The Saga of Orvis Hot Springs
The Ouray and Ridgway areas have many hot springs that have attracted the bone-weary for centuries. Hot springs that have bubbled up along the Uncompahgre River and from underground fissures for thousands of years range in temperature from 80 to 150 degrees. The same geologic forces that made the area rich in minerals and ore also produced some of the largest hot springs in the United States. The Ute Indians who settled the Uncompahgre Valley considered the mineral springs sacred and healing Translated, Uncompahgre means “hot water.”.
Recently Orvis Hot Springs celebrated the 100th anniversary of its long and varied history. Back in the late 1870s Sarah Jarvis Orvis and her first husband, A.H. “Billy” Jarvis, squatted on Ute reservation land that included hot springs. After Billy died (1879) Sarah remarried to Lewis Orvis Sr. and they continued to live on the ranch. Ownership of the land was disputed by the Utes who used the hot springs. When the Utes were forcibly moved to Utah (1881), the couple was given a government patent to the land. Utes continued to use the hot springs.
In 1919, Lewis, Sarah and Lewis’ son, opened the Orvis Plunge on the Orvis property, an enclosed swimming pool. Hot water at about 127 degrees Fahrenheit was piped from the hot spring to the pool and cooled to a comfortable temperature. Starting in 1933 the Orvis Plunge was sold to a succession of owners, fell into disrepair in the early 1950s and was destroyed by fire in 1961. The building changed hands several times over the next year. When Jeff Kerbel bought the property, he received permission from the Orvis family to call the place Orvis Hot Springs. He started the clothing-optional rule which was continued by the next owner, Jack Cosgrove. In 2005, the Orvis family reacquired the business, now run by Kenneth Orvis.
The Orvis Hot Springs today looks totally different from the 1919 Orvis Plunge. The modern Orvis Hot Springs includes an indoor pool, two private tubs, and seven clothing optional soaking areas. The indoor pool is 3′ deep and averages 101 degrees. The 2 private tubs average 102-110° degrees. Orvis water is not treated. Orvis Hot Springs uses naturally flowing lithium-based hot spring water from several sources. Each source has a different mineral content. A wooden pipe, known as the Flume, shoots water into the pond. Its purpose is mainly to vary the temperature of the pond. Most people want the pond to be 103-104 degrees F. For people who want to soak and repair over several days, Orvis Hot Springs also offers bed-and-breakfast style lodging as well as camping.