Tune in to Watch RMPBS Fairy Caves Episode

Kids learn about cave science on cave tours

Rocky Mountain PBS “Colorado Experience” Viewers’ Choice Episode about the Fairy Caves airs Thursday, March 26, at 7:30 p.m.; viewers outside of Colorado can watch at https://www.rmpbs.org/schedule/ at the same time.

Fairy Caves Wins Viewers’ Choice

This time last year, Colorado residents voted for “Fairy Caves” to be the 2020 Rocky Mountain PBS “Colorado Experience” Viewers’ Choice.

Every year, Colorado Experience conducts a Viewers’ Choice Award contest to let viewers decide what episode Rocky Mountain PBS will produce. According to producer Eric Hernandez, “For a few weeks, typically in March, there is a call for submissions when anyone can suggest episode ideas; we always get a long list of interesting and important topics. This year we had 360 submissions! We narrowed that down to six finalists from different regions and timeframes and opened the contest for voting.”

Getting the Vote Out

The team at Glenwood Caverns and the Historic Fairy Caves, which is part of Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, pulled out all the stops to encourage people to vote. An initial email was sent to managers and supervisors asking them to share with their employees, friends and family members. A social media and email newsletter campaign started, and the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association asked for support from the business community. It all came together with reminder emails and Facebook posts.

History in the Spotlight

“This show is so special to us as it chronicles the history of the Fairy Caves as well as Glenwood Springs, and the timing is wonderful because this year marks the 125th anniversary of the discovery of the cave. We got a sneak preview and it brought tears to my eyes,” admitted Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park co-owner Jeanne Beckley. “Although our local premiere has been postponed, we hope our community can tune in Thursday night.”

Episode Airs March 26 

The Fairy Caves episode airs Thursday, March 26, at 7:30 p.m.; viewers outside of Colorado can watch at https://www.rmpbs.org/schedule/ at the same time. Filming primarily took place last May. Jeanne and husband and co-owner Steve Beckley are featured in the show along with general manager Nancy Heard, natural attractions manager Kathy Miller, executive director of the Glenwood Springs Historical Society Bill Knight, and cave historian and author of “Colorado Caves” Richard Rhinehart.

Learn the Fascinating Story of the Fairy Caves

“Colorado Experience: Fairy Caves” explores the magical Fairy Caves—once dubbed “The 8th Wonder of the World.” Hidden inside Glenwood Springs’ Iron Mountain, this living cave network inspires awe. But the caverns were nearly lost to time and were closed for more than 80 years—until an engineer who also happened to be a caver had a vision of how to return the magic to this fantastical place.

Mechanical Wizard Keeps Thrill Rides Rolling

Mike Liebelt is a whiz at all things mechanical. As Lead Mechanic at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park he does whatever it takes to ensure thrill rides are open and ready for Park visitors.

While visitors to Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park get an adrenaline rush from thrill rides like the Alpine Coaster, Giant Canyon Swing, Cliffhanger Roller Coaster, Canyon Flyer, Soaring Eagle Zip Ride and the Haunted Mine Drop, the Park’s Lead Mechanic Mike Liebelt gets his from making sure the rides perched on the pinnacle of a mountain in Glenwood Springs are all in top form and running like well-oiled machines.

Liebelt grew up living between Elitches and Lakeside, two Colorado amusement parks. The irony that he’s now employed at one isn’t lost on him. “I loved those parks when I was growing up. When I came here I quickly fell in love with Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park,” he said. “Working here is serendipitous and wonderful!”

Liebelt started as an attractions attendant in 2012, working at the Alpine Coaster. When the season ended he was hired on to spend the winter digging, clearing and expanding areas in the caves. Not only was he grateful for the job, he was all in for the laborious, difficult and exhausting work ahead. “For five months I smashed rocks. It was great,” he said, laughing at the memory. In 2014, he transferred to the maintenance department full time.

“Mike’s knowledge of rides is unmatched. He has been absolutely invaluable with his skills, experience, dedication and ‘can do’ attitude as well has his mentorship of new mechanics,” Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park General Manager, Nancy Heard said.

In the eight years since he began, Liebelt has been part of the installation of all thrill rides since the Alpine Coaster at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. In addition to Lead Mechanic, Liebelt is also Lead Ride Inspector certified through the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officers (NAARSO). For trainings he’s traveled to major theme parks including Hershey Park in Pennsylvania and Carowinds in North Carolina. The most recent training took place in-house with Utah-based Apollo Engineering and S&S Worldwide, the largest U.S. manufacturer of amusement park rides and roller coasters.

