Hot Springs State Park is nearly as old as the state of Wyoming! The land was transferred to the State of Wyoming by the Shoshone Tribe, under the leadership of Chief Washakie in 1897. The treaty specified that a free bath house would be maintained to accommodate those who wished to use the springs but could not pay. The State, through the Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources, continues to maintain a free bath house for visitors to this today. The town of Thermopolis (“The City of Heat”) grew up around the springs as tourists flocked to the area to enjoy the mineral rich waters.
One of the most photographed, and unique, attractions in the park is Tepee Fountain. Though many assume that this, like the nearby mineral terraces, is a natural feature, it is actually the result of a practical need. Around 1903, the city of Thermopolis undertook two waterworks projects. The first piped in fresh spring water to town for drinking and washing and the second directed hot mineral water to the various sanitariums and bath houses in the park. After the pipes were installed, the lessees complained about low water pressure from the mineral taps. This stumped folks. Surely mineral deposits could not have blocked the pipes so soon!
“Wandering about the Reserve one day, [park superintendent Jacob Paulus] noticed the steam rising from the Springs. Snapping his fingers he thought I’ve got it! Steam was blocking the flow….[so] down along the river…Paulus installed a vent pipe.” Water was soon gushing out the pipe and pressure was restored to the bath houses.
The water from the overflow pipe soon eroded the soil around the 12 foot high wooden pipe, so Paulus built a stone pyramid around the pipe to keep it upright and a stone catch basin at its foot, turning the practical pipe into a fountain of sorts. The local newspaper voiced its hopes that eventually the minerals would coat the stone and turn it into a snowy white tourist attraction. As it happened, the minerals build up more quickly than anticipated and algae in the water colored the fountain to match the terraces. Soon, a contractor from Chicago was brought in to replace the original wooden pipe with a 25 foot steel pipe. It was hoped that this would help keep the fountain functioning properly. The extension has lived up to its promise and the vent continues to spill water over the now monstrous fountain more than 110 years later.
Are you suffering from Cabin Fever? Check back often during April for more stops on our postcard tour of Wyoming!
1. “Museum Musings”, Thermopolis Independent Record 9/7/1978.