Yet another gem to be found in Wyoming is the town of Thermopolis. Getting to Thermopolis involves a trip through the Wind River Canyon. The illusion is that you’re driving down into the earth, when in fact you are gradually climbing to a plateau. That illusion is reinforced by roadside markers pointing out the geologic formations with age every few miles or so along the road. This drive is the closest we’ll ever get to time travel.
Tucked away in the Wind River Range, Thermopolis boasts the largest hot springs in the world, most of the springs found in Hot Springs State Park (http://wyoparks.state.wy.us/Site/SiteInfo.aspx?siteID=9). Both Owl Creek and the Big Horn River feed the springs, which in turn leeches minerals out of the water and the rocks and builds incredible travertine terraces before spilling back into the Big Horn River. Hot Springs State Park also offers a year round bath house that is free to the public and open almost every day of the year. There is a twenty minute time limit for remaining in the pools, but after twenty minutes of soaking in 120 degree water, most people already start to feel par-boiled.
Take a walk along the boardwalks over the springs. The differing colors are created by the dissolving minerals brought to the surface and deposited there by the hot water. Stroll across the suspension foot bridge that spans the Big Horn River for a truly panoramic view of the springs. Any time of year the springs are lovely, but in the winter, there is a silence and serenity that can’t be found during the height of tourist season. With a landscape mantled in white, a sky of incredible cerulean blue, and the gurgling of the water, you can find yourself alone with your thoughts. Of course, getting to Thermopolis in the dead of winter can sometimes be a challenge.
There is another gem to be found in Thermopolis. It’s not much to look at from the outside, but once inside, prepare to be awed. The Dinosaur Center (http://www.wyodino.org/) is a privately owned museum with a world class research facility. Their biggest claim to fame are the fossilized remains of a tiny dinosaur about the size of a modern magpie—that of the archaeopteryx. This little dinosaur actually had wings and is believed to be the evolutionary link between dinosaurs and modern birds. This truly priceless fossil was purchased and then donated to the center by an anonymous donor. Other fossils include a behemoth that spans nearly the length of the building, affectionately called “Jimbo.” This supersaurus dinosaur was the largest quadruped to ever walk the earth.
The Dinosaur Center also offers day long trips to a dig where you can assist the professionals in excavating fossils. Just be sure to bring along plenty of water, as Thermopolis is in a high plains desert. If you want to go on a day-dig, be sure to make your reservations early, as they book fast. There is also a bus trip up the side of the mountain to an active dig where you can see footprints of the dinosaurs frozen forever in time.
If you’re planning a trip to Wyoming and have dinosaur-happy little ones (or even big ones, like me), Thermopolis must be on your bucket list. Stop by Thermopolis and have a hot time.