Steamboat author releases history book about local natural hot springs

Nicole Inglis
Local author Dagny McKinley holds her book "The Springs of Steamboat" in front of the Sulfur Spring in West Lincoln Park in Steamboat Springs. McKinley will have a signing for the book May 11 at the Tread of Pioneers Museum.
John F. Russell

— As she explored the dozen natural hot springs scattered throughout the Steamboat Springs landscape that she was featuring in her new book, local author Dagny McKinley put herself in the shoes of the settlers that trod the same ground more than a century ago.

“I tried to drink from each one,” she said. “I tried to taste what the settlers did when they were here.”

Some tasted like sulfur, and some were carbonated. Some were a rich, milky blue while others were as clear as glass. But they’re the reason we’re here.

McKinley’s latest book “The Springs of Steamboat: Healing Waters, Mysterious Caves and Sparkling Soda” recently was released through publisher History Press and details the history of Steamboat Springs through its namesake natural wonders.

She will hold a book signing at 3:30 p.m. May 11 at Tread of Pioneers Museum to share her latest effort with the community.

It was at the museum and through interviews with longtime locals and descendants of settlers that she researched for the book, which is about 180 pages full of history and mineralogy with a dash of soul.

It’s that sense of connection to the Steamboat soul she was looking for when she started the project.

“I wanted to embrace Steamboat,” she said, sitting next to the milky blue water of the Sulfur Spring on Thursday afternoon. “I have lived here 12 years, and I’ve left many times.”

She wanted to look deeper, to learn more about what was beneath her home.

“I think the more you understand about the place you live in, the richer it is to you,” she said.

“You appreciate what you have more when you take the time to look around you.”

Many know the story of how Steamboat Springs got its name — settlers thought one of the bubbling springs sounded like a steamboat — but the town’s connection to the mineral pools scattered throughout and underneath the land goes deeper than just a name.

McKinley discovered in her research that settler John Crawford foresaw Steamboat as a hub of healing, and those before him also revered the legend of the natural springs.

The Ute Indians used to bathe their horses in the Sulfur Spring, in what now is West Lincoln Park, and a geyser once shot into the sky above the Steamboat Springs, which later was quieted by the construction of the railroad.

Before she began researching the book, McKinley hadn’t even seen Strawberry Park Hot Springs during the day, but now she knows devoted bathers and a local man who drinks from the Lithia Springs every day for its calming properties.

Today, the hot springs still are a draw for visitors from all over world.

“Anyone who goes to the Old Town Hot Springs or to Strawberry Park is changed,” she said.

While she said many people talk about the energy of the Strawberry Park Hot Springs, it’s a small geothermic, toxic cave near the base of Howelsen Hill that is her favorite natural spring of all.

The cave is fenced off to prevent visitors from breathing in the fatally toxic fumes, but McKinley said one can still see the small stream of spring water where it’s carved into the limestone rock. Also inside are what one researcher discovered as snottites, bacterial formations that have been found in only one other cave in the world.

“It’s so mysterious,” she said with a grin.

To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email

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