Hot-water lovers revel in family’s dream come true
Larry Dressler and Linda Smith of Boulder enjoy soaking in hot springs “when we can find them,” Dressler said.
Thanks to a recommendation from some locals, last week Dressler and his wife found the newly developed Avalanche Ranch Hot Springs off Colorado Highway 133 south of Carbondale.
“I think the view is magnificent. It’s just great to sit here and enjoy a view like this,” Dressler said as he sat in a pool and gazed toward Mount Sopris and other towering peaks and ridges on the other side of the Crystal River Valley.
Hot springs lovers this summer are enjoying the fruits of years of labor by the Ogilby family, and the realization of a longtime dream to tap and develop the geothermal resources the family believed existed in the area. Chuck and Meredith Ogilby are the longtime owners of the neighboring Hell Roaring Ranch, and in 1999 they had experts assess the likelihood of hitting hot water if they drilled there.
They didn’t like the 50 percent chance they were given and held off. In 2006, the family bought the Avalanche Ranch, which includes cabins, other rentals and an antique shop. Meanwhile, their son Kayo, a geology teacher at Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale, had two of his classes visit Hell Roaring Ranch again to take another look at the geothermal potential.
This time the assessment was done in the winter, and the students found hot vents melting snow along the highway. That gave the Ogilbys enough hope to proceed with state permitting and drilling.
They hit good-flowing water at 93 degrees Fahrenheit in 2008. The following spring they conducted a two-week pump test to make sure they didn’t impact vested water rights, including those of the Penny Hot Springs. Those springs are owned by Pitkin County, located on the Crystal River about a mile upstream and available to the public to use for free. No measurable impact to the county’s springs was found, said Dale Will, director of the county’s Open Space & Trails program.
Last year, the Ogilby family laid a super-insulated pipe more than 3,000 feet from the well to Avalanche Ranch. Over the winter, construction of pools began, with excavation and landscaping being done by the construction company owned by Tai Jacober, the husband of Molly Jacober, manager of Avalanche Ranch.
The family went for a natural look, incorporating lots of stone found elsewhere on the ranch property, along with maroon flagstone decks that mimic the Crystal River Valley’s pervasive red rock that gave the nearby village of Redstone its name.
“I think it looks as natural as can be, even though it was constructed recently,” Molly Jacober said.
The pools are located in a shady, bucolic setting, and butterflies, dragonflies and hummingbirds come to visit pool-side flowers. Gravel pool bottoms add to the natural feel.
The springs feature three, tiered pools, none visible from the others, which enhances privacy. A waterfall splashes into the lowest and largest.
“We wanted the sound of the water to be part of the experience,” Jacober said.
Inexplicably, she said, the temperature of the water coming out of the well has risen to about 100 degrees, which is the temperature of the upper pool. A heat pump is used to increase the temperature of the middle pool to 103 to 105 degrees, while the bottom one is kept at 94 to 96 degrees.
Jacober said the hot springs already have boosted the Avalanche Ranch occupancy rates significantly, and the family hopes they particularly will be a draw during the winter, helping justify renting the cabins year-round.
The springs also are open for day visitors. Jacober said the springs have drawn an average of around 10 users per day this summer.
She said some real hot-springs aficionados have been finding their way to Avalanche Ranch.
“Some of them pass by on their way to Penny Hot Springs, and they’re amazed that we’re here and kind of confused by it because we’re new, and they really enjoy it,” she said.
Nile Cornelison of Des Moines, Iowa, said he and his wife have been visiting the springs almost daily while camping in the Redstone area. They found the springs to be the perfect follow-up to getting massages in Redstone for pain relief.
“It’s a therapeutic thing both mentally and physically,” Cornelison said.
Deb Frazier, author of the book “Colorado’s Hot Springs,” said she hadn’t been aware of the Avalanche Ranch springs until asked about them this week. But she liked what she saw when she viewed photos on the ranch’s website.
“That is nice, very nicely done,” Frazier said.
She said the natural look reminded her of places such as Strawberry Park Hot Springs near Steamboat Springs and Orvis Hot Springs in Ridgway.
Frazier said there are some 50 hot springs that people visit in Colorado, from commercial ones with lodging attached to free ones on public lands.
Which ones soak-seekers gravitate to “depends entirely on what kind of hot springs experience people want,” she said.
After having invested what Jacober said is “easily a half-million dollars” into their project, which also involves significant ongoing utility costs, the Ogilby family is hoping to eventually come out ahead, and not just through increased cabin occupancy and day-use fees. They’re also pursuing ways to use geothermal heat in many of their buildings.
“We’ve got some fat bills to pay off,” she said.
Meanwhile, some of the payoff for the Ogilbys would seem to come from the reactions of satisfied and soothed visitors like Cornelison.
“They’ve done a fantastic job,” he said.