Tom Ross: There’s more to a dowser than mere water

Tom Ross
Retired college professor George Tolles has dowsed sacred sites all across the world not only to find water
Tom Ross

— George Tolles has traveled the world over, and everywhere he rambles he pretty much gets exactly what he asks for — as long as he says “please” and remembers to pack a small set of dowsing wands.

Tolles, 81, shared his secrets Friday with about 25 people attending the Brown Bag Lecture Series hosted by Tread of Pioneers Museum.

“Believe it or not, dowsing is reputed to be the world’s oldest vocation, despite what you may have heard,” Tolles said.

He retired in 1991 as chairman of the social studies department at the Alpine Campus of Colorado Mountain College. And Tolles is just as well known as a dowser who can pinpoint the best location for a water well on a 35-acre country estate lot.

His secret?

“I always say ‘please,’” he told his audience at the museum. “Please show me a stream of clear, pure, potable water flowing at least at 3 gallons per minute.”

Walking down the aisle amidst his audience with a Y-shaped willow branch clutched in his fists, Tolles repeats that mantra out loud, not because he thinks a higher power is listening, but as a form of concentration.

Abruptly, the willow stick points downward at the floor of the museum’s Utterback Annex and Tolles pronounces, “There’s water right under here.” He proceeds to define the width of the stream and, counting as he stomps his foot, asks the dowsing wand how much water there is.

“Somewhere between 3 and 4 gallons per minute,” he concludes.


Tolles is utterly convincing, and his hundreds of clients, many of them Steamboat Realtors, will vouch for him.

Tolles first picked up a dowsing wand when an old cowboy named Johnny Backus dowsed his family’s property in the South Valley. He handed the pliable willow wand to Tolles, who was stunned when it irresistibly twisted in his hands.

One in five people are natural dowsers, he said.

Throughout 35 years, Tolles has located more wells than he can remember. Luckily, he has them all written down in a book. And his records tell a sobering tale for residents of the Yampa Valley.

“The last 35 years, the water table has dropped 200 to 300 feet almost everywhere,” he said. “We’re drying out.

“Once, most wells were 300 to 400 feet deep. Now, some wells I dowsed years ago have dried up. Today, people drill their wells 600 to 700 feet deep.”

A student of world geography, Tolles has traveled from Scandinavia to France, the Middle East, Africa and along the Great Silk Road linking Eastern Europe to Asia.

Everywhere he goes, he dowses. And he’s reached some interesting conclusions about human spirituality, the undeniable importance of water and lines of power he said run through the earth.

“Dowsing really began in the desert with nomadic tribes of herders,” Tolles said. “That’s how they survived. The shaman or holy man was the dowser.”

But water isn’t the only thing ancient dowsers sought.

“I’ve dowsed thousands of holy sites — Hindu temples, Lutheran churches in Denmark and cathedrals in France. Down in the bottom, you’ll always find a spring,” he said.

Careful to say that he doesn’t want to insult anyone’s religion, Tolles is nonetheless firm in his belief that beginning thousands of years before Christ and continuing until the 20th century, sacred sites were always built with a water source in the center at the place where two lines of power cross in the earth. And one of those linear bands of power is always in alignment with the entrance to the site.

“They’re built on an energy cross that’s in the earth,” he said. “It defined the architecture of the cathedral.”

One of the most profound experiences Tolles had during his travels with his wife, Marion, came at the back of a long, dark cave in France, where prehistoric people had recorded pictorial stories.

“When they turned a light on the wall of the cave there were pictures of animals and there was a man holding a Y-shaped stick,” Tolles said.

Dowsers are viewed as quaint by some segments of modern society, while others depend on them. Listening to Tolles, it’s easy to believe dowsers have tapped into the mysterious forces of the universe.

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