Town Story: Glenwood Springs
The Ute Indians first discovered the 124-degree mineral water bubbling from the Earth at Glenwood Springs. Since then, everyone from U.S. presidents to Molly Brown has come here to experience the water’s healing powers.
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(This story originally appeared in the May/June 2014 issue of Colorado Life Magazine. For more about Glenwood Springs, check out our article on the Rallye there in the May/June 2015 issue - Subscribe with coupon code TWS10 to get it free! )
FOR THE RICH and famous of more than a century ago, a journey to Glenwood Springs to take the waters was a posh getaway. These days, their jet-setting modern equivalents have migrated “up-valley” to Aspen, 40 miles away, while Glenwood Springs ditched the glitz to become a small, friendly mountain town that simultaneously manages to be an all-season resort destination.
The city sprang up around the hot springs at the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers in the 1880s, and since then it has expended further into the T-shaped valley surrounded by red sandstone cliffs and green mountainsides. At the heart of it all is the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool and Spa.
Even motorists cruising at high speeds along Interstate 70 can’t help notice the spring-fed pool stretching two city blocks and the 1890 red sandstone bathhouse. During summer months, the water is filled with people, and the air is filled with their laughter and music emanating from large speakers. The 93-degree main pool and 104-degree therapy pool are unexpectedly refreshing even on the hottest days.
The water is naturally enriched with 15 minerals. Theodore Roosevelt, Buffalo Bill Cody and countless others have vacationed here seeking their mysterious curative properties, and the locals swear by it, too. As John Bosco, Glenwood Hot Springs’ vice president, sat and talked with us in the lobby of the pool’s historic sandstone building, it seemed every other person walking in was a Glenwood Springs native whom he greeted by name.
Bosco grew up at the pool, which his family has owned or partially owned since 1956, and their history here stretches back even further. His father, Hank Bosco, 91, who still works full-time as the business’ chairman, remembers that after Boy Scout meetings in the 1930s, he and his friends would peel off their clothes and skinny dip in the pool after it closed. The night watchman got wise to their shenanigans, but rather than chase them off, he let them splash around in the pool while he crept over and retrieved their clothes. The boys had to find the guard to get their clothes back, at which point he collected their names and notified their parents.
Glenwood Hot Springs has added amenities over the years, including the deluxe Spa of the Rockies, but the basic premise – soaking in a giant pool of steamy mineral water – remains little changed since 1888, when Walter Devereux opened the hot springs pool. The springs used to emerge in the Colorado River, but Devereux, a man who had grown rich from his Aspen silver mines, hired laborers, including local jail inmates, to build a stone wall to divert the river so the springs would bubble up on land that Devereux owned.
To serve the high-end clientele flocking to the pool, Devereux built the Hotel Colorado in 1893 on the hillside above it. Modeled after a 16th-century Italian palace, the Hotel Colorado retains its Gilded Age elegance, and photos of its noted guests adorn the walls. There’s a suite named for Theodore Roosevelt, whose sojourns at the hotel earned it the nickname “Little White House of the West,” and a suite named for Molly Brown, who threw lavish parties there. Al Capone was a frequent visitor in the 1920s, but while he merits a photo on the wall, he’s perhaps too notorious to have a suite named in his honor.
Notorious or not, there’s one former Glenwood Springs resident the locals proudly associate with their town: Doc Holliday. The gunslinger and gambler, best known for fighting alongside Wyatt Earp at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Ariz., came here in May 1887. Holliday hoped the Yampah Vapor Caves, fed by the same source as the hot springs, would help him overcome his tuberculosis. But he was beyond help at that point, and he died and was buried here six months later.
People make pilgrimages up Jasper Mountain to Linwood Cemetery to see Holliday’s tombstone, even if it’s not at the location of his actual, unmarked burial site elsewhere in the cemetery.
Holliday, as portrayed by R.W. “Doc” Boyle, is still seen walking the cemetery. Boyle plays the Western legend at events like the Frontier Historical Society’s annual ghost walks in October, where he’s one of a half dozen actors portraying “ghosts” of the real people buried there.
Once, near midnight after the last tour concluded, Boyle discovered four children hiking up to the cemetery. Still in full Holliday regalia, Boyle took a shortcut through the trees and followed undetected as they walked to Holliday’s marker. The oldest of the group, a teenage boy, shined his headlamp on the stone. It really was Holliday’s tombstone, the boy declared.
“Yes!” Boyle exclaimed in Holliday’s Southern drawl. “And see that you treat it with considerable respect!” The children turned their lights to see Holliday’s ghost, screamed and ran. Boyle slipped away into the darkness. As the youngsters fled, they encountered a man walking up the trail and told him to be careful. The man said he lived up there and wasn’t afraid of any bears. “Forget about the bear!” they replied. “Doc Holliday’s up there!”