There were 50 hot springs on both sides of the Grand River when white men first came here, with an aggregated flow of 6,000 gallons of mineral waters a minute and a temperature of 127 degrees F. The sulpo-saline-alkaline medicinal waters are world-renowned for their therapeutic value for both bathing and drinking. Yampah’s caves are the only known natural vapor caves in North America …others are manmade excavations.
The Ute Indians who originally inhabited this region visited these caves for centuries, and regarded them as a sacred place of healing and rejuvenation. Visitors today still honor that tradition. The Ute Indians were the first proponents of the hot water and constructed the first sweat cave. It was known by the early pioneers as Cave No. 1 and was located along the south bank of the Colorado River just below where the railroad tracks are now and a few feet east of the present water suspension bridge. In front of the caves the Utes constructed a mud and wood hut. They also constructed an opening on the hillside through which they lowered sick bathers on a stretcher to the floor of the cave. The opening was then shut so these people could sweat out their illnesses.
The Ute Indians knew the advantages of the caves healing powers for hundreds of summers before white men ?discovered’ the area in the mid-1800s. The original Ute cave was on the south side of the river and was used until 1887, when it was sealed over by the railroad. Vapor Cave #3 was developed along with the Hot Springs complex and the Hotel Colorado in the 1880s, when the caves received an enclosed entrance, electric lights and marble benches. Men and women bathers had separate bathing times and, for modesty’s sake, wore heavy linen bags with a draw string at the neck.”
A Walking Tour of Downtown Glenwood Springs, Frontier Historical Museum
Long before the white settlers came to this area, the hot springs were well known to Indians, the tribe in possession of the Yampah Hot Springs possessed the big medicine of that time. Yampah translates into “Big Medicine” in Ute language.
Vapor Caves Timeline
Before 1860 Ute Indians populate the area of present-day Glenwood Springs, at the confluence of the Grand (Colorado) and Thunder (Roaring Fork) rivers, and frequently bathe and soak in the area’s many natural hot mineral water springs and underground steam vapor caverns.
1860 Isolated site of Glenwood Springs discovered by Capt. Richard Sopris, surveyor, explorer and prospector, who names the area Grand Springs. About 50 hot springs exist along both sides of Grand River.
1879 Meeker Massacre results in removal of Ute Indians to remote reservation land in Utah and southwestern Colorado.
1880 Former Ute Indian Reservation lands opened to settlement. Prospector and pioneer James Landis arrives from Leadville and claims ownership of the area.
1883 Plat filed for the new townsite of Defiance (present-day Glenwood Springs). Garfield County established from Summit County.
1883 Isaac Cooper conveys his landholdings, including the Vapor Caves site, to the Defiance Town & Land Company.
1883 Defiance Town & Land Company develops a vapor cave (Cave #2) west of the original Ute Indian cave (Cave #1). Bathers crawl through a narrow tunnel into a room of standing height. Men bathe in the morning, women in the afternoon.
1885 Town name changed from Defiance to Glenwood Springs, after Glenwood, Iowa, hometown of Isaac Cooper’s wife, Sarah.
1887 Rights to all mineral waters reserved and deeded to the Colorado Land and Improvement Company, owned by city father Walter Devereaux. This conveyance includes resources for the present-day Vapor Caves, Hotel Colorado and Hot Springs Pool. Devereaux buys the five-acre tract containing the hot springs for $125,000, and begins plans to build the hot pool.
1887 First commercial use of Vapor Caves (Cave #3) on present site, with three large underground rock chambers.
1887 Defiance Land & Town Company erects a brick bath house featuring ten porcelain tubs set in cement at Cave #2, east of the Indian caves (Cave #1) on the south river bank, across the river from the present-day Vapor Caves. Charge for bathing is 25 cents.
1887 Denver & Rio Grande Railroad arrives in Glenwood Springs. Railroad construction seals over the original Ute cave (Cave #1). Now part of the Southern Pacific Railroad, this remains an active and important freight line. (The Amtrak passenger trains stop eastbound and westbound in Glenwood Springs daily, across the river from the present Vapor Caves.)
