Popular Science Monthly/Volume 28/March 1886/Colorado as a Winter Sanitarium

950820Popular Science Monthly Volume 28 March 1886 — Colorado as a Winter Sanitarium1886Samuel Augustus Fisk



WITHIN the past year the civilized world has been shocked and saddened by the knowledge of the great devastation wrought by the cholera in Spain; and every precaution, in the way of sanitary measures and quarantine regulations, that modern science could suggest, was taken to prevent its spreading into other countries. The public scanned the columns of the daily press, eager for information with regard to the advance of this fearful disease, and read with bated breath as they learned that it numbered its victims by the tens of thousands.

If it was a matter of such deep and universal concern that in Spain 101,000 souls gave up their lives to this fell destroyer, should it not also be a matter of some interest to our own people that, within the borders of these United States, over 91,500 persons die each year of pulmonary consumption?[1]—that twelve out of every hundred deaths are caused by a disease which, though slow in its progress, is as sure in its results as cholera itself?

Should it over transpire that some means of prevention should be found, by means of which people would be rendered proof against the disease, or at least could be cured when once it had set its seal upon them, would it not be one of the greatest boons vouchsafed to man since the introduction of vaccination?

Inventive persons have from time to time thought that they had secured a sure cure, if not an unfailing prophylactic; and, at the present time, since the discoveries of Koch, all sorts of parasiticides are being used to kill the germ of the disease. The unfortunate bacillus is now being hunted down with pneumatic chambers, deep inhalations, and local applications introduced by means of the hypodermic syringe, with results that are, to say the least, uncertain.

But, after all the years of research devoted to the subject, and out of all the methods of prevention and cure that have been suggested, the one that has given the best results, and is now being universally adopted, is change of climate.

Says Professor Frankland, in an article on the "Yellowstone Park as a Winter Resort," which was published in a recent number of "The Popular Science Monthly,"[2] "The great importance of a winter sanitarium for patients suffering from or threatened with consumption and other allied diseases has long been recognized and acted upon in Europe."

Such patients have been hurried off to Mentone and the Riviera, or sent across the Mediterranean into Northern Africa, or they have been told to take a trip up the Nile, and, more recently, they have been congregated at Davos in the Engadine.

If it be true that, on the other side of the waters, they have recognized the importance of a change of climate for the cure of consumption, it is also true that the public and medical profession alike, in our own country, are also awakening to a due sense of its efficacy.

We have our Florida, South Carolina, and Cumberland Mountains, the Adirondacks, Southern California, Minnesota, and Colorado, and New Mexico, where patients are sent indiscriminately, each one of which places has its coterie of especial admirers, and over the respective merits of which a great deal of verbal warfare has been waged.

It is not the intention of the writer to enter upon any arguments with so-called climatologists as to what are the specific elements of a climate adapted to consumptives, nor to give a detailed comparison of the several resorts. Each place can undoubtedly give its instances of remarkable cures, as can also Cape Cod and certain portions of New Jersey; and some rare and isolated cases could also be cited where complete recovery has resulted even in the large cities; but the point is, to determine just where and under what conditions we may invariably look for the best results.

To be able to speak ex cathedra on such a matter would require an experience such as falls to the lot of but few, and a long and careful investigation of statistics which have not as yet been compiled.

It is therefore the intention of the present article to give testimony only in regard to the climate of Colorado; to point out to those seeking such information what they may reasonably expect to find here; and to proclaim to that large invalid class in the East and South, to which we ourselves at one time belonged, the restoration to health which we, with thousands upon thousands of others, have found in this glorious climate.

Comparison of Climatic Conditions with those at Davos.—Professor Frankland, in the article quoted, sums up the climatic conditions prevailing at Davos, which he establishes as a criterion, as follows, viz.: "1. Great elevation above sea-level (5,400 feet). 2. A continuous and, during winter, permanent covering of snow. 3. A minimum of watery vapor in the air. 4. A clear sun. 5. A clean atmosphere, free from zymotic germs, dust, and fog. G. A sheltered position, favorable for receiving both the direct and reflected solar rays."

A comparison will show that, in all but one of these conditions, Colorado can make a favorable showing with Davos, and that, taking everything into consideration, she can come nearer to fulfilling the requirements than any other portion of the United States.

