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The eternal appeal of hot springs

Special to The Times

People have varying expectations about hot springs. “They extend your life,” some say. “They’re the equivalent of a good night’s sleep,” others contend.

Whatever people’s expectation, they pay a hefty price for the experience, from $50 to $100 a day for the basic visit -- and that’s without room and board.

Except, that is, in one special location.

The little central Wyoming town of Thermopolis, which has one of the world’s largest mineral hot springs, has two 104-degree pools, and they’re free. Maintained by the state park system, the soaking pools are a major attraction at Hot Springs State Park. Even the State Bath House lockers are provided for free. (Bring your own swimsuit and towel.)

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As you settle into the steaming water, you’ll be a part of Native American history. For generations, area tribes sought out the turquoise-colored spring for the healing qualities they believed it possessed. In an 1896 treaty, the Shoshone and Arapaho sold the spring as part of a land deal. During negotiations, Shoshone Chief Washakie requested that one-fourth of the waters be forever free to everyone. The Bath House honors the request.

Thermopolis, an Old West town, is among high buttes and rugged canyons on a major route from Denver to Yellowstone National Park, about 135 miles northwest. Bubbling up from beneath Owl Creek Mountains, the spring’s scalding 127-degree waters cascade down colorful travertine terraces before tumbling into the Bighorn River. Flow is estimated at 3.4 million gallons a day. A park boardwalk allows a close-up look.

The Bath House cools diverted water to 104 degrees. For health reasons, soaks are limited to 20 minutes; any longer, and you might get woozy. Choose either the glass-enclosed indoor pool or the large outdoor pool, half of which is shaded.

The Bath House is open from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and from noon to 5:30 p.m. Sundays.

The Chamber of Commerce lists 11 motels or other lodgings. The Holiday Inn (307) 864-3131, which is within the state park, offers off-season rates beginning at $78 a night for two during weekends; in summer, $116.

For more information, call the State Bath House, (307) 864-3765, www.wyobest.org. For lodging and other information about the town, call (800) 786-6772, www.thermopolis.com.


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