Thermopolis, Wyoming

Oh what an interesting day we've had here in Thermopolis.  This is one of those times when my obsession with collecting and reading travel books and articles has paid off in the form of a newly discovered geological oddity.  I've decided to add "geological oddity" to my travel lexicon since that is what my obsession ordinarily presents us with.  For example, articles torn out of magazines were the way we discovered Balmorhea State Park in Texas, a place we've visited twice now because we liked it so much.  Also, we discovered Homestead Crater in Utah this way.  I knew there was a reason I was saving all that crap, and my efforts have been rewarded many times.

We came to Thermopolis because it was billed as having the largest hot springs in the world.  I tore an article from a May, 2008, Motorhome magazine.  (Yes, Motorhome.  It's the sort of thing old people read.)  As a part of Hot Springs State Park there is a modern Wyoming State Bath House which is free for visitors to the park to use.  It features a very nice locker room where you can change into and out of your swimsuit and both indoor and outdoor mineral hot springs pools.  "Free" and "hot springs pools" got our attention.  

I could spend time explaining the geology of the area, but I'll let you read it for yourself if you like.  If you click on the image, you can make it larger.

There was a board walk that allowed us to walk among the mineral springs and view the travertine mineral formations.  It's the same sort of process that creates stalactites and stalagmites in a cave.  One resource we read said that that 3.6 million gallons flow out of the spring every day, but a ranger at the bath house told us that the flow has decreased significantly, to less than half what it once was.  She attributed the decrease to drought.

The board walk also led us out to a swinging bridge originally built in 1916, but replaced in 1992.  You can see it in the upper part of the image below.

We decided to cross over, mainly so we could see the Bighorn River that flows underneath.

Here's a little information about the bridge.

Ordinarily, a swinging bridge like this will give me the heebie jeebies, especially when I can look through the slats and imagine falling to my death on the rocks below.  (Have you noticed my peculiar fascination with the macabre?)

But I tried not to think about that and instead looked out across the river.  Here is the view to the north.  You can see the red rocks that are characteristic of this area in the background.  It reminds us a lot of Utah.

Here's the view to the south:

Looking of to the left, we could see where the springs flowed into the river in the past and the large travertine deposits

Looking north again and off to the right, we could see where swallows have built their mud nests.

After cheating death by surviving our bridge crossing, we continued on the boardwalk and came to the area where the mineral water flows into the large natural ponds.  The water was very hot here.  We were told it might be as much as 125 degrees.

But what we were really interested in were the pools in the bath house.  Here is the indoor pool:

And here is the outdoor pool:

Starting with Native Americans hundreds of years ago, people have been visiting the valley here to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of hot mineral water.  The State Bath House exists in fulfillment of a treaty requirement with the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Indian tribes made 115 years ago for free use of the hot mineral water flowing from the springs.  The temperature in the pools is kept at 104 degrees and the pools are drained and cleaned every 48 hours.  There is a 20-minute soaking limit, which was plenty long enough for us.  The water is ice blue and smells strongly of sulfur, but not unpleasantly so.  

The park has been set up with lovely picnic areas, and all of this is free to visitors.  What a wonderful resource for this town of just about 3,000 people.

For such a small town, Thermopolis has a lot to offer.  Also today, we visited the Wyoming Dinosaur Center.  Dinosaurs were first discovered on the Warm Springs Ranch above Thermopolis in 1993.  That led to the creation and construction of the Wyoming Dinosaur Center & Dig Sites.  The fossils being excavated were buried 145 million years ago (give or take a million years) during the Jurassic period in a layer called the Morrison formation.  Such a variety of dinosaurs are rarely found in one place.  

The Wyoming Dinosaur Center has identified over 80 dinosaur dig sites and they are confident that these sites will continue to produce new insights.  For now, there are a lot of interesting dinosaurs and fossils in their collection.  My experience with dinosaurs is limited to the children's books I read to my sons when they were little.  This place brought a whole new group of dinosaurs into my awareness.  

I don't know about you, but if my cat had claws like this, I'd have to declaw him.  Each one was roughly the size of my foot.

And grandma.  What big teeth you have!

There were marvelously well-preserved fossils of flying creatures, swimming creatures, walking creatures, slithering creatures, filter-feeding creatures, and the list goes on and on.

This next one reminded me a little of Smitty and Gracie, Smitty being the one biting the back of the other one.  (Yes, we're working on making him be nice to her.)

There were also dinosaur mothers and dinosaur babies.

This next one is the notoriously scary T-Rex.

Also, big dragonflies.  This one was around 8 inches from nose to tail.

And small dinosaurs with feathers.  Some of the fossils are so well preserved that you can actually see the outline of their wings.

There were also windows where you could peer into their laboratory

and see them meticulously drilling away rock from the fossilized bones.

It was quite a fascinating place, especially for Mike.  We spent quite a bit of time here before moving along.  

Thermopolis has lots of things for visitors to do and see, including the Legend Rock Petroglyphs, which I would dearly love to see.  It is tempting to stay for another day, but we've decided to continue on.  It will give us an excuse to return to Thermopolis on a future trip, as if we needed another reason.  The hot springs would be enough to bring us back to this marvelous place.

