Curative Hot Springs

Iconic Communities, On the Road
on January 28, 2001

The steaming hot springs have been the liquid heart of Glenwood Springs for more than a century.

Indians called the springs Yampah or Big Medicine for the fabled curative powers of their mineral-rich water. Long-moustached entrepreneurs in 1888 corralled the thermal waters in the worlds largest hot springs pool, where both outlaws and presidents soaked injured limbs, eased the pain of arthritis, and melted away their cares.

Etched into the western Rocky Mountains, Glenwood Springs, Colo., is a mountain town of 8,200. Gingerbread-trimmed Victorian homes and stately brick storefronts stretch along the Roaring Fork Valley carved by the winding of the Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers.

At an altitude of 5,746 feetmore than a mile above sea levelthe town is a gateway to world-class ski resorts: Aspen 45 miles south, Vail 60 miles east, and the smaller Sunlight Mountain Resort just 10 miles away. In the past, hard-scrabble fortunes were made and lost in nearby silver, gold, and coal mines, while sheep and cattle long have grazed in high-mountain pastures.

This combination of springs and vapor caves, skiing, mining, ranching, and a spectacular landscape has made the town a melting pot.

People have come from all over to live here, says Tamie Meck, who writes a weekly community news column called Meck my Day for the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.

Willa Soncarty, registrar for the towns Frontier Historical Museum, says in the 1920s people watched swimmers on Saturday nights.

Tourists would throw money into the pool and the kids would dive for it. Then the kids would take the money and spend it at the hamburger stands or get an ice cream soda for 15 cents.

Smiling Strawberry Queen contestants have lined up along the pools edge for years. For 104 years, the Strawberry Days festival celebrated the local harvest of what has long been an important local agricultural product.

There are actually three pools: a kiddie wading pool, a 104-degree therapeutic pool, and a 405-foot-long swimming pool, kept at 90 degrees. The water, bubbling out of the ground at 122 degrees, is cooled with municipal water.

The bathhouse and lodge were designed by a Viennese architect and built of local red sandstone for $100,000 in 1890. Its hosted European royalty, movie stars, and Presidents Benjamin Harrison, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft.

Local legend says a hotel maid who felt sorry for Roosevelt after an unsuccessful bear hunting trip stitched a stuffed bear in 1905 to lift his spiritsthereafter known as the Teddy bear.

The infamous also were drawn to the curative springs. Doc Hollidaymore famous for gun slinging at the OK Corral than dentistrysought relief for his tuberculosis here.

During World War II, the neighboring Hotel Colorado served as a naval convalescent hospital, with the bathhouse and lodge closed to the public. The pool provided therapy for convalescing sailors and Marines.

After it opened to the public again, rumors spread that the owner planned to sell to a Texas company for a private club. That would have ruined the town as far as tourism goes, says Henry Bosco, president of the Hot Springs Lodge & Pool.

So Bosco and 21 other residents put up $10,000 each in 1956 to keep the pool open. Its still owned by those original investors and their descendants.

The spring is still prized for its medicinal properties, lodge manager Kjell Mitchell says. Chiropractors and orthopedic surgeons regularly prescribe pool soaks for post-surgical therapy and sports injury rehabilitation.

But townsfolk prize the pool as the center of the communitya role thats clear every New Years Eve.

Thats when the pool stays open until 1 a.m. for celebrants to ring in the New Year by soaking amid a surreal scene of billowing steam and snow.