Tom Ross: When oil bubbled to surface


Tom Ross

Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or

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— It goes without saying that a great number of changes have taken place in Routt County in the past 110 years. But you might be surprised at what hasn’t changed since 1902, when ambitious people were investing a fortune in the quest for oil beneath the ground in South Routt and west of Steamboat Springs. That was a full decade before the first railroad freight train pulled into Steamboat.

Sound familiar? I thought so.

In January 1902, then-editor and publisher of the Steamboat Pilot James V. Craig introduced with considerable pride his special New Year’s edition of The Pilot.

“In this enlightened and advanced period of the world’s history, when capital is searching for legitimate investments, all eyes are turned toward new and undeveloped sections,” Craig wrote.

“History has proven that all of our now rich and prosperous regions were once a desolate wilderness. But the hand of man, together with brains and money, has accomplished marvelous results. Northwestern Colorado has begun the new century with a bright future. An era of prosperity is beginning to dawn on this section of the country.”

The New Year’s edition talked about the lush cattle-grazing lands of the Yampa Valley and the well-established Sheridan Hotel in Steamboat Springs. F.A. Metcalf took out the expensive advertising space on the back cover of the special edition to promote his new residential subdivision “surrounded by mineral springs” in the Fairview Addition.

Metcalf also promoted oil lands for sale.

The 1902 New Year’s edition attached great promise to the activities of the Oak Hills Oil & Coal Co., which was prospecting in what were thought to be oil-rich parcels among the volcanic dykes near the mouth of Morrison Creek and in Egeria Park. In another part of the county, an oil derrick had been erected on the Milner Ranch.

“The most favorable oil bearing area is about 14 miles below Steamboat Springs,” the Pilot reported. “Here, the formation has been uplifted by some internal force, exposing the oil strata and resulting in what is know as the oil springs, where crude petroleum comes to the surface in such quantities that a gallon may be dipped from the top of the water in a few minutes.”

As much as oil sounded like a sure bet in 1902, we can all infer that historic oil play didn’t take hold the way some hoped.

One hundred and ten years later, 2012 may prove to be the year when modern technology finds a way to extract the oil from beneath the ground and in the process alters the face of the Yampa Valley.


sedgemo 5 years, 4 months ago

Yea, I suppose you're right, Tom. In 2012, the Yampa Valley is still a "desolate wilderness" that is waiting for the hand of man to "improve" upon it. Or not... ?

Current public opinion strongly argues for finding a way to extract the oil from beneath the ground WITHOUT altering the face of the Yampa Valley. But y'all knew that already, right?


kathy foos 5 years, 4 months ago

I know that when Yellowstone had an earthquake some years back ,it was felt in Soutt Routt.This was a volcanic area at one time.Maybe we are on the outskirts of the Super Volcano at Yellowstone?Maybe that pressure pushing up the oil fourteen miles down could be from that?With the hots springs in the northwestern mountains is seems something indeed might be down fourteen miles that we might not want to unleash.Are you inferring Tom that we should drill down 14 miles?I don't think we should ,even if it could be done.Gas fracking encourges earthquakes all the time.Three days ago Ohio had a 4.0 and they are blaming the Fracking.Look it up for yourself. Yeah set up the super rig in Steamboat Two area?Maybe in the area of the road to nowhere?


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