When it comes to his personal favorites—to work on and ride on—roller coasters are the hands-down winner for Mike Liebelt. He’s particularly excited for the new experience visitors will have on the Cliffhanger Roller Coaster beginning in the spring of 2020. “The Cliffhanger is being completely redone and will basically be a new ride when we’re through. It’s going to be all magnetic, with no moving parts. Guests will experience a smoother, quieter overall ride. My job right now is to make sure it’s open and ready to go by May 22,” he said. “I’m confident we’re going to make it.”

Mike Liebelt, Lead Mechanic at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park

Another ride that’s getting an overhaul under Liebelt’s eagle-eye is the Alpine Coaster. The Park’s first and most popular ride is being upgraded with new computers and receiving all-new wiring for its entire length along the mountainside. For guests, it will mean more fun and shorter wait times.

As Lead Mechanic, Liebelt is also the go-to guy when a ride experiences a problem. Sometimes closures are scheduled. When a ride undergoes a mandatory inspection, it may be closed for as long as a day. In that case, the Park posts the closure in advance at the base, the mountain-top and on the Glenwood Caverns website under Ride and Attraction Status.

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Other times mechanical issues arise. “We take a ride being down personally,” he said. “I happen to be very good at problem solving and can quickly diagnose and troubleshoot.” Liebelt is particularly proud of last summer’s nearly flawless operational record. “With safety as our number one priority, our goal is to keep every ride open and operating at all times.” When a ride does have to close down for a maintenance issue, Liebelt tells guests “not to worry, the average repair is completed within 30 minutes.”

What’s the best part of his work? “I love this job. On any given day I might be woodworking, painting, pouring concrete, fixing rides, doing maintenance or weekly inspections, but it’s the people that keep me here. I’ve never worked at a place that feels more like a family.” Liebelt is pretty sure guests feel the same vibe as well, “On a summer day, everywhere you go you see people—families and friends— smiling and having fun,” he said.  That’s reason enough for Mike Liebelt to keep those rides running day in and day out.

Lead Mechanic at Glenwood Caverns, Mike Liebelt often works behind signs like these. Authorized Personnel Only image by StickerMule

Iconic Local: Steve Beckley

In the December issue of Aspen Magazine, writer Hayden Gamble featured our very own Steve Beckley as part of an article on Glenwood Springs. Read the whole story here or pick up the latest issue of the magazine out now.

When he’s not envisioning additions and improvements to Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park and Iron Mountain Hot Springs, Steve Beckley enjoys spending time at his remote cabin with his wife and business partner, Jeanne, and their two sons.

As a caver studying petroleum engineering at the Colorado School of Mines in the early ’80s, Beckley read about the Historic Fairy Caves in an out-of-print book, Caves of Colorado. He spent the next 16 years convincing then-owner Pete Prebble to let him visit and, eventually, buy, the cave on top of Iron Mountain in Glenwood Springs.

That led the Beckleys to quit their jobs and move from Denver in 1998. Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, which has grown from a mom-and-pop cave tour into an award-winning theme park, celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, and Iron Mountain Hot Springs has become one of the area’s most popular attractions.

What’s your favorite thing about Glenwood Springs? The people who live here, without a doubt. Ever since Jeanne and I moved to Glenwood Springs 20 years ago, we have built wonderful relationships with the people in this community. Whether we know them from our businesses, our neighborhood, the schools or the Boy Scouts, we couldn’t ask for a nicer, more supportive group of folks.

Favorite hiking trail? We are so lucky to have Glenwood Canyon right in our backyard. The No Name Creek Trail and Grizzly Creek Trail are two of my favorites.

Favorite ski trail? The Beaujolais Run at Sunlight Mountain Resort

Favorite dining splurge? It’s too hard to choose just one. The Riviera, Co. Ranch House and Smoke are among my favorites.

Drink of choice? I like to end the day with a glass of red wine on my deck overlooking beautiful downtown Glenwood Springs.

Best place to caffeinate? I drink decaf Americanos all day long. Some of my favorite places to fuel up are the Hotel Colorado, The Bluebird Cafe, The Espresso Hut and River Blend Coffee House. I drink a lot of coffee.

Favorite event? Jeanne and I both love live music events such as Music in the Park, Music on the Mountain and Strawberry Days.

Best-kept secret in GW? I’m not telling! You need to explore all the wonderful Glenwood Springs amenities and find your own secret place.

