Spring near Nederland, Colorado has healing
powers, devotees say
By Story by Todd Neff, Camera Staff Writer August 1, 2004
Some of the purest spring water on Earth flows from a 1-inch,
black plastic pipe poking out of a barn, and those who drink it
swear it's making them healthier.
Day and night, the water pours at a leisurely pace of two gallons
a minute. What doesn't land in heavy glass jugs trickles across a
sloping dirt parking lot until it finds the man-made pond.
Charlie Morgan made the pond, the parking lot and the barn, which
houses horses, chickens and, on the second floor, himself, his wife,
Diane, and nephew Chance. It's all a part of "Uncle Charlie's Ranch"
on Gilpin County Road 15S, about a mile past the U.S. Forest
Service's Pickle Gulch Campground and a few miles from Black Hawk.
The gold-mining town of Wideawake once stood here, Morgan says,
and the abandoned Gold Mountain mine looms uphill. By the time he
bought the roughly 50 acres for $40,000 a decade ago, mature trees
had grown amid the piles of tailings. He bought a front-end loader
for $20,000 and has used it heavily enough that the place has the
feel of a golf course under construction.
Morgan, 43, wears a white straw cowboy hat and black Wrangler
jeans. His hair is a mane of sandy blond with a tinge of gray near
the ears. He is a big man with the heavy arms of a former
weightlifter. His glasses are thicker than you expect.
He speaks in an unhurried drawl that grows emphatic when the
topic of water arises.
Five years ago, he decided to live on his land. For power, he
fashioned a hydroelectric pump and a solar cell. For water, he went
looking for springs.
In a clearing shaded by mature evergreens, he came across a
"There's still gold, but the water's the real gold," Morgan says,
looking at the patch of earth he filled and covered to protect the
He and Diane were going to be drinking it, so he had the water
"I've been in the business for 20 years. I work all over America,
and I've never seen anything so clean," says Shawn Leppert, a
Golden-based groundwater specialist who has seen the water's test
results and periodically drinks it himself.
At first, Morgan just drank it, as well. But word got out about
his water, and people started showing up to drink it — first
friends, then friends of friends.
Morgan started a water business and called it Nature's Reward.
The water's devotees say it can do away with everything from aches
and pains to cancer.
But then, some experts think the same is true with about any
water at all.
Kidney stones to cancer
Uncle Charlie's Ranch is a place where a man with no neighbors
and a weakness for big mechanical objects can live large. The
property, at an elevation of 10,000 feet and sandwiched between the
Arapaho and Roosevelt national forests, is decorated with immobile
vehicles and farm equipment in various states of repair.
In a sort of junk yard above the barn are an old school bus,
Morgan's dad's '59 pickup, a broken snowmobile, a go-cart that
appears permanently stopped, the oxidized guts of a Model-T engine
whose crankshaft extends to a saw blade forever frozen.
For Morgan's water, people have traded everything from bales of
hay (five horses and several chickens live in the barn) to used
trucks. A postal-delivery van and an International 190 semi-trailer,
both whitewashed, are parked about the property; Morgan traded his
water — although he's not sure how much — for both.
"It's kind of addicting," says Tim Frei, a friend of Morgan's who
drives up from Mead to get some water every month or so. "I don't
drink anything else."
Nancy Maresh, 58, of Boulder is among the 30 or so customers on
Morgan's water delivery route. Each Wednesday he fills the back of
his Chevy Suburban with as many jugs as will fit, exchanging them
for cash or checks (the delivered water costs between $15 and $20
per five-gallon bottle, depending on how long you've been a
customer) and empty glass jugs.
Maresh also drinks a gallon of the water a day in addition to
cooking with it, and she says it seems to help wash away body aches
from all her falls as a one-time member of the U.S. women's downhill
ski team. She says the water also seems to cut her appetite.
"I just feel so much better," Maresh says. "This is the finest
water I've ever found anywhere in the country."
Morgan says his cuts heal faster and the aches and pains from old
weightlifting injuries are gone.
"I feel better than I have in my whole life," he says.
He wonders if it's a fountain of youth.
"There's this 12-year-old boy who lives up in the mountains who
just won't grow," Morgan says, referring to his nephew Chance, 12,
who Morgan thinks is stuck at 4 feet 9 because of the water. "And
it'll turn a woman's skin to silk. Every woman."
