From the Museum Archives: Juniper Hot Springs – The unexpected oasis
From dramatic 1,000 foot canyons to cascading waterfalls to dinosaur bones eroding out of the ground, Northwest Colorado has no lack of geologic surprises. Hot springs bubbling up in the middle of a vast, treeless, sagebrush-covered country are no exception.
Located on the south bank of the Yampa River 27 miles west of Craig, Juniper Hot Springs has been enjoyed by humans for thousands of years. It wasn’t until the 1880s, however, that its history becomes recorded.
In 1880, Joseph Gardner filed upon the springs as one of the first privately held pieces of land in today’s Moffat County. In 1882 he deeded his land to Major D.C. Oakes. Oakes was one of the first settlers of Colorado, a founder of Denver and an Indian Agent at the old Ute Reservation near Meeker. Recognizing their potential, Oakes leased the springs to Charlie Perkins to develop them into a destination for those seeking their purported health benefits. Perkins, an early and longtime resident of Dixon, Wyoming had previously credited the springs for curing him from near death. He soon built the area’s first permanent structure by adding a bathhouse to protect visitors from the elements.
In 1905 Perkins felt that the springs had proven their popularity. He built a new bath house, general store, post office, hotel, dining room, cabin and a livery stable. He also installed a cable trolley across the Yampa River for access during high water. Much like the springs themselves, the small community became a conspicuous sight arising from the remote sagebrush of Northwest Colorado.
Juniper Hot Springs became a popular oasis and attendance steadily increased over the following decades. Four cottages and a footbridge over the Yampa were built in 1922 and an electric generator for artificial lights was installed in 1930. An auto bridge was erected in 1932 and power lines finally brought electricity beginning in 1957.
In 1962 Stella Craig purchased the springs and opened a café. Her pies and Juniper Burgers became a favorite for locals, tourists and hunters alike. In 1974 not long after “a group of hippies” had inundated the springs, she decided to transition to a members-only club.
Stella closed the springs in 1993 after 31 years under her watch and moved to Craig. In 2007 she sold them to a local corporation that included locals Roy and Yvonne McAnally. Juniper Hot Springs were soon reopened, but due to their deterioration and frequent vandalism, all of the old buildings were removed. The McAnallys have had plans to develop the springs back to their previous glory, but have so far been unable to bring those plans to fruition.
You can still enjoy the historic Juniper Hot Springs today. If you’ve never made the trip, it’s an easy drive and well worth your time. There have been several recent upgrades and camping is also available.
Be sure to visit their website: http://www.juniperhotsprings.com.
Paul Knowles is assistant director of the Museum of Northwest Colorado. To learn more, drop by the Museum of Northwest Colorado at 590 Yampa Ave., or visit the museum’s Facebook page, facebook.com/MuseumNorthwestColorado.