Rub a dub Tub (Springs)

Clear water flows at Tub Springs State Park on Highway 66 east of Ashland.Courtesy of Jad D'Allura

While traveling east along the Greensprings Highway, you might notice people parked at the small Tub Springs State Park, so named for a tub originally placed there in the 1930s.

Some are sampling the clear spring water while others grin as they siphon a pickup load of water into large plastic barrels.

Consider, though, the travails of the 1846 Jesse Applegate party on its four-day trek from Klamath Falls along a "good but very rough and broken" trail to the Rogue Valley. From Klamath Falls, the wagons moved up and over the relatively gentle terrain formed by recent lava flows of the High Cascade volcanoes until they reached Jenny Creek slightly east of what is now the Pinehurst Inn.

There they faced the front lip of a 3-million-year-old lava flow forcing them to arduously descend a steep cliff. From there the terrain mellowed, although they had to wend their way around boulders, hard remnants of volcanic debris flows that surged from a long-vanished 22.8-million-year-old volcano.

Not having a geologist in the group, they probably didn't notice when they crossed the subdued 3-million-year-old lava that issued from Chinquapin Mountain to the north. The travelers paused at Tub Springs for a welcome respite from their journey, enjoying fresh water and probably popping blisters the size of eggs. Refreshed and optimistic, they set off again only to encounter the west edge of the Chinquapin lavas that formed a second steep cliff dropping into Keene Creek. To the west, the terrain of the old, steep and highly dissected Western Cascade volcanic rocks would challenge even the stoutest of hearts.

What was the origin of Tub Springs? Springs bubble up wherever the water table intersects the Earth's surface. A fault extending along the west side of the draw fractured the rocks like grinding molars of type-A personalities, allowing water to collect and percolate along the fracture. When the water reached an obstruction, it spewed forth a life-giving liquid.

I encourage motorists to stop at the park, read the panels describing the history of the area, and take a short 15- to 20-minute clockwise hike along the loop trail.

The subdued fault is covered by debris, but imagine it running along the left (west) side of the draw. Veer right at the traces of the 1873 Wagon Road and walk through the trees.

Boulders poking out of the soil are hard remnants of Chinquapin lava weathered in place into rounded shapes. If you listen closely, you just might hear them whisper their story.

Jad D'Allura is emeritus professor of the former Southern Oregon University Geology Department. Reach him at

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