By Ryan Loughrey
As long as you don’t mind how discovered the place can be, the Tamolitch Blue Pool is a stunningly beautiful and freezing cold visit.
Located east of Eugene, Oregon this is a popular location for photographers, although we found that during the day on a hot weekend, the pool almost always has a ring of people surrounding it.
We left Friday night, and spent the night with family just outside of Ashland, Oregon. After breakfast at Punky’s in Medford (a quaint diner that seems to be equally popular among older vets or anyone who wants the comfort of a classic diner), we headed north on the 1-5, the central nervous system for west coast transport. We turned east near Eugene, skipping straight to Springfield and stopping to refuel and grab a lunch of cheap deli sandwiches.
We followed Highway 126 (Sometimes called the McKenzie Highway) as it meandered alongside the McKenzie River. As it was a hot Saturday, every open bank and boat ramp seemed to have a cluster of cars as people swam to escape the heat. We found out that this was the land of the covered bridges, and it seemed we had stepped back into a simpler time.
We found the turn off for the Tamolitch Blue Pool, and were surprised to see that cars lined either side of the road in. Not a good sign. It was a first time for both of us, and it seems that although it was a new discovery for us, many people had also found it. The road was dusty and chalky, and we drove as far along it as we could and still find parking. We donned our hiking gear, and walked the road to the trailhead. We found a fallen sign that described the route, and we learned that it was a 2.1 mile hike from here to the pool. We hoped that the distance, however slight, would deter people from going.
We were wrong. We were surprised to see the number and variety of people hiking the trail. We saw families where children hiked in their flip flops and carried their towels. We also saw groups of friends with curious dogs pulling them along. In addition, we saw hardcore hikers with large backpacks and headbands covered in sweat. We were on a small stretch of the McKenzie River trail, in total 26 miles and immensely popular with mountain bikers. It seemed to me that there was a culture of trail etiquette, as the bicyclists rode respectfully slow and the hikers, in turn, yielded the trail when it was narrow.
When we arrived at the pool, I realized that the pictures don’t do it justice. From a photo, it looks like a small pool. In actuality, it is sizable lake with crystal clear blue water. All around the edges, people stood and gazed. We noticed something immediately and a male in the group behind us said it first “Why is no one swimming? What’s wrong with it?”
The truth is, the water is freezing cold. Well, technically just above freezing. One article I read placed the temperature at 37 degrees. I don’t know if it was that cold when we were there, but it felt about right. We followed the hike around to the base of the water, and found a small part of the beach that was exposed and didn’t have people crowding it. We heard the buzz of a drone above, and noticed as a group to our left inflated floaties, and soon drifted into the center of the pool. Other than this group, the only people in the water jumped in for a second, before escaping the water into the heat. The basalt walls of the pool make it ideal for people to climb and leap into the water from different heights (it can be done safely depending on the height, but be aware it can also be incredibly dangerous). We didn’t feel the peer pressure to climb and jump, and in fact we didn’t feel pressured to jump in at all. We were surrounded by people, but in our own little world.
That being said, of course I had to jump in. Although some people applauded after someone jumped from a height, I would rather no one be there than have applause for doing something crazy. I found an exposed rock, and did an awkward dive into the clear blue water.
The first thing I felt was shock. I couldn’t have been underwater for more than 4 seconds, but I remember the sensation of controlled panic. It was as if my brain didn’t know what to do or feel, only to feel an almost sharp and prickling sensation. Still, I had the sense of mind to open my eyes, and I couldn’t believe the clarity and color. I have heard it described as “antifreeze blue” and that is completely accurate. I came out of the water feeling awake and alive.
I regained energy and dried off in the sun until we were ready to go. Overall, it was wonderful to experience such a unique location, even if it is a little out of the way from NorCal. Totally worth it!
Northern California’s Outdoor Digital Newsmagazine