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Some friends and I trekked out to Bagby Hot Springs this weekend aiming to enjoy a hot bath on a cold november day. If you aren’t familiar, Bagby is a public bath in the Mount Hood National Forest. It’s clothing optional and open 24/7 year-around. It has been a hot spot for crazy parties in the past, but the forest service cleaned it up and now it is more low-profile. I went once before, last year on Halloween night, and it was eerily calm. Old-growth Doug-fir loomed over us as we made the 2-mile hike in with not a soul in sight. Gigantic trees were chopped down ages ago to make room for the path, and decades later the 3-foot wide trunks are still nurse-logs for ferns and other forest creatures.
When we arrived, a dusky element of magic enveloped the place. It has the affect of a woodland fairy bathhouse surrounded by boarded up cabins. The tubs were all open, and empty – save the largest tub which featured an old man in his birthday suit. He ended up being a little weird (shocker) but the experience was serene, even if we did have to hike back with no flashlight and only our merry voices to find the way.
This weekend was a less solitary experience. There were a good 30 people out there on a Saturday afternoon. Drinking beer and smoking joints, sprawled out on smoking hot tubs. I would have preferred a private bath but that would have meant waiting longer (we waited 30 minutes). As many people as there were, it wasn’t a party atmosphere, it was still very relaxing and welcoming. We filled the long wooden logs up with boiling spring water, and then fetched pails of cold water to bring the temperature down. We floated for an hour until we started to shrivel.
The mystery of the place still persists in my mind. There in the heart of the forest, a bunch of humans lay around in a wooden bath shack- letting go of their inhibitions, and enjoying eachother’s company. It’s an ancient ritual that Americans keep forgetting, but something we all love to do. 500 years from now when archaeologists find the site they’ll talk about the trees that were felled in sacrifice so the path could be made. “They left the cities in droves to ritually purify themselves by the mountain.” the PhD students will write. “These seekers believed smoking reefer would bring them closer to the Bagby woodland fairy spirits. They also believed it was more beneficial to visit the site on the full of the moon”…Of course, they’d be right.