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Photo Walks: the Marshes & Haunted Hotel of La Grande, Oregon

Photos from a Weekend in Eastern Oregon

By Oliver DahlPublished 2 years ago 5 min read

While I'm working on uploading more of my previous work to Vocal and sharing some of the stories behind it, I thought I'd jump ahead and share some more recent work, too.

Last weekend, my family and I loaded up our trailer and went "camping" just outside of La Grande, Oregon. We set out on an unseasonably cold and rainy Friday afternoon, and returned to Boise on a sunny Sunday evening.

After getting situated in the RV park near Hot Lake, we changed into swimsuits and soaked in the natural hot springs-fed pool area for a while.

In the 1840s, Hot Lake became a resting area for people traveling west along the Oregon Trail. A hotel was constructed in 1864, and then in 1884, was "put on the map" when a portion of the Union Pacific Railroad was built right through the property.

We took it easy the rest of the day, and I just walked around the RV Park property to take a few photos before dark.

That night it rained, and the pitter-pattering on the roof of the trailer lulled us to sleep.

It rained much of the next morning, but stopped in time to allow us to enjoy the rest of the afternoon--including a hike, and exploring around the haunted motel and marshes.

The Hot Lake Hotel has an interesting history that has seen a lot of change since its initial structure in 1864. In 1903, it was reconstructed to draw water from the natural hot springs nearby into its bathhouses. The luxury resort received significant attention from those who thought the mineral-rich water could help heal various ailments. A doctor later expanded the hotel to include a medical ward with x-ray and radiation treatments and renamed it the "Hot Lake Sanatorium."

In the 20s and 30s, the hotel saw hundreds of guests daily, including the Mayo Brothers, founders of the Mayo Clinic.

In 1934, a fire broke out, destroying the west wing of the hotel. Most of the brick structure remained, but the hotel was never the same. During World War II, it became home to a nurse's training and flight school. Changing hands a number of times over the following decades saw it transform into a nursing home, and later an asylum. (And at one point a bar and restaurant.)

"The building sat abandoned and decrepit for over a fifteen-year period... Various stories circulated concerning reported hauntings in the hotel—it has been rumored to be haunted by vacationers, a gardener who committed suicide, and residents who lived in the building during its use as an insane asylum. When the hotel was originally constructed it acquired a piano formerly owned by Robert E. Lee's wife, which was said to play all by itself up on the third floor.

Other reports of screaming and crying were reported by owner Donna Pattee and caretaker Richard Owens coming from the hospital's surgery room, as well as rocking chairs moving at their own accord; Pattee and her husband owned the property in the 1970s when it was a restaurant; both they and Owens lived on the second floor of the building at the time. Local rumors and legend concerning the hotel were pervasive, and in 2001 the property was featured on the ABC documentary series "The Scariest Places on Earth."

source (Wikipedia)

Aside from the spooky hotel, we also went on a hike and drove up to a lake above La Grande, where I was able to get some more peaceful landscape photos.

The marshes around Hot Lake pretty quickly gave way to pine forests as we drove into the mountains.

We were early for most wildflowers, but a few different varieties had started to peek out in meadows where the sun could break through on sunnier days.

At one viewpoint, we could oversee this unique rock formation and "bald" looking surface across the road. Void of trees, I thought it stood out in an interesting way.

This photo of Morgan Lake was taken out the car window. The reflections of the sky were unreal.

Back in La Grande, it was about to rain again. We stopped at "Side A" for some spicy peanut butter burgers and dirty fries. (It sounds weird, I know, but they were incredible.)

The rain didn't last too long, thankfully, and back at the RV park I took a nap. My Mom and I decided to walk around some of the trails that circle through the marsh that makes up the Ladd Wildlife Refuge.

I love the reflected purple of the dark clouds above in this shot. The clouds rolled through as sunset came closer, and the result was a gorgeous golden hour with orange and green grass, blue water, and an ever-changing palette of colors in the sky.

#OliversShadowSelfies :)

After the sun set, the birds seemed to turn up the volume even more. I don't know if I've ever heard such a wide variety of birds honking, chirping, and whistling at the same time and place before. The light faded, but the sound of life grew.

On our way back to the RV park, a huge flock of birds started circling overhead, flitting back and forth across the ponds and rivers and grass below. The picture above is one of my favorite photos from the entire trip. The moment itself was awe-inspiring, and this photo captures that as close as I can imagine.

We made it back to camp, and then decided to head back to the haunted hotel for some quick night photos. Unfortunately, it's gated to people other than guests, so I couldn't get any closer than I did during the day, but I think my photos there turned out cool nonetheless.

We got in the car and drove the short distance down the road. Across from us, a train rumbled across the tracks. The spooky lighting and motion blur in this next image made it another favorite. I love the tiny blurred out stop sign and the headlights on the gravel road.

We pulled over on the road across from Hot Lake, the neon of the hotel sign reflecting between the gaps of the lily pads. Steam rose from the lake.

My last photo of the night ended up being another favorite. I crouched closer to the lake's edge and opened my camera's built-in flash. After tweaking with the settings, I got this spooky photo of the lily pads floating on the darkness, continuing into the abyss.


About the Creator

Oliver Dahl

Oliver Dahl is a published author and photographer from Boise, Idaho.

He currently studies marketing at Brigham Young University.


Instagram: @OliverWDahl

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