Then there's a guy from Arizona who had a growth on his foot
"bigger than a tennis ball." He drank 10 or 20 gallons and the
growth was gone, Morgan says.
The water appears to have dissolved cancers and done away with
kidney stones, ulcers, headaches and anxiety, as well, he says.
His own mother, Julia Morgan, who drinks the water and also soaks
in it, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer seven months ago. She
was given two months to live at the time.
A Hopi shaman pulled up in a recreational vehicle and spent a
week drinking it and taking baths.
"I just think it can help people," Morgan says. "We call it magic
What's in the water
Water tests supplied by Morgan show his water to be unique in
terms of what it doesn't have. Unlike water from snowmelt — the
source of the city of Boulder's water — prolonged contact with
underground rock tends to elevate a spring water's mineral content.
A bottle of Evian, for example, has 300 parts per million of
dissolved minerals. Morgan's water has roughly one-tenth as much. By
comparison, Eldorado Natural Spring Water, also considered pure and
low in minerals for a spring water, has 82 parts per million of
total dissolved solids.
Like Eldorado's, the primary minerals in Morgan's water are
sodium, calcium and magnesium, all considered beneficial in water.
High mineral content doesn't necessarily make for a lower-quality
spring water. Within limits, dissolved solids can make water more
attractive — the U.S. Food and Drug Administration defines mineral
waters such as Evian as having more than 250 parts per million of
"You don't normally find water on the planet that has only 30
(ppm) total dissolved solids," says Jock Bell, co-founder of Trinity
Springs Water in Idaho. "As far as the source itself, it would be
called a very class-act water on the planet."
Shawn Leppert, the groundwater specialist, attributes the purity
of Morgan's water to the ground beneath.
"Whatever bedrock area that spring's drawing from is very stable,
coarse media that's not dissolving minerals into the water," Leppert
Amy Struthers, the city of Boulder's drinking-water coordinator,
says Morgan's dissolved-mineral content was comparable to that of
the Boulder water supply, which comes from a variety of
snowmelt-charged reservoirs. Snowmelt, with little time to soak up
minerals, tends to be "soft," she says.
Chris Rudkin, Boulder's water-quality coordinator, sees
similarities between Morgan's water and Eldorado Natural Spring
Water, as well.
"This water is much like Eldorado Springs' — neutral pH and
fairly soft," Rudkin says.
What both Morgan's and Eldorado's spring water lack is chlorine
and other chemical additives used to ensure safe municipal water.
Bottled-water companies can take a chemical-free route.
At the source in Eldorado Springs, the company shines water with
bacteria-killing ultraviolet light, and does so again after it
arrives via tanker truck in Louisville where it's bottled, says
Eldorado co-founder Jeremy Martin.
Morgan says he knows the health regulations. His bottling area
for deliveries is in an enclosed shed he built, lined with black
plastic, and not the barn pipe used by those filling up themselves.
But he hasn't been regulated by the state, he says.
"If he is retailing bottled water, he needs to be in compliance
with the federal requirements for bottled water," says Susan
Parachini, wholesale food manufacturing and storage program manager
of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The regulations include weekly testing for bacteria and some
systematic means of disinfection, she says.
"You may get a sample that tests clean, but who knows what
happens when you put it in a bottle and store it," she says.
Water and health
Colorado's many springs won acclaim as centers for healing and
revitalization more than a century ago. During the pre-antibiotic,
pollution-heavy times of the industrial revolution, "a few weeks in
the rarefied Colorado air, dousing oneself with pure mineral water,
was a romantic tonic," writes Deborah Frazier in her book,
"Colorado's Hot Springs."
Frazier writes that the local springs were credited with "curing
cancer, baldness, arthritis, kidney disease, glaucoma, sterility,
gout, mental illness and asthma" — although such claims "sound
Some think it's not far-fetched at all. They would say, though,
that it has nothing to do with Charlie Morgan's or anybody else's
Dr. Fereydoon Batmanghelidj, a Virginia medical doctor, has been
writing books such as "Your Body's Many Cries for Water" and giving
talks to medical groups on the health benefits of water for years.