As regards this single condition, that of having a perpetual covering of snow, whatever may be its effects upon the Davos climate, we of Colorado have been wont to consider it a great point in our favor that, throughout the winter, we are almost entirely free from snow, and that our sandy and porous soil drinks it up rapidly when it comes. We have regarded this as an advantage, because our sun-temperatures are warm enough without the additional heat of the "reflected rays" that come from snow; because its presence would interfere so materially with the out-of-door life that our invalids lead; and because experience has shown that, where there is the continuous covering of snow as occurs in the Northwest, there comes the thaw, which is usually synchronous with the thaw at the coast, and which brings in its train great atmospheric moisture and chill, and that, too, at a time when patients are seeking to avoid similar conditions at their homes.

In order that we may prove our assertion with regard to our having so little snow, we introduce a table showing the exact amount in inches of rain and melted snow that fell at Denver during the winter of 1884-'85:


1884-1885. Sept Oct. Nov. Dec. Jan. Feb. Mar. April.
Amount in inches of rain- fall and snow-fall 0·13 0·21 0·19 0·76 0·41 0·75 0·97 4·94

To return now to a consideration of the conditions prevailing at Davos, which may, in the main, be taken as those which arc most highly esteemed by the advocates of elevated and cool resorts, we find in Colorado that, so far as elevation is concerned, the range in the towns is from that of Denver, at 5,280 feet, to that of Leadville, which is somewhat over 10,000 feet above sea-level. Intermediate are Colorado Springs, 6,000 feet; Manitou Springs, between 6,000 and 7,000 feet; Cañon City, about the same; Salida, 7,000 feet; Poncha Springs, Idaho Springs, Boulder, and Longmont, about 7,500 feet; Gunnison, Georgetown, and Alamosa, in the neighborhood of 8,000 feet, and so on. So that all the arguments derived from elevation above sea-level are applicable to Colorado as well as to Davos.

If at Davos it is found that there is diminished atmospheric pressure; that, as a consequence, there is a slower abstraction of heat from the body, so that low temperatures do not feel so cold as they would in a lower and denser region; that there is greater heating power in the direct rays of the sun, and that there is a freedom from germ-life (a supposition based on the experiments of Pasteur and Tyndall), all due to simple elevation, the same has been found to be true in Colorado.

As regards the humidity of the air, on which condition writers on climate lay so much stress, and among them the author to whom we have already referred, the data are full and satisfactory.

Colorado is situated in the zone of greatest atmospheric dryness, both relative and absolute, of any inhabited portion of the United States.

A compilation of the statistics of the Signal-Service Bureau, United States Army, shows that the mean relative humidity of Denver for four years was only 45·8. That is, taking the saturation-point, or the point at which the atmosphere is holding all the moisture that it can, as 100, then the air at Denver is only 45·8 per cent of saturation, and it is capable of holding 54·2 per cent more moisture than it does. The same table shows that the air of New York is 70·2 per cent of saturation; that of Jacksonville, Florida, 69 per cent, and that of Los Angeles 65·8 per cent.

It must be understood, in this connection, that the saturation-point is not at all a fixed one, nor is it a constant quantity at any given place, as it varies both with the barometric pressure and with the temperature; so that, as a consequence of this, many writers prefer to speak of the absolute rather than of the relative humidity, in making comparisons of the atmospheric dryness of places.

Several years ago we had occasion to point out, in this connection, that, while a mean for four years showed that the Denver air contained only 1·81 grain of vapor (by weight) to the cubic foot, the air of Jacksonville contains 5·38 grains, and that of Los Angeles 3·77 grains, to the foot; or, as we then remarked, an "amount which, as between Denver and Jacksonville, is as 1 to 3, and, as between Denver and Los Angeles, is as 1 to 2."[3]

Since the above was written, the subject has been very graphically presented by means of colored maps, published in the "Report of the Chief Signal-Officer" for 1884, which maps were compiled at the suggestion and earnest solicitation of the Colorado State Medical Society.[4]

They show plainly that, in the spring and autumn of 1882, the portion of the United States which contained the fewest grains of vapor to the cubic foot of air (viz., 1·5 grain) was the portion of the Rocky Mountain range reaching from near the northern boundary of Wyoming to about the center of New Mexico and Arizona; and that, while during the winter months the Northwest, owing to the extreme cold, contained only from 0·5 to 1·0 grain of vapor, that section which we are considering contained the same amount throughout its northern half, while its southern half ranged from 1 to 1·5 grain. During the same winter months the vapor along the California coast is marked as having been 2·5 grains to the foot, and in Florida it was 4 grains in the north and 7 grains at Key West.