Post Independent Spotlights Caverns Employee Cole Newton

The Glenwood Springs Post Independent recently ran a feature story on our very own Cole Newton, cave tour supervisor at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. Read Cole’s fascinating story and why he has a special affinity for all things caves.

Sunday profile: Glenwood Springs native seeks the undiscovered underground

by Josh Carney, [email protected]

When he was just 2 weeks old, Glenwood Springs native Cole Newton found himself deep underground with his parents, Ken Newton and Kathy Keeler, who met while caving. Since then, caving has been a way of life for the 26-year-old Newton.

At 7 years old, Newton became the youngest person to date to submerge to Sub 1 (submerge level 1 for scuba divers in the water flow) inside Spring Cave outside of Meeker.

That passion for caving has created a unique purpose for Newton’s life – educating the public on the wonders of caves, exploring new and exciting places within caves and working to preserve them for future generations.

 

UNDERGROUND EDUCATION

“I really hope we can continue to education people on why caves are important to our ecosystem on the surface and underground,” Newton said. “They can be a wonderful environment to study and protect. We don’t want to throw garbage into that hole, because that hole can lead to a city’s water supply and other things like that. It’s not a trash can just because it’s a hole in the ground; I want to change that perspective about caves for the general population because caves are important and special.”

Newton originally went to college to become a music teacher, but realizing that teaching in a classroom wasn’t his cup of tea, Newton went back to his passion of caving, which later led to him teaching (in a sense) tour guides all there is to know about the beautiful caves only a short trip away from Glenwood Springs.

Giving tour guides each and every day during peak season on the mountain seems like it could be a drain, but Newton attacks each tour with a uniqueness that can’t be found elsewhere.

“I don’t script my tour guides,” Newton said. “I try and read the tours and let the guests kind of feel me, in a way. It all depends on the makeup of the tours. If I have a bunch of little kids, I talk more about the dragons and the fairies within the caves; if I have a lot of adults, I’ll focus more on the science of things. I want them to get what they want out of the tour, so if I do that, every tour isn’t the same, which keeps it fresh.”

EXPANSION, PRESERVATION, AND EXPLORATION

When not giving tours through the cave systems on Iron Mountain, Newton is in charge of updating the new stairs within the cave system, leading the project to put in new concrete and steel, guiding concrete and steel workers on where to place the materials. On top of that, Newton has been mapping and navigating the new King’s Row Loop tour, playing an integral part in hoping the loop comes to fruition.

What Newton loves most though is traveling around the world to visit other cave systems in hopes of learning about the geological systems within the cave.

“A lot of times, I’m looking at the geological aspects, like how is this cave different from caves in the western U.S. versus the eastern U.S. or south U.S, etc.,” Newton said. “Because the way that geology works across the world is that every cave is a little different. They all have a little different influence on how the water would have formed the cave, or whether it was lava or water, things like that. They all create different features, which I find fascinating.”

Earlier this year, Newton traveled to the Frasassi Caves in Italy, which is Italy’s top cave system. The immense cave system was discovered in 1971, and part of the caverns was opened to visitors in 1974. The caverns can be visited only on guided tours, which Newton went on.

The huge rooms of the caverns are filled with stunning stalactites and stalagmites, and highlights of the tour include the Ancona Abyss, a room so large that Milan’s Duomo (the world’s largest Gothic cathedral) could easily fit inside it, a crystallized lake, a Grand Canyon, and a room filled with formations that resemble candles.

“The stalagmites were just gorgeous,” Newton said. “They’re 30, 40 feet tall and have these amazing little cuts on the side of them, so instead of being flowy, they have these extra little features on them.”

Aside from educating himself on the geological systems within the caves he travels to see and explore, Newton also pays attention to the tour guides and how they’re structured as he’s always learning and looking to improve.

“It’s important for me to do that, because if I can learn from others and see how they’re running their own tour guides, I can bring something back from that to the Glenwood Caverns and try to make the tours I give the best possible experience they can be,” he said.

In the end though, the free exploration is what drives Newton. Moving deeper into caves is supposed to be fun for cavers, and without fun it’s not successful.

“There’s got to be some fun in it; you want to have fun,” Newton said. “That’s why you do it. That’s where you get your energy. If one person has that energy, it makes for a successful and fun trip for the group.”

That sense of fun and excitement continues to drive Newton today through his passionate daily tours of the Fairy Cave and King’s Row Cave, and during his free time caving on his own, discovering all there is to see deep beneath the earth’s surface.

