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Originally published Friday, June 29, 2012 at 12:01 PM

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Frolic at the site of the ancient Roman baths at Tiermas, Spain

The hot springs, and reservoir, lie long the Aragón River, a passageway for millennia.

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Aragón tourism, www.caiaragon.com/en/

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WHEN THE going gets tough, the tough (and not-so-tough) get rolling in the mud.

In Spain, where the economy has tanked and unemployment soared over the past few years, people frolic for free at the site of the ancient Roman baths at Tiermas.

They loll in the steaming waters of the natural hot springs; coat themselves in skin-softening mud and peer at the ruins of old bathhouses.

What makes Tiermas even more alluring is its mystery and remoteness. The hot springs emerge only after a dry summer when the Yesa reservoir drops low enough, and are undeveloped, unregulated (yes, nude bathers) and tucked away near the drowsy 13th-century village of Tiermas in the Aragón region of northeast Spain.

The sulfurous springs lure locals and a few adventurous tourists who soak in the hot water and playfully plaster themselves with warm mud. Why pay for spa treatment when you can get it for nothing, with scenery and history?

The hot springs, and reservoir, lie long the Aragón River, a passageway for millennia. Roman Empire (and pre-Roman) trade routes followed the river. Medieval Christian pilgrims (and modern ones) walked the long-distance paths to Santiago de Compostela that pass nearby.

And now, happy bathers make their pilgrimage to the Tiermas springs.

Kristin R. Jackson is The Seattle Times' NWTraveler editor. Contact her at kjackson@seattletimes.com.

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