We wish to emphasize this matter of extreme atmospheric dryness, as it not only plays a most important part in a consideration of the climatic cure of consumption, but it is also a prime factor in making, what to an Eastern mind may appear as low temperatures, not only bearable but even comfortable.

Says Professor Frankland, "The absence of suspended watery particles in the air has, no doubt, very considerable influence in preventing the chilling of the skin"; and this, together with diminished atmospheric pressure—which, the same writer says, makes the air, if still, feel warmer at an elevated station than in lower and denser regions of the atmosphere, "in consequence of the slower abstraction of heat from the body"—these conditions, we say, are the reasons why low temperatures with us do not feel so cold—and, so far as being out of doors is concerned, really are not so cold—as the corresponding temperatures at sea-level.

The next favorable atmospheric condition mentioned as existing at Davos is the fact that there is a "clear sun," by which, we presume, is meant an absence of clouds and a large amount of sunshine.

In this connection we have previously called attention to the fact that there are in this climate, on the average, three hundred and twenty sunny days per annum, when the invalid can be out of doors. In other words, our cloudy days, as interpreted by the Signal Service—i. e., days when the heavens are from seven tenths to ten tenths obscured by clouds at 7 a. m., 3 and 11 p. m., Washington time—our cloudy days average only forty-six, while in New York they average one hundred and nine, at Jacksonville eighty-seven, and at St. Paul one hundred and four per annum.

This fact also has been graphically portrayed by another series of maps, furnished by the Signal-Service Bureau to the Colorado State Medical Society, at the time that they gave the series illustrating absolute humidity. This is a series of four maps, representing in color and by seasons the amount of cloudiness existing throughout the United States. They show that Denver was in the region of greatest sunshine for the autumn and winter of the year 1882, while in the spring months of the same year the greatest amount of sunshine was found in lower Arizona, and the country immediately surrounding it.

This clement of sunshine, as affecting the ability of an invalid to lead an out-of-door life, can not be too highly estimated. That most eminent authority, Dr, Austin Flint, in speaking of the good to be derived in cases of consumption from a life out of doors, writes, "It is probable that to this source much of the benefit derived from change of climate is to be referred."[5] Certainly the experience of every practitioner of medicine, who has had much to do with treating the disease, will bear out the assertion of the distinguished writer, and it may safely be said that, cæteris paribus, a patient's recovery will depend very largely upon his ability to lead an out-of-door life.

So well recognized a principle is this, that our medical journals nowadays are teeming with instructions to patients, who, for lack of means or other cause, are unable to take a change of climate, as to how they can best lead out-of-door lives at home, going so far, in some instances, as to advise them to wrap up warmly and sit in an open window, where they can get sunshine and fresh air without a draught.

Finally, stress is laid on the fact that Davos is in a sheltered valley. Without going into details, for it is not necessary to enumerate such places, it may be stated that there are towns situated at various elevations among our mountains and foot-hills, so sheltered as to be very free from winds, and adapted to receiving both the direct and reflected rays of the sun.

If it be admitted, then, that the Davos climate is the ideal one for a consumptive—and the writer of the article referred to, together with many European authorities, seems to regard it as such—we think that we have clearly proved that, as regards the elements of great elevation above sea-level, a minimum of watery vapor in the air, a clear sun, a clean atmosphere free from zymotic germs and fog, and a sheltered position, Colorado fills the bill as completely as does Davos itself.

Consideration of the Climatic Conditions of an Invalid's Day.—It may not be out of place now to refer to the charges that some writers have preferred against this climate. One throws it up against us that we have high winds, which cause our visitors to complain.[6] Another says, "The enormous monthly and also diurnal range of temperature must severely try any man."[7] While a third, who has published one of the fairest and most intelligent articles ever written on our climate, criticises the statistics so far published as inadequate, inasmuch as two of the three observations, on which they are based, occur at 5 a. m. and 9 p. m.—hours that in no way concern the invalid.[8] With a view to answering these objections and those of other writers, we append the following tables, compiled from the official data on record at the Signal-station in Denver. We have taken the months that may fairly be considered as the invalid's winter, and the hours that constitute the invalid's day, and we have selected the winter closest at hand (at the time of writing), so that the reader may from his recollection compare the data we present with the conditions existing at the place where he was at that time.

