Hot Springs County is in the center of Wyoming. There is a park there, miles of open land filled with steaming pools of mineral water. The county seat is a modest town named Thermopolis. From Yellowstone in the northwest, southeast to Laramie and Cheyenne, Thermopolis is a remote attraction amid open range run with pronghorn antelope.
By treaty signed in the late 19th century, the Shoshone and Arapaho nations agreed to cede the land blessed with steaming mineral springs to the federal government. A prime condition of the treaty ensured the healing springs would stay free and open to all people forever. This is still the case. Thermopolis contains a few hotels and commercial pools built with soaking baths, slides, and water features. Between these venues, the State of Wyoming runs a simple bath house. It is, indeed, free. The heavy minerals in the water are said to be healing and will tarnish silver jewelry hours later.
Due to the high temperatures, as well as the danger of thermal spikes, it is safer to soak where the temperature can be regulated. This is true of most volcanic hot springs, though odds are better with some than others. A geothermal surge is unpredictable and deadly. (There are stories of tourists boiled off the bone found floating in open pools.)
The word “lava” comes from the Latin word lavare, to wash or bathe, referencing streams of fire that cut like rivers. The Yellowstone Caldera is a 37-mile pool seething with molten rock atop a super volcano. Streams of liquid rock-fire, magma from the outer core of the earth, bubble up through 21 fissures cracked open on the Big Island of Hawaii. In earth-time, it was yesterday when Mount St. Helens exploded, though today marks the 38th anniversary of the eruption.
I saw the volcanic peaks of the Three Sisters in the distance yesterday, when the morning clouds cleared.