It’s About Time column: Glenwood Caverns is a part of Glenwood’s history
It’s About Time
What’s in a name? Some people believe the Fairy Caves name came about because of the lights used back then — a tin can with holes punched in it and a candle inside — which made sparkles that Charles Darrow’s daughter thought looked like fairies. Electric lights were installed in 1897 thanks to Walter Devereux’s power plant, located between the Glenwood Hot Springs and the Yampah Spa Vapor Caves.
In 1886 lawyer Darrow purchased acreage above the Hotel Colorado that included this natural wonder, and on Sept. 16, 1895, he organized the Fairy Cave Co. For 50 cents, a person could ride a mule or walk to the entrance of the caves. Eventually a rough road was built to accommodate automobiles.
The attraction was open for more than two decades and then closed to the public in 1917, due to economic decline around World War I, which caused a great drop in tourism.
For 82 years there were no organized tours into what locals once dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World.
Along came a visionary; someone who saw the potential to attract tourists to our town once again.
Annually, from 1982 until 1994, Steve Beckley contacted Pete Prebble, the owner of the caves since 1961, asking for permission to explore the caves and open them to tours.
But it wasn’t until the early summer of 1998 that Prebble agreed to lease the 80 acres, inclusive of the Fairy Caves, with an option to buy.
Twelve years is a long time to keep a dream alive, but not in comparison to the 6 million years it took the Colorado River to carve through Glenwood Canyon’s cave-receptive 325-million-year-old Leadville Limestone.
The Fairy Caves atop Iron Mountain are the result of such super-slow geological action.
It took more than dreaming to realize the resulting Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. It required the help of others. As co-owner, Steve’s wife Jeanne worked alongside Steve, and the two developed what you see at the park today: rides, attractions and the ever-popular cave tours.
The Colorado caving community is serious about carefully exploring our underground wonders and taking care of such a delicate environment. Cavers helped clean up and repair years of damage done by vandals. Airlock doors were also installed to keep the cave at a constant temperature, to protect the active formations from drying out.
Steve and helpers also created safe walkways for visitors, and once again electric lights brought out the beauty of the cave’s spectacular formations.
Cavers worked hard to reach undiscovered portions of the caverns, and it paid off with new access to pristine sections now opened for visitors to see.
As more people started coming to the park, long lines caused the Beckleys to consider what other attractions could be offered to people as they waited to go underground.
Over the years, rides were installed that included the first alpine coaster in the United States, a roller coaster, a mine drop, giant swing, zip ride and more.
Patience and persistence resulted in a tunnel to the lower section as well as a tram for safe, quick access to mountain-top facilities. Recently a new, high-speed detachable gondola was installed to accommodate even more visitors.
As a historian, what is the history lesson from the Fairy Caves, now known as Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park? If you have a dream don’t give up, and perhaps you’ll see that dream become a reality. And to celebrate a dream come true, join the Beckleys and the community, at the 20th anniversary party of Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, coming up on Saturday, May 18, from 5:30-10 p.m.
Bill Kight is the executive director of the Glenwood Springs Historical Society and writes a monthly column about history. He can be reached at 970-945-4448.
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Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon may be closed intermittently Wednesday through the weekend, as highway crews break down and remove boulders and patch potholes caused by Tuesday’s rock slide.