Tomorrow we will be moving along to West Yellowstone.  We are going to drive straight through Yellowstone since we've spent quite a bit of time there on previous trips.  On the way we will pass through Cody, Wyoming, where I have it on good authority from Padsworth and Jacque at Lily Pad Quilting that there is a great quilt shop.  I've put the driver on notice that we will be stopping there No. Matter. What.  I'm guessing that will be my next blog post.

We're turning around here in Thermopolis.  It looks like Stanley Basin will have to wait for another time since the fires have everything pretty well obscured by smoke.  We'll continue on, taking our time, until we get to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in central Oregon.  After that, we'll be on our way back home.  Not to worry, however.  There is still a lot of mileage to cover between here and there.

20 comments from clever and witty friends:

Cathy said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to write these posts. they are fascinating. I don't know if we'll ever get to any of these places, considering we live in Southern Ontario. But it sure does give me the desire to try.

quiltzyx said...

What a great name: THERMOPOLIS! It just makes me smile. I was wondering if the river/streams were warm too, or if they are diluted back to cold. The pools looked lovely.
Congratulations on bravely crossing the swinging bridge too - I'm so proud of you!

Rachel said...

Yay, "we" had a good day! The springs look amazing!! Love all the dinosaur info, my kiddos are huge dinosaur fans...even though they are both adults now :-)

Colleen said...

I so enjoy traveling with you.

WoolenSails said...

I love this visit, I could use a hot bath right now, getting cold out, lol. I would love to see the dinosaur exhibit and petroglyphs and the views are spectacular.


Winona said...

Oh my goodness, your posts just keep getting better and better. You should be a teacher, because you sure have held my attention and I have learned a lot by reading your blog while you are on this trip. I am loving it. Thanks.

Judy1522 said...

Thermopolis sounds fascinating. I am definitely adding that to my list of places to see. Thank you for sharing all the information and pictures.

otterdaughter said...

Be sure to stop by the town of Fossil near John Day. For a minimal fee, they let people dig their own fossils from the embankment behind the high school! We have some awesome metasequoia and other plant fossils we picked there.

Lyndsey said...

Another great day of travelling with you. I'm off to revisit dinosaurs on the internet as I read a lot about them with my children but this is now quite a few years ago.

Denise :) said...

I'm learning *so* much, traveling along with you! I'm really enjoying your posts ... you put a lot of thought and great content, which I know is a lot of work. So I doubly appreciate your efforts, because you *are* on vacation!! And I do love your sense of humor, Barb -- you make me smile (okay, laugh out loud)! Can't wait to see our next quilt shop! Have a GREAT day!!! Hugs! :)

KatieQ said...

This stop sounds wonderful. The pictures are gorgeous. All of your posts have been going into the Travel folder on my computer.

Snoodles said...

I agree with the other comments....this is not only fun, to travel along with you, but I'm fascinated, and I'm learning a lot! (Now I know what travertine is!)
I would have been the one that had to be convinced to set foot on that swinging bridge. Not sure I could have done it! Maybe the promise of the quilt shop in Cody could have persuaded me, though. LOL

kc said...

Well, thank you , thank you, thank you - now that you've shared the views from the swinging bridge, I don't have to set foot on it! (not that I would have or could have anyway, not for love nor money, nor all the tea in China!)

Our visit to Hot Springs, AR was one of our most fun excursions, too, and it's because of the thermal springs. I couldn't belive how hot that water was & still growing algae, so what did I do? I stuck my (bare) foot in it, just to see. Oh MY, it was hot (I believe it was 125*F). I still couldn't believe it, so, I did it AGAIN! Yup, still hotter'n blazes!

Interesting ole bones - I could so see Smitty!! :) Thank you for sharing!

Kate Brown said...

I am having such a great time following along on your tip!! It is totally fascinating :)

evelyn said...

Enjoying the journey with you still. Glad you took so many photos. Did you really LOOK DOWN on the swinging bridge to take that photo of your foot? Scary. By the way, it was a long wait at the bridge for you to come back. I just could not cross it!

Junebug613 said...

I love the town name too! How cute! I'd love to see the dinosaur stuff - funny since we have "living dinosaurs" here with the alligators... lol I don't know if I could have done the bridge, so kudos to you for making it across! I like your sandals and nail polish too! :D

Kathy Felsted Usher said...

I love all the fossils! Great vacation.

ana-ane said...

Gracias, gracias, gracias, estoy disfrutando muchísimo

Shari said...

I'm enjoying your posts so much. Sounds like you are having a wonderful time. Let us know if you find a way to make Smitty be nice to Gracie - I have a Socks who torments my Tigger!

Donna F said...

I feel like I'm on vacation with you except no kids in the backseat screaming and throwing things. It's been a delightful trip so far. If you stop at another quilt shop please snap me a picture of some pretty pink fabrics up close. Oh and don't forget to touch it too or else it won't be the same.