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July 9, 2011
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Hot destination: Crystal Valley resort taps into area's geology

REDSTONE, Colorado - Chuck Ogilby has long eyed the hot springs located along the Crystal River about a mile upstream from his Hell Roaring Ranch, wondering if some of the many veins of hot springs that run through the area might lie beneath his property.

That speculation eventually turned to reality, resulting in the official opening of the new Avalanche Ranch hot springs just after Memorial Day.

"We always knew the potential was there," said Ogilby, who with his wife, Meredith, and their family, has owned Hell Roaring Ranch - hidden behind thick vegetation on the hillside above the river and Highway 133 - for 35 years.

"We had wanted to buy the neighboring Avalanche Ranch property for a long time, but it wasn't until we were able to do that in 2006 that we started getting more serious about finding the hot springs," he said.

So, about two years ago, with help from their geologist son, Kayo, and a group of his students from Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale, they pinpointed a spot to drill a test well.

"He had brought some of the CRMS kids up to study the area, and found several vents along the highway that were melting the snow," Ogilby said.

Students were given an assignment to determine, if they were to build a well to try to tap into the hot springs, where on the Hell Roaring Ranch property would they drill, explained Ogilby's daughter, Molly Jacober.

At the location they picked, the students estimated they would have about a 70 percent chance of striking a hot spring, recalled Jacober, who co-manages the historic Avalanche Ranch cabins and antique store with Mark Braendle.

On one try, less than 200 feet deep, they struck their liquid gold - a vein of underground water running at about 93 degrees Fahrenheit at the time.

It wasn't quite as hot as they were hoping for. By comparison, the nearby Penny and Filoha Meadows hot springs enter the Crystal River at about 127 F.

But the find was enough to proceed with developing the spring - part of a master plan to build a series of hot springs pools for Avalanche Ranch guests to use, and to eventually heat the ranch house and 13 log cabins at the resort using geothermal technology.

Molly, her husband Tai Jacober, and the Ogilbys had been working on design concepts involving a series of pools cascading down from the upper end of the property.

Working with landscape architect Ric Fields of Avon, Jacober Brothers Construction and others, the result is a beautifully landscaped area with rock walls and three pools with concrete floors, each at a different temperature.

The hot springs have already become a popular new attraction for overnight guests and day visitors at Avalanche Ranch, Molly Jacober said.

Interestingly, after they built the pump system running some 3,000 feet uphill from the well through super-insulated pipe, they turned on the water on March 12 to discover that the temperature of the water had risen to 93.5 F.

The water temperature continued to rise steadily over the next three months, peaking at about 100.1 F on June 12 and remaining there ever since, Ogilby said.

The upper pool where the raw spring water enters is now 100.1 degrees. The middle pool is boosted using electric heat to 103 degrees. A waterfall pours into a larger lower pool that typically runs from 92 to 94 degrees.

"We haven't really advertised it much, but word's getting around," said Jacober. "So far it's worked well to have day users come up during the daytime hours when our other guests are out doing things, and reserving them exclusively for our guests in the evenings."

The cabins and other overnight guest facilities at the ranch are usually booked solid through the summer season, she said.

"One of our goals in building the hot springs is to boost occupancy for the winter months," said Jacober.

The ranch is also making use of the geothermal energy to heat the flagstone deck around the pools during the colder months.

This fall, the larger ranch house, which is available for larger groups and retreats, will be heated geothermally.

Ogilby explained that once the water runs through the pools, it is captured in a tank and pumped to a separate facility where it is heated to 120 degrees.

Eventually, the plan is to pump the hot water through all the cabins and remove the current propane heating system. The propane cooking and heating stoves will remain, he said.

"People still like the ambiance of having an open-flame stove when they're in a cabin in the mountains," Ogilby said.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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The Post Independent Updated Jul 9, 2011 09:49PM Published Jul 9, 2011 09:44PM Copyright 2011 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.