Change in plans leads to lovely discovery

terrace boardwalk trail
The terrace boardwalk trail followed the terrace, starting on low ground and then climbing along the hillside. (Julie Geiss photo)

In some friendships, there’s an undefinable moment when friends become more like family. When a friend was getting married near his home in Montana, we knew we couldn’t miss it. 

We planned to stay in a cabin near the site of the wedding in Red Lodge, Montana.  Imagine my surprise when I received a phone call explaining that the cabin we rented had floated down the river. 

At the time, I was unaware of the extreme flooding in Carbon County, Montana.  The next day, I watched aerial footage of the flooding in Yellowstone National Park. 

For the first time since wildfires in 1988, Yellowstone National Park was closed due to a natural disaster. A combination of torrential rain and rapid snowmelt on the mountains caused unprecedented flooding, sometimes referred to as a thousand-year event — although catastrophic events seem to be happening more frequently these days.  

Change in plans

Not even natural disasters were going to stop the wedding, however. We made some last-minute travel plans that included leaving the kids at home and flying instead of driving. 

After getting a rental car, I was excited for the drive north through Wyoming towards our destination in southern  Montana. While Wyoming is the tenth largest state in the U.S. by area, it is also the least populated. That fact alone had me swooning and window shopping cowgirl hats.  

Visiting Wyoming also triggered a newfound zeal for geothermal hot springs. On a  previous trip, we visited hot springs near Gardiner, Montana. 

Water in hot springs is heated by the Earth’s interior before bubbling to the surface. Minerals are added to the water as it passes through rock layers. Gasses rise from volcanic rock contributing to the composition of the mineral water.  

We used extreme caution while hiking around hot springs. The temperature in hot springs exceeds the boiling point of water. Additionally, they can also be highly acidic. The hot springs we visited for bathing had the temperature maintained at a lower temperature.  

Hot Springs

On this trip, I wanted to visit Hot Springs State Park in Thermopolis, Wyoming. There are two privately operated pools, but we were interested in hiking near the hot springs and then visiting the state bath house, both offering free admission to the public.  

While the park has over 10 miles of trails and pathways to choose from, we opted for the terrace boardwalk trail that starts right behind the state bath house. The trail followed the terrace, starting on low ground and then climbing along the hillside. The cascading mineral water, rich in lime and gypsum, leaves thick mineral deposits along the surface mainly shades of white and rust. More than 8,000 gallons of water flow over the terrace every 24 hours. The high temperature of the water made steam rise in the cool morning air. A pungent sulfur smell filled our sinuses.  

The trail brought us to what has been historically known as the swinging bridge across the Bighorn River. The original pedestrian bridge was completed in 1916 and restored in 1992.  My husband walked across the suspension bridge slowly, taking in the scenery. I scooted across like a swarm of hornets were chasing me. 

Together, we stood in awe looking across the river at the hot springs. The accumulated mineral deposits formed a bubble-like shelf over the Bighorn River. The river was still swollen from the flooding, evidenced by flattened vegetation and debris.

State Bath House

After walking the trail, we made our way to the State Bath House. The intriguing name had me slightly squeamish about the idea of public bathing, although it thankfully turned out to be like a swimming pool where everyone wore bathing suits. 

The bath house is the result of a  treaty with the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Indian tribes made 120 years ago. The treaty ensured that the public can enjoy soaking in the “healing” mineral water for free for 20  minutes a day.  

Instead of 127 degrees Fahrenheit, the water is kept at 104 degrees. It is completely mineral water, containing at least 27 minerals. Because no chlorine or other chemicals are added, the pools are drained every 48 hours. 

There is an indoor pool, but we couldn’t pass up the astounding scenery of the outdoor pool. For half our visit, we were the only people in it.  

A shower is recommended after soaking, otherwise, a rotten egg smell lingers and grows stronger over time. I sometimes think stories of natural healing seem folksy or hokey, but I have to admit I felt like a million dollars after soaking in mineral water. 

Thermopolis seemed like a mini Yellowstone experience, without crowds. We were not disappointed by the experience brought to us by a detour in our plans. Our trip continued north into Montana where the wedding went off without a hitch. Love, helping hands, and divine intervention are the only things more powerful than natural disasters.


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Julie Geiss lives with her husband and four children in Unity Township, Ohio. Faith and family are first in her life, but she also loves hiking, biking and camping. You can contact Julie at



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