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Tales from the Tread: The magic of Mineral Springs

Candace Bannister
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Different mineral springs are located near Bud Werner Memorial Library in Steamboat Springs.
File photo

On June 24, the Tread of Pioneers Museum will open its newest exhibit, “The Springs of Steamboat: Healing Waters, Sparkling Soda, and Mysterious Caves.” Though this year’s opening will be virtual, due to COVID-19 precautions, the museum and its heritage partners will provide a variety of ways for you to experience the magic of the mineral springs in person.

Museum Curator, Katie Adams and Dagny McKinley, author of the “Springs of Steamboat” book, teamed up with local geologist and mineral springs tour guide, Jeff Milliken, to create the exhibit for the museum. The museum and this “springs team” is also working with the City of Steamboat Springs, Northwest Colorado Heritage Program and Steamboat Creates to recreate all new interpretive signs at each spring in the downtown area, scheduled for installation later this summer.

“When I began researching the history of Steamboat Springs, I found the mineral springs were one of the reasons this town exists,” said McKinley. “The mysteries they hold, as well as the natural healing properties they offer, are vast. People once traveled from across the country to be cured of ailments and restored by these waters, and yet now, most people who visit our town don’t know they exist. They are a treasure we should never take for granted.” 

The museum will offer virtual tours of the exhibit on its Youtube Channel and Facebook page, until the museum can safely open to the public. We invite you to join a Yampatika guide on weekly Mineral Springs Walking Tours held at 9 a.m. every Wednesday from July 1 to Sept. 2. The tours meet at the Depot Art Center on 13th Street and are presented by Yampatika in partnership with the Tread of Pioneers Museum. 

There were once 150 springs documented in a concentrated area in Steamboat Springs. A 1908 Steamboat Pilot article reported that the springs varied in temperature from 38-153 degrees. The most common elements present are lithia, iron, calcium and sulphur. 

The Ute Indians and their predecessors were the first people to have been attracted to the springs. They believe that mineral spring water is the blood of mother earth with curative powers. As such, the Utes frequently bathed themselves and their horses in the springs.

Steamboat Springs town founder James Crawford was also attracted to the springs. On Crawford’s journey west from Missouri, he ran into a prospector who told him about the springs. Intrigued, he followed the prospector’s trail until he finally came onto the big spring, a spouting geyser that was eventually named the Steamboat Spring. He found another 20 out of the 150 springs that were later located.

The details

What: Mineral Springs Walking Tours
When: 9 a.m. every Wednesday from July 1 to Sept. 2
Where: Meet at the Depot Art Center on 13th St. in Steamboat Springs
How much: Free
More info: Visit yampatika.org

As soon as Crawford saw the area around Steamboat Springs and its abundance, he was ready to stake his claim. He believed the springs would ensure a successful future town, and he settled in the area with his family in 1875. He built the first bathhouse over Bath Spring (now known as the Heart Spring and part of the Old Town Hot Springs), where many weary travelers and settlers enjoyed a warm clean bath, a unique luxury in the frontier west.

Later, an 1888 a brochure called Steamboat Springs “The Future Metropolis of Routt County – A refuge for rest and retirement, a resort for pastime and pleasure and a sanitarium for the weak and invalid.” An 1889 Steamboat Pilot article reported “The Largest Group of Mineral Springs in the World is at Steamboat Springs.”

James Crawford initially thought that the springs in the area would draw interest, but knew that the greatest boost to the population would come from the accessibility of a railroad line. The line eventually reached Steamboat Springs in 1908. Some of the priorities for the town were:

  • Build a first class modern hotel with 100 rooms (later the Cabin Hotel was built in 1909);
  • Bottle, ship and sell carbonated waters;
  • Construct an attractive and modern bathhouse (over Heart Spring) to replace old one;
  • Pipe hot water from springs for heating purposes.

Since the town’s founding and early development, the springs have long held the imagination and enjoyment of both residents and visitors. 

Featuring healing waters, sparkling soda, and mysterious caves, this is your summer to re-discover the springs of Steamboat. We invite you to explore them on your own, take a virtual tour of the new museum exhibit, or join a guided tour of these amazing natural wonders.

Dagny McKinley, Katie Adams and Jeff Milliken contributed to this story.


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