Soak up knowledge about Steamboat’s springs at new museum exhibit |

Soak up knowledge about Steamboat’s springs at new museum exhibit

The "Springs of Steamboat" exhibit is ready for virtual viewing at the Tread of the Pioneers Museum.
Tread of Pioneers Museum/courtesy

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — You’ll have to squint to see it, but I promise, there is a worm in the jar. 

A small, see-through worm from the Sulphur Cave is just one of the highlights of the new exhibit, at the Tread of Pioneers Museum. The museum is closed to in-person tours due to COVID-19. The museum hopes to post a virtual tour video on its Facebook and Youtube accounts in mid-July.

The exhibit, fully titled, “The Springs of Steamboat: Healing Waters, Sparkling Soda & Mysterious Caves,” takes viewers on a trip through time, starting millions of years ago when the springs were created, all the way up to present day.

An entire wall is dedicated to the Sulphur Cave, which is under consideration to become a national natural landmark. That is where virtual visitors can see the worm, known as Limnodrilus sulphurensis, found only in Steamboat’s sulphur cave.

“It’s a glass vial that contains a worm from inside the cave, but it’s translucent and tiny,” said Katie Adams, curator at the Tread of Pioneers Museum. “You have to really look for it, which is kind of exciting.”

People cannot enter the cave, since the air is toxic, but visitors to the museum can watch a video to see what’s inside. 

Adams teamed up with Dagny McKinley, author of “Springs of Steamboat,” as well as mineral springs tour guide Jeff Milliken to curate the exhibit. McKinley’s Brown Bag Storytelling session from last year kicked off 2020’s virtual series on the museum’s Youtube and Facebook pages. The series will continue every Friday at noon until Aug. 28.

The team is also partnering with the city of Steamboat Springs, Northwest Colorado Heritage Program and Steamboat Creates to create and install new interpretive signs at each spring. The signs are expected to be in place later this summer. 

Steamboat would not be the town it is today without the local mineral springs. The town was named after the Steamboat Spring, formally Steamboat geyser. The exhibit features an illustration of what the Steamboat geyser probably looked like and how it formed. The existence of the springs was what prompted town founder James Crawford to settle in this spot in the Yampa Valley in 1875.

There are also water samples in jars from each downtown spring, showing the different contents of each spring. Viewers can guess which sample came from which spring. 

“They all are actually different colors,” said Adams. “The crazy thing is, they are changing the longer they’ve been sitting in those jars. I’m curious what will happen in six more months. … There’s definitely fungus in there growing.”

Oddly enough, this exhibit was planned in advance, but works perfectly in a world in which it is prohibited from gathering or entering many places. The mineral springs that the exhibit teaches about are all over Steamboat. People can see the exhibit virtually, then go find the springs themselves. 

For an in-person experience, Yampatika, in partnership with the museum, is offering weekly Mineral Springs Walking Tours every Wednesday at 9 a.m. from July 1 to Sept. 2. The tours depart from the Depot Art Center. 

“I think it’s easy to drive past and forget about the springs,” said Adams. “I hope this either rejuvenates or sparks new interest in these amazing things. Steamboat Springs is a place like no other for a number of reasons, but one of the first reasons that brought people here are the variation and amazing mineral springs.”

To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.

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