The Fairy Caves, now a part of the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, were originally opened in 1886 by Charles Darrow, an attorney in Glenwood Springs whose family homesteaded the land that included the caves located in Iron Mountain. To make the caves enticing to visitors of the day, Darrow installed overhead colored electric lights, a truly spectacular feat considering that Glenwood Springs was one of the first electrically lit cities west of the Mississippi River.
He also blasted a tunnel that gave his guests breathtaking views of the Roaring Fork and Grand (Colorado) River Valleys. Today’s visitors can enjoy the same spectacular views on cave tours when they stand on the precipice of Exclamation Point. Darrow was a marketing master and touted the Fairy Caves as the Eighth Wonder of the World. During the Victorian heyday, donkeys transported guests up Iron Mountain behind the Hotel Colorado. High society women were photographed touring the caves in their long dresses!
Darrow’s sons operated the cave until 1917. On the eve of America’s entry into World War I, the Darrow closed the caves to the public. The Fairy Caves were closed for 82 years until current owners Steve and Jeanne Beckley reopened them to the public in 1999. In 1960, with special permission, cave explorers discovered “Jam Crack,” a narrow passageway barely big enough for a man to squeeze through. This crevice led to the finding of one of the largest and most decorated cave rooms in Colorado. The magnificent five-story room was so enormous that it was dubbed “The Barn.”
At the time Darrow was developing the site as a tourist destination, the scientific community knew little about the preservation of caves. Unfortunately, when heat and outside air are allowed into a cave as was done with the small portion of the cave known as the Fairy Caves, the cave stops growing and living. Since taking ownership, the Beckleys have applied rigorous preservation methods and once “dead” historic sections are beginning to show signs of new growth.
Explore all of the historical things to do, learn and see in Glenwood Springs with a modern twist; there is something for everyone and a new adventure to be had every day! For more Glenwood Springs history, visit the Glenwood Springs Historical Society and Frontier Museum.
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