Borax Lake is a 10 acre lake feed by hot springs located in the Alvord Desert in southeastern Oregon. The lake contains high amounts of sodium borate and this has formed an alkali crust several inches deep on the ground surface covering 10,000 acres around the lake. The Rose Valley Borax Company was established here in 1897 and hired Chinese laborers from a firm in Winnemucca. These workers would use shovels to scrape the sodium borate containing alkali into windrows which were then hauled by wagon to the refining plant. The plant consisted of two steel dissolving tanks, of 6,000 and 8,000 gallons capacity, and 24 crystalizing tanks, each of 1,200 gallons capacity. The raw alkali was shoveled into boiling water in the large dissolving tanks and chlorine or sulfuric acid was added. Sagebrush was gathered and used as fuel to boil the mixture in the dissolving tanks. After 24 hours the liquid was drawn off into the crystalizing tanks and cooled. The crystalized borax was then sacked and hauled by sixteen-mule teams to the Central Pacific Railroad in Winnemucca. From there it was shipped to Chicago, Saint Louis and San Francisco. Production was seasonal and shut down during the winter. The Chinese employees lived in tents and sod houses near the refining plant. Sometime before 1910 the available sodium borate had declined to the point where the operation was no longer profitable and it was closed for good. In its most productive years the borax works produced up to five tons of borax a day.
The 1900 census lists sixteen Chinese laborers in the Wild Horse precinct where Borax Lake is located. They were all men and ranged in age from 35 to 62 years old. The men were housed in four groups living in tents. All were born in China and most immigrated between 1874 and 1881. The youngest worker had immigrated in 1890, after the passage of the Exclusion Act. The names of the workers are recorded as follows: Foo Dang, Lew Mow, Wong Lee, Ching Way, Jap Ting, Lew Sing, Gim Moy, Leong Su, Lew Gang, Lew Sam, Lew Gaw, Lew Suy, Tai Lung, Ah Pak, Lee Jim, Chong Chin, and Lew Sang. The 1910 census listed no Chinese immigrants in the Wild Horse precinct.
Access Details: From Fields, head north 1.4 miles to the junction of Highway 205 and Fields-Denio Road (Folly Farm Road or East Steens Road). From the junction, bear right and go 0.25 miles to the power substation. Turn right just after the power substation and follow about 2 miles the dirt road which parallels the power lines. Turn left and continue 0.9 miles to the first gate – open and close the gate. Go 0.5 miles to the second gate. From this point, the road is closed to all motor vehicles. Park your car and walk 0.5 miles to Borax Lake. Borax Hot Springs are located northwest of Borax Lake. For more information, visit Oregon Discovery.
Submitted by: Don Hann, Malheur National Forest