We furthermore hope that these figures may be of service to those who may be meditating coming to Colorado, as showing them what climatic conditions they may reasonably expect to find:

1884-'85. Mean
Wind pre-
Velocity per
9·08 a. m., local time. September 67·4 59·6 S. 5·3 2 0
October 56·2 48·2 S. 1·5 7 0
November 41·6 45·4 S. 5·7 3 0
December 25·6 61·6 N. & S. 6·3 11 0
January 27·0 56·2 S. 5 0
February 31·9 65·0 N. 8·5 9 0
March 41·3 51·5 S. 4 0
April 47·7 55·5 N. 5·3 12 0
52·8 5·7 6·6
1·08 p. m., local time. September 75·4 25·5 E. 7·5 0 0
October 61·1 32·2 N. 6·1 2 0
November 53·3 31·6 S. 6·7 4 0
December 32·5 54·1 N. 6·7 9 0
January 35·8 48·6 N. & W. 8·1 5 0
February 38·0 57·4 N. E. 10·4 9 0
March 48·2 39·5 N. 9·2 5 0
April 53·9 43·1 N. 9·3 5 0
41·5 8·0 4·8
5·08 p. m., local time. September 74·6 28·0 N. E. 8·6 3 0
October 64·1 37·7 N. E. 7·4 5 0
November 49·9 37·3 N. 6·4 6 0
December 26·8 63·4 N. 6·8 9 0
January 33·3 53·1 W. 8·7 3 0
February 37·8 55·5 W. 11·2 5 0
March 47·7 40·9 N. E. 10·7 7 0
April 54·3 47·8 W. 9·1 6 0
45·5 8·6 5·5

Fogs.—A study of these tables shows that such a thing as a fog is of very rare occurrence, there not being a single one recorded at any of the three observations.

Humidity—We next observe that, of the three observations, the air carries the most moisture at the 9 [[Category:]] one, an amount which is, on the average, only slightly in excess of one half of saturation; that the midday air is quite dry, giving a mean for the eight months of 41·5 of saturation; and that at 5 p. m. the average of humidity is 45·5 per cent of saturation—all of which simply strengthens what we have previously said in regard to the dryness of the Colorado climate.

Temperature.—As regards the temperature we learn that, as we should expect, the coldest registrations occur in the months of December, January, and February; and that even in these months an invalid can be out of doors, so far as this factor is concerned, from 9 a. m. to 5 p. m.

In considering this question several things must be borne in mind. In the first place, these registrations arc those of thermometers placed in a "shelter-box," and consequently in the shade, with a northern exposure, and ten feet above the roof of a six-story building, and so they are not influenced by the direct solar rays, which are very powerful. It must further be borne in mind that these registrations do not "feel" so cold as similar ones would in a dense and damp air, like that of either New York or Boston, owing to the fact that we have mentioned, viz., that a thin, dry air does not rapidly rob the body of its heat, and so the skin does not become chilled so rapidly as at sea-level with the same temperature.

As a matter of fact, the writer remembers that he went around at midday the greater part of the winter without an overcoat. He recalls sitting with open windows in the very heart of January, and was accustomed to seeing people sitting out of doors basking in the sun.

And right here he is willing to acknowledge that there is a grain of truth in the criticisms broached with reference to our extremes of temperature, both diurnal and monthly. They do occur, but then only rarely (that is, such extremes as have been quoted against us), and, when they do come, they are due to high temperatures in the daytime and very low ones at night—conditions which can occur only in thin, dry airs like our own.

The night temperatures are uniformly cold; but they do not affect the invalid, because he should at that time be housed, where he can regulate the temperature to suit himself, and our tables show conclusively that the hours of sunshine are warm and comfortable.

We regret exceedingly that we are not able to give the "sun-temperatures," as they would convey a more correct impression of the warmth of our midday, as every person knows who has tried the difference between the shady and sunny side of the street in our city. But we know of no data on that point, and our Signal-station is not as yet supplied with a sun-thermometer.

