Glenwood Springs: Blending a Rich Past with a Captivating Present
Colorado’s Western Slope is a beautiful landscape of mountains and river-cut canyons, making it a go-to destination for tourists and thrillseekers alike. But something else drew even the earliest of Colorado’s settlers to the area: hot springs. To the Ute tribes, the hot springs were places of spiritual healing, where one could cleanse the soul of whatever ailed it. When the first American pioneers learned of these magical waters, settlers soon flocked to the region, hoping to cure their ailments once and for all. This is the place that would one day be known as Glenwood Springs.
Glenwood Springs is an intriguing town by anyone’s standards. It sits at the confluence of the Colorado and Roaring Forks Rivers, which made it a center of commerce even in its early days. It was originally known as “Defiance,” a name still used by local businesses. Defiance, established in 1883, was a small camp of tents, cabins, and lodges populated by gamblers, gunslingers, and women of ill repute – as one would expect of a western frontier town. The town would still be known as Defiance today if not for one Sarah Cooper. The wife of the town’s founder, Isaac Cooper, Sarah was having a difficult time adjusting to life on the frontier, so she persuaded the founders to change the name to Glenwood Springs, after her hometown of Glenwood, Iowa. In 1887, it would become one of the first towns to have electric lighting.
Glenwood Springs experienced a boom in tourism almost immediately, especially after it gained a railroad stop. Many a celebrity has visited over the years. President Theodore Roosevelt lived out of the Hotel Colorado for an entire summer. Doc Holliday, the legendary gunfighter of the O.K. Corral, spent the last months of his life in Glenwood Springs, hoping to cure his tuberculosis – he is buried in the Pioneer Cemetery overlooking the town. Kid Curry, who rode with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and killed at least nine law enforcement officials, is buried there, too, in the potter’s field section of the cemetery. Even the infamous Ted Bundy spent time in the town. He managed an escape from the city’s jail on December 30th, 1977 that went unnoticed for 17 hours.
Today, people come to Glenwood Springs to relax and recreate. It has been called the most walkable city in America, as well as one of the friendliest. The locals tend to be calm, happy, and cordial. Moreover, Glenwood is only a short drive away from destination ski resorts, picturesque fly-fishing streams, and river adventures of every sort. And there are, of course, the hot springs. Just as the Ute did for centuries, modern tourists come to soak in the springs’ rejuvenating waters. Some claim that the springs really do have healing powers, while others simply want to enjoy a relaxing dip in the steaming waters.
When traveling, maybe the journey, not the destination, matters most. Nowhere could this be more true than on a trip to Glenwood Springs. When traveling west on I-70, motorists are treated to a drive down one of the most beautiful stretches of highway in the nation. The interstate winds through De Beque and Glenwood Canyons, cut by the mighty Colorado River (once known as the Grand River). The highway itself was designed to follow the natural topography of the canyons, and there are only three tunnels. Traffic in each direction occupies its own cantilever roadway, so as not to disturb the beauty surrounding it. Several rest stops provide places for drivers to rest and take in the remarkable scenery.
Glenwood Springs has long been a crossroads for everyone from natives in search of healing to legends of the Old West. Even today, the city calls to travelers, enticing them to take in its wonders. Whether it is the mystical hot springs or the idyllic scenery, no one who visits this remarkable town ever leaves quite the same.