His central thesis: We're all dehydrated, and being dried out kicks
off a complex chain of biochemical events that can lead to
everything from ulcers to arthritis to cancer.
Batmanghelidj discovered what he calls the healing power of water
while imprisoned in post-revolutionary Iran. For want of medicine,
he prescribed a man with severe stomach ulcers two glasses of water.
It stopped the pain.
Batmanghelidj says he thinks the water hydrated the stomach's
protective mucous layer, which then trapped more acid-neutralizing
With arthritis and joint pain, he points out that cartilage is
largely composed of water. With asthma, dehydration causes greater
histamine production in the lungs, which is the body's attempt to
constrict bronchial passages and slow respiratory evaporation, he
says. And with age comes a dulled perception of thirst, which makes
things worse, he says.
"Avoiding dehydration in the body and recognizing the
complications of dehydration are the basics for the science of
medicine in the future," he says.
Complications of dehydration include fibromyalgia, colitis,
migraine headaches, obesity, high cholesterol, chronic fatigue,
diabetes, multiple sclerosis, cancer, osteoporosis,
attention-deficit disorder and Alzheimer's disease, among others,
Batmanghelidj says. And eight to 10 glasses a day of plain old tap
water are all you need to counter it, he says.
"By and large, the body taps into water, and then you get
minerals from food," Batmanghelidj says.
Might it be that Morgan's customers feel better simply because
they are drinking more water?
Dr. Paul Berger, whose practice at Boulder Community Hospital's
Holistic Medical Center blends Western and alternative medical
philosophies, says he thinks it's possible.
"Water is absolutely critical to health," he says.
In addition, he says, the placebo effect could be a "huge" — and
useful — phenomenon.
"It can be a wonderful thing. A number of maladies in the body
can be resolved by thinking that you're getting better," he says.
Berger says soaking in a bath can deliver real physical benefits,
as well. The body relaxes, stress-related adrenaline drops off and
cells get a break, he says.
"There's an organic-chemical benefit from feeling good," he says.
John Douillard, who practices ayurvedic, or ancient Hindu, and
chiropractic sports medicine from his LifeSpa offices in Gunbarrel,
says hydration generally benefits health. But Douillard says he
thinks Morgan's water may be something special.
Water enters body tissue single-file through channels called
aquaporins in the cell membrane. Still, Douillard, says, "if the
water has lots of backpacks — cola, lemonade, Kool Aid — your body
has to take them off."
The end result of drinking pure water is easier and deeper
hydration, which promotes more efficient removal of toxins in the
body, he says.
Eldorado Natural Spring Water's Martin says he has heard
customers attribute all sorts of health benefits to his company's
water, as well — relief from arthritis and allergies among them.
"You'll hear general things — I have more energy, I think
clearer, I function better," he says. "It runs the gamut and affects
people in different ways, and it's all related to having more water
in the body," he says.
Stephen Lower, a retired professor of chemistry whose AquaScams
Web site attempts to debunk inflated claims of water sellers, says
water is water, assuming it's not tainted.
"For 70-plus years I've been drinking tap water, and I don't
think I can be any healthier than I am now," he says. "The
differences are so minimal they would probably be buried in so many
other lifestyle choices we make."
Healing waters indeed?
Sarah Yoakum, 41, sits mostly submerged in a secondhand, green
tub tucked inside one of several of outbuildings Morgan has
constructed on his property. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in
1996, she has driven two hours from Berthoud twice a week for
Morgan's water since March.
The tub is heated by a rusted wood stove that Morgan built from
scrap metal. Inside, logs glow red.
Yoakum says she drinks a gallon a day in addition to the baths in
Morgan's bathhouse that cost her $40 per two-hour soak.
She has far less pain, she says, and the water seems to be
countering the degenerative effects of the disease. A former Left
Hand Water District manager, she's now helping Morgan with Nature's
"It's kind of a metaphysical experience," Yoakum says from the
Last Sunday, Morgan had 22 bathers, requiring him to "haul out
the horse troughs," in which guests apparently soaked without
complaint. Morgan has no doubt the water's special.
"In a couple of years, that spring water I've got will definitely
be known as one of the best healing waters in the world. It's a gift
from God — it's something."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Todd Neff at (303) 473-1327 or firstname.lastname@example.org.