1887 Gambler, gunslinger and dentist Doc Holliday, who came for the vapors of Cave #2, dies of tuberculosis in Glenwood Springs at age 35.
1888 Colorado Land & Investment Co. deeds land to Glenwood Light & Power Company to construct a power plant north of the present Vapor Caves. The hydroelectric plant (now the Glenwood Springs. Arts Center) makes Glenwood Springs one of the first towns in the world to have electric lights. Light bulbs from the power plant light the murky depths of the Vapor Caves.
1888 Hot Springs Pool completed.
1892 Colorado Land & Improvement Co. enters into a $500,000 mortgage with International Trust Co. to develop geothermal resources, including the Vapor Caves.
1893 Foundation laid for present Vapor Caves spa building (known as Cave No. 3). Hotel Colorado completed. Caves are opened to the public late that year.
1898 First Strawberry Day celebration held in Glenwood Springs. The annual early-summer tradition continues today with week-long events and festivities. Oldest running festival east of the Mississippi.
1902 First automobiles negotiate the primitive Taylor State Road through Grand River Canyon (name changed to Glenwood Canyon in 1914). Prior to this, travelers from Denver to Glenwood Springs journeyed over Independence Pass, Cottonwood Pass, or by train.
1905 President Theodore Roosevelt visits Glenwood Springs on a hunting trip.
1907 Grand River name changed to Colorado River by an act of the state legislature.
1911 Fred Busk and B. Aymar Sands obtain holdings including the Vapor Caves in foreclosure proceedings, and form the Glenwood Hot Springs & Hotel Company, incorporated in 1912. The company sells bottled Yampah Spring Water as a natural curative.
1914 Glenwood Hot Springs & Hotel Company fails. Taylor State Road widened and improved through Glenwood Canyon.
1916 Land title and deed of trust conveyed to Charles Hughes, Elmer Lucas and Louis Schwartz, who form the Glenwood Hot Springs & Hotel Colorado Company.
1938 Oil baron, speculator and promoter Frank Kistler purchases the hotel, pool and vapor caves for $165,000. Paved, two-lane U.S. Highway 6 & 24 constructed through Glenwood Canyon.
1943-1946 U.S. Navy occupies Hotel Colorado for use as a military hospital during World War II. The hot springs pool is also closed to civilians, and reserved for military use.
1946 Glenwood Hot Springs & Hotel Colorado Company, sells Hotel Colorado.
1947 Owners of remaining property including Vapor Caves form the Glenwood Hot Springs Company.
1953 Glenwood Hot Springs Company, including the Vapor Caves, are sold to Dr. C.W. “Doc” McFadden. McFadden practiced medicine in Glenwood Springs from 1926 through 1980. Chiropractic, massage and therapy are offered at the caves.
1956 Frank Kistler sells the hot springs pool to its present owners for $100,000
1974 Dr. McFadden agrees to sell the Vapor Caves to Dr. Richard Renn, who takes over operation of the caves.
1979 Dr. Renn formally assumes ownership of the caves and forms The Glenwood Vapor Caves, Baths and Massage Inc.
1979 Vapor Caves purchased by Ron Hoban and Patty DeFries. DeFries assumes sole ownership in 1986.
1990 Present owner Yampah Hot Springs Corporation (Bruce Kendall and Patsy Steele) purchases the caves, now named Yampah Spa and Vapor Caves. The spa building property and vapor caves undergo major renovation April-August, 1990.
1993 Yampah Spa and Vapor Caves celebrates its centennial with a new addition, an expanded reception area and passage way for the spa’s herbal treatment wing.
1993 Ute Pow-Wow in Glenwood Springs. The first time members of the three Ute tribes have gathered in 125 years. Yampah Spa celebrates its centennial anniversary with tribes.
1994 Full service AVEDA salon added to the Spa.