Cavernous adventures

by | Jan 6, 2020 | Alumni Profiles, Winter 2020 | 2 comments

Imagine a theme park: roller coasters, laser tag, a themed thrill ride featuring a 110-foot drop—and 4 miles of cave to explore. Once a deserted mountaintop in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, founded by Steve Beckley ʼ84 and his wife Jeanne, now boasts cave tours, six thrill rides, various family attractions, shopping, dining and live music.

Beckley first got the idea to open the caves to the public when he was still a student at Mines. “I found a book in the library called Caves of Colorado that discussed a cave above Glenwood Springs,” he said. Upon reading about how beautiful the cave was, Beckley decided he had to see it. He wrote the cave’s owner asking for access but didn’t receive a response.

The next year, Beckley graduated with a degree in petroleum engineering and began his career with Amoco in New Orleans. Though he pursued other endeavors, “I kept the cave always in the back of my mind,” he said. “I always said, someday I’m going to own this cave and develop it into something where I can show people how amazing caves are.”

Years later, he finally connected with the cave’s owner, who allowed Beckley to see the property in 1994, then sold it to him in 1998. Shortly after, the Beckleys moved to Glenwood Springs and opened the caves to the public.

The original business, Glenwood Caverns and Historic Fairy Caves, featured only cave tours, with buses to bring guests up the mountain; a tram added in 2003 provided year-round access. As the site gained attention, the average wait time for a tour grew to be several hours long. To give the guests something to do while they waited, Beckley installed rides and other attractions, including the country’s first alpine coaster.

In 2015, the Beckleys also opened the nearby Iron Mountain Hot Springs, a luxury resort with sixteen natural mineral pools along the Colorado River. Together, the attractions welcome more than half a million people a year.

Although his career has deviated from the traditional industry-driven path, Beckley said he used his knowledge from Mines to develop both of his businesses. For example, the Glenwood Caverns land was originally thought to have only one mile of cave, but the Beckleys discovered and opened up another three. “That was all done with mapping and by understanding how caves form and the geology of the limestone,” said Beckley.

Beckley’s technical knowledge also comes into play at the Iron Mountain resort. “We’ve taken the hot springs to the next level in technology,” he explained. “We’re moving fluids, making heat transfers, snow-melting all our sidewalks, heating our showers, recovering heat with a big heat pump. Those are all ways of thinking I learned at Mines.”

So what’s next for Beckley? While he wants to add more lodging at the hot springs and more rides at the caverns, he has bigger plans. “We’re also looking at purchasing other hot springs around the U.S. and developing those,” Beckley said. “We think there’s a huge market for that model.”