HOT SPRINGS HISTORY
COLORADO HOT SPRINGS IN GLENWOOD SPRINGS
The nomadic Utes were the first to use the many naturally occurring hot springs of Glenwood Springs for soaking, steaming and inhalation during their summer travels through the area. They named the largest of the springs Yampah, which in the Ute language means “Big Medicine.” Soon, European settlers followed and the area grew to become a tourist destination.
The Glenwood Hot Springs Pool
Early settlers and entrepreneurs Isaac Cooper and Walter Devereux saw the potential for Glenwood Springs to become a destination for wealthy spa-goers and had visions of developing the hot spring amenities into a world class resort. But before that could happen, much work had to be done.
The Yampah spring surfaced on the north bank of the Grand (Colorado) River, just across from a large island located in the middle of the river. In order to allow for the necessary room to build an enormous pool and all the related buildings including the stone bathhouse, it would be necessary to divert the entire flow of the river to the south side of the island so that the island could become part of the north bank. Diverting the river was quite an engineering feat and one that required a huge labor force. The inmates at the local jail were thus put to work, and with all the fights that broke out due to the gambling, saloons, and brothels along the riverfront, there was no shortage of workers. With the river diversion complete, efforts turned to building the world’s largest mineral hot springs pool and an opulent bathhouse complete with a men’s only gambling casino. The pool and bathhouse opened to much fanfare in 1888 and did indeed attract wealthy visitors from Europe and the East Coast. Over the years, the Glenwood Colorado Hot Springs have had many incarnations including serving as the exclusive enclave of the privileged, an armed services rehabilitation center during WWII, and finally, as the family-friendly resort destination that it is today.
The Yampah Vapor Caves
At about the same time that the pool was being constructed, Walter Devereux was also developing the Vapor Caves as a health-enhancing attraction just east of the pool. There were originally three separate cave entrances; two were on the south side of the river and were eventually sealed up by the railroad. Vapor Cave number three located on the north side, was the most accessible and continues to be used today. The Devereux family enlarged the caves and made them more visitor-friendly by adding marble benches to the three underground caves, wooden walkways for even-footing and illuminated the subterranean space by stringing overhead electric lighting. Because of the heat and its underground location, it was billed as a “hygienic Hades.” In 1893, the foundation for the current spa building was laid. The Vapor Caves officially opened to the public later that year.
Iron Mountain Hot Springs
Iron Mountain Hot Springs was once home to a riverside bathhouse and spa originally built by Sheriff Robert Ware in 1896. It operated under various owners for 100 years before closing in 1996 including H.J. Gamba from the 1940s until the early ’60s when it was sold to longtime local chiropractor Charles Graves. He then sold it to the Redstone Corp., a subsidiary of the Mid-Continent coal mining company, in 1977. The company contracted with various operators until the spa closed for good in 1996. Under new ownership, the Iron Mountain Hot Springs once again opened to the public in July 2015.
Iron Mountain Hot Springs gets its name from the Iron Spring, a geothermal spring that runs through a vein of rock in Iron Mountain, the same mountain on which Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park is located. While the Iron Springs don’t have the same sulfur content as the Yampah spring which supplies the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool, they are reputed to have more invigorating therapeutic value because iron oxygenates the blood, whereas sulfur springs are considered to be more relaxing.
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!
*All photos on this page are courtesy of the Glenwood Springs Historical Society and Frontier Museum.
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