[email protected]

Sustainability on the Menu

Eco-friendly products including straws, flatware, cups and plates help reduce the company’s impact on the environment, adding to sustainability practices already in place.  

Protecting and preserving the environment was a top priority for Steve and Jeanne Beckley before they reopened Glenwood Caverns and the Historic Fairy Caves to the public in 1999. It remains so today at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, which is evident from the increase in sustainability practices at the mountain-top Lookout Grille this year.

Eco-friendly Products & Practices

The onsite restaurant is now using eco-friendly forks, spoons, straws, plates for banquet meals, packaging for grab-and-go items like yogurt parfaits, pretzels or veggies with hummus and to-go boxes from Eco Brand, which is based in Boulder, Colorado.

This mindset is spreading. Lookout Grille kitchen manager Aaron Shockley recently noticed how much compost material was accumulating and decided to do something about it. The food compost is now being donated to Big Rock Ranch where it is put to good use feeding chickens.

 

Green Values from the Get-Go

“We have worked diligently over the years to protect the cave. From the start, we installed the airtight doors in the tunnel to King’s Row to maintain the original levels of temperature and humidity so that the cave didn’t dry out,” Jeanne Beckley, who co-owns both companies, said. “There have been computer monitors in the cave since we opened to ensure we sustained these levels, protecting the cave as well as the environment for the unique species that live inside of it.”

A few years ago, the Adventure Park replaced all of the lights inside the cave with LED lights to reduce its electricity consumption and the heat generated by the incandescent lights, which helps protect the humidity levels and the cave’s tiny creatures. Since the LED bulbs don’t have to be replaced as often, employees have less direct contact with cave formations as well.

“It seems only fitting that we now focus on reducing our use of plastic and move toward more paper and compostable products in the restaurant. Also, we hope our guests notice and are motivated to make some changes of their own,” Beckley added. “These changes fit our value system. We care deeply about the environment and will continue to look for ways to reduce our impact.”

Learn more about Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park and plan a visit today!

Interior Decoration: Cave Features

Reflecting-Pool-at-Glenwood-Caverns-by-Ken-Headrick-sm

Caves are so much more than holes in the ground, they are rooms ornately arranged by Mother Nature. Check out the wide variety of cave features that form as water dissolves rock to make caves.

The long process by which water carves caves out of limestone leaves behind fascinating formations as the mineral-rich water flows, loses carbon dioxide or evaporates, and leaves the minerals shaped like flowers, bathtubs, cones, needles, rafts, shields, chandeliers, balloons, columns, or bells, among other things.

The most familiar cave features are stalactites reaching down from the ceiling and stalagmites reaching up from the floor, usually, but not always, in a conical shape. If the minerals are deposited rapidly, for example, some stalagmites develop as a thinner structure called a broomstick. You can distinguish them by remembering that stalactites hold tight to the ceiling while stalagmites might make it to the top. Sometimes, paired stalactites and stalagmites meet to form a column.

Cave Features at Glenwood Caverns:

Flowstone. Flowstone is usually calcite or other carbonate minerals that forms in sheets as water flows over the cave floors or walls. The layers are laid down so thin that they conform to the underlying rock at first, but they can become more rounded as they thicken. Other chemicals in the calcite can produce different colors of flowstone, such as iron that gives a red tint.

Cave Bacon. Cave bacon is a kind of drapery that forms as the water flows along the edge of an overhang and leaves a trail of calcite where surface tension suspends the water before it loses carbon dioxide and deposits the mineral. These often appear on the fringes of flowstone. The buildup reflects the ripples and flows of the first deposits and looks like fabric drapery. When the drapery formations have different bands of color or darkness because of materials in the water at different times, they are called cave bacon.

Soda Straws. Stalactites in their early stages are hollow, long translucent tubes hanging from the ceiling. These delicate structures can grow long – they have been found up to 30 feet—but they usually begin to have water flow on the outside that builds up in the more common icicle shape of stalactites.

Cave bacon:

Cave Popcorn. Cave popcorn, a fairly common formation, is one form of coralloids that resemble knobs, globes, buttons, or corral and form in air, usually from water that seeps out of rocks, or still cave pools. Unlike most other features, they form because the water evaporates rather than because it lost carbon dioxide.

See all these amazing cave features on the Adventure Park’s two cave tours—King’s Row and the Historic Fairy Caves. Learn more and make plans to go underground at www.glenwoodcaverns.com.