to "Three Forks" at milepost 36. Follow the dirt road for 30 miles to where it meets up with the other road and proceed another two miles to the canyon rim. If you were coming from Jordan Valley, go east, turning right at a fork after 3 miles. Then bear right at the next fork where the pavement ends in 7 miles past a school. Take another right at a sign marked "three forks."
Here's some info from Evie Litton's hotspring book:
"This remote spot, traditionally accessed by fishermen and a few hardy river runners, marks the confluence of three tributaries of the Owyhee River, hence the name Three Forks. The Middle and North forks of the Owyhee come together .5 miles to the east and flow into the main fork of the river at the BLM camp and launch site.
A 3-mile jeep road takes a roundabout route from Three Forks Camp to the warm springs. This is the principal access, but when the river level is low, usually from June to October, hike a nice loop by walking up the river canyon to the springs and then following the road back to camp.
The Warm Springs: Clusters of 95-degree springs are located on both sides of the river, and the rugged Owyhee canyon forms a magnificent backdrop. There's a camping area along the east bank where several warm streams snake through tall grass to the river. Above are two tiny pools each with a sit-down shower provided by a length of pipe. But the best is yet to come.
On the opposite bank, several thermal waterfalls pour into the river at 3,750 liters per minute, all emanating from Warm Springs Canyon. You may spot a rope dangling from a boulder above the largest falls. That's your target. But don't aim for it during the spring runoff or you'll likely end up downstream in Rome. Ford the cold river and climb to a large soaking pool enclosed between two boulders. This gem is a good 3 feet deep and has a gravel bottom. The scouring action of three cascades pouring into it keeps it clean as a whistle; the resulting warm jacuzzi is delightful. There's another pool or two upstream, but beyond the source the side canyon is dry." -Evie Litton, from Hiking Hotsprings in the Pacific Northwest