Crystal Crane Hot Springs
written by Nick Rotunno
The clouds gathered in the east, a roiling dark mass just beyond the horizon, one of those fast-moving, open-country storms that occasionally come sweeping across the Eastern Oregon landscape in dramatic fashion.
A handful of bathers, enjoying a soak in the 102-degree pond at Crystal Crane Hot Springs, watched the distant storm surge across sagebrush plains. Bolts of lightning arced toward the earth and lit up the night.
Elsewhere overhead, the day’s last sunlight faded from the western sky. Soon the coyotes would begin to howl and the stars would show their brilliance.
It’s all part of the natural scene at Crystal Crane, a high-desert oasis about twenty-five miles east of Burns along an arrow-straight stretch of Oregon 78. With its therapeutic soaking pool, private tubs and quintessential Harney County ambiance, the resort is a fine rest stop for the weary traveler.
“It was very relaxing,” said Josh Sims, of Bend, who was packing up his campsite on a recent sunny morning. “If I’m traveling a long distance, I see if there’s a hot spring in the area. It’s very convenient, especially in the middle of nowhere.”
Sims had watched the lightning storms the previous evening, immersed in the bath-like water after a long day of driving.
“You feel good, stuck in a pool, and hearing coyotes in the background and lightning in the hills,” he said.
Not far from Steens Mountain, the Ochocos and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Crystal Crane Hot Springs offers a variety of overnight lodging options. Pitch a tent or park an RV at one of several campsites. Rent a poolside cabin or a single room.
Overnighters can cook their meals in a shared kitchen, then head over to the springs for a nighttime soak.
Denise Kryger and her husband, Dan, purchased the Crystal Crane property in 1997. They expanded the soaking pond, improved existing structures and added more lodging—including a Plains-style teepee with a hot tub inside.
“The teepee is one of our biggest hits,” Kryger said. “It’s a wonderful little unit to rent.”
The main soaking pool is really a small pond, bordered on one side by a grassy marshland where ducks often swim. Hot water pours from several spigots. The pebbled bottom gently slopes to a depth of seven feet, but it’s shallow in most spots, perfect for wading or reclining near water’s edge.
For a luxurious experience, reserve one of the private bathhouses. Inside a quiet room, with a rustic metal tub full to the brim, it’s not hard to kick back and forget about the world—if only for an hour.
In addition to soothing weary muscles, the Crystal Crane water also contains healthful minerals such as calcium, sodium, silica and magnesium. Hot springs are good for the soul, sure, but they’re good for the skin, as well.
“It makes your skin feel so smooth,” said Kryger. “It’s a wonderful feeling with that water.”
On clear nights, the stargazing is spectacular. Planets glow and shooting stars flare. Far from a major city, light pollution is almost nonexistent at Crystal Crane, and there’s nothing quite like floating on your back in a warm pool, watching the universe swirl high above.
Open year-round, Crystal Crane is a popular stopover for hikers, bird-watchers and autumn hunters. Travelers from across the United States and the world visit the hot springs, Kryger said.
“We meet the best people here; it’s incredible,” he mused. “[Crystal Crane] is still quite remote, and yet we have all the amenities to go with it.”
Itinerary: Steens Road Tour
What to do between soaking sessions at Crystal Crane? Well, there are plenty of recreational opportunities in Harney County, a place short on crowds and long on scenery.
Before you head out, stop for breakfast at the Crane Store & Café on the outskirts of Crane, a few minutes from the hot springs. Try the biscuits and gravy—you won’t be disappointed, but you will be stuffed.
Fuel up the car and take a long drive on the East Steens Tour Route, where opportunities for camping, hiking and wildlife viewing abound. From Crystal Crane, take Oregon 78 to the Fields-Denio road and turn south. Soon the rugged fault block of Steens Mountain, rising to nearly 10,000 feet, will come into view. Stop at Mann Lake for camping or fishing, or check out the table-flat Alvord Desert a bit farther south.
At Fields, head north on Oregon 205 to take in the gentler west side of the Steens. A drive up the steep Steens Loop offers spectacular views in all directions, as well as scenic hiking trails and fishing holes on the Donner and Blitzen River. Keep your eyes peeled for mule deer and California bighorn sheep.
Autumn is a great season in the Steens—the mountain is known for its fall foliage.
Keep driving north on 205 to arrive at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a haven for migratory birds. The refuge headquarters is still closed following last winter’s armed occupation, but the roads are open. Bring binoculars and scan for sandhill cranes and assorted waterfowl.
The tour wraps up in Burns, just two hours from Bend.