We heard from other RVer’s that a neat little town is just a short drive from Cody so we decided to check it out. Thermopolis (3009 souls) is about an hour and a half’s ride from Cody. Thermopolis is the largest town in Hot Springs County and also the county seat.
Thermopolis is located near the northern end of the Wind River Canyon and Wedding of the Waters, where the north-flowing Wind River becomes the Bighorn River. It is an unusual instance of a river changing names at a point other than a confluence of two streams. The dual name is ascribed to the mountain barrier between the Wind River and Bighorn basins, obscuring the fact that the river that drains the two is the same. The term “Wedding of the Waters” dates to at least 1934, when a marker was placed at the location.
The large Boysen Reservoir lies 17 miles to the south. The lake offers excellent fishing. Legend Rock, a cliff located in the central part of the county, displays some of the most spectacular petroglyphs in Wyoming. Bloody Hand Cave, near the mouth of Wind River Canyon, also has pictures and carvings.
The town claims the world’s largest mineral hot spring, appropriately named “The Big Spring”, as part of Wyoming’s Hot Springs State Park. The springs are open to the public for free as part of an 1896 treaty signed with the Shoshone and Arapaho Indian tribes. Dinosaur fossils were found on the Warm Springs Ranch in 1993, and the Wyoming Dinosaur Center was founded soon after.
Later, after the Shoshone Reservation was established in the Wind River Valley in 1868, the hot springs were on the reservation. This meant that white settlers could not formally claim the land or erect permanent structures. It did not prevent numerous squatters from living near the springs in tents and dugouts, however, either to soak in the springs themselves or to sell food and lodging to others.
Through a convoluted deal with the Shoshone 100 square miles of land including the hot springs was purchased by the US Government. The Indians no longer had need for the land as most of the game had been driven off by settlement of the area around the springs and could use the money to transition to reservation life. One square mile was given to the state and the remaining 99 were opened for settlement. The Shoshone requested that the springs remain open to the public forever. Purchase price- 94 cents an acre.
Thermopolis began in the 1880s near the mouth of Owl Creek, just outside the reservation boundaries of the time and downstream from the town’s present-day site. It provided better quarters for visitors than the pole-and-brush “Hotel de Sagebrush” near the hot springs, and offered stores and other businesses to serve the ranchers and homesteaders on Owl Creek and along the river. In 1910 the Burlington Railroad reached Thermopolis bringing with it 60 or more people- here to visit the therapeutic hot springs. Prior to the railroad the only access was by wagon road.
Just across the Bighorn River from Thermopolis was the town of Andersonville, where outlaws like Jim McCloud; Harry Longabaugh, known as the Sundance Kid; and Robert Leroy Parker, known as Butch Cassidy appear to have visited regularly.
Although agriculture seemed unlikely a lot of early settlers made a go of it by raising hay and alfalfa for livestock feed. Cattle ranchers brought in their cattle and sheep ranchers brought in their sheep. Coal mining began in 1898 and oil was discovered at the Grass Creek field in 1907 and the Hamilton Dome opened in 1915.
Today Thermopolis is a mecca for seekers of the therapeutic waters of its hot springs. Hot Springs State Park incorporates hotels, public soaking pools, walking and biking trails. Buffalo free range in the hills above the springs and one can visit the Dinosaur Center.
Downtown Thermopolis is typical for turn of last century downtowns. It consists of one block of one and two story brick buildings, one of which houses a bakery- which I visit and purchase freshly made cherry fritters. Yum! We also visit the Old West Historical Museum. The place is packed with memorabilia that local folks have donated as well as historically significant artifacts. The museum is a must see while in town.
The town of Thermopolis is a little off the beaten path but well worth the visit. And if one is into bathing in hot mineral waters this is the place to go!
See you at the next place we visit. Adios!