Winds.—As regards the winds, these tables prove that in Denver at 9 a. m. the prevailing direction is from the south, and that at 6 p. m. it is either from the north or west. They do not, however, show the well-recognized daily change from the south at night to the north during the day. Furthermore, the observations have reference only to Denver, and can not be taken as a guide for other places, where the peculiar topography must exert a controlling influence.

Moreover, the tables teach most conclusively that the mean hourly motion, at any one of the three observations, is mild, and probably rather less than would prevail in New York city at the same hour of the day. Certain it is that in 1880 the corresponding mean velocities for the twenty-four hours were as follows, viz.:

1880. Spring. Summer. Autumn. Winter.
Denver. 156[9] 143 115 127
New York. 247 177 192 222

While our tables show that the average hourly movement of the wind is moderate, it is true, as some object, that we do have occasional squalls, when the dust is picked up by the wind and when it is disagreeable to be out of doors. We speak of the dust, for it must be remembered that snow does not lie on our ground, even in midwinter. But such squalls are no more frequent than one will meet with in the autumn months in Boston. In violence they bear no comparison, as we can testify from personal experience, to many a tornado that has occurred of late years in the valley of the Connecticut River, and should by no means be confounded with the blizzards of the North-west nor the cyclones of Kansas.

Sunshine.—We next learn, from a consideration of the tables, that while there occurred days in the winter under observation when the sun was not shining at 9 a. m. or at 1 p. m., or at 5 p. m., as the case might be, there were only eleven days in the whole eight months when the heavens were completely and wholly obscured at all three observations. In other words, there were only eleven days in the winter of 1884-'85 when the sun did not shine upon Denver between the hours of 9 a. m. and 5 p. m., and they occurred as follows, viz.:

Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec. Jan. Feb. March. April. Total.
Completely cloudy days, from 9 a. m. to 5 p. m. 0 1 1 1 1 1 3 3 11

We may fairly conclude from these figures that there were only eleven days, out of the two hundred and forty-two, when the invalid was detained in doors all day long for want of sunshine,

Surely this is a surprising showing, and one which, in itself, sufficiently indicates the character of our climate.

Résumé.—To sum up, then, the information we have gathered with reference to the nature of the Colorado climate, between the hours of 9 a. m. and 5 p. m., the invalid's day, and during the eight months from September to April inclusive, the invalid's winter: we have learned that the days are very few, probably not more than two in a month, when an invalid can not be out of doors, gaining health and strength; that the air is warm enough to admit of his being out the greater part of the time from 9 a. m. to 5 p. m., and by this we mean with comfort (certainly, even the most sensitive invalid can get several hours out of doors at midday); that, while there are occasional high winds, they are not more frequent than occur elsewhere, and the average daily motion is mild—not more than is enjoyable and conducive to purity; that the air is an exceedingly dry and bracing one, and that fogs are of very rare occurrence.

Are there not in these conditions the most desirable elements of climate for the consumptive? Here are to be found the greatest amount of sunshine to be had anywhere in the United States; a dry air, a rarefied and pure air; absence of fog; a dry soil free from snow and moisture; a temperature that admits of out-of-door life with comfort; and a daily movement of the air that is mild and gentle—all of which conditions combine to tempt the invalid to a life in the open air.

Says Professor Frankland of Davos, "In the brilliant sunshine one feels comfortably warm sitting in front of the hotel in a light morning coat." What would he say of a climate where the sun shines so brightly and the air is so mild that picnics are admissible, and out of-door sports, such as riding, driving, tennis, quoits, etc., can be indulged in the greater part of the winter?

Before concluding the article, we wish to say a few words in regard to what seems to us to be the weak point of Professor Frankland's advocacy of the Yellowstone Park as a winter sanitarium; an objection which, we think, would be sufficient to condemn any place as a resort for consumptives, no matter how advantageous its climate. We have reference to its distance from the settled portions of our country, and the lack of accommodations in the park itself. These features, which Professor Frankland recognizes and mentions, must, for the present at least, put the Yellowstone Park entirely out of consideration as a winter resort for the consumptive; for he will not be willing to subject himself to a journey of five or six days by rail, a stage-ride of thirty hours, and the utter isolation of such a place, to say nothing of its lack of accommodations, simply that he may winter in an elevated region, possessing "a continuous and, during winter, permanent covering of snow"—a covering of snow which, by-the-by, is deep enough, so I am credibly informed, to drive the big game from the park during the winter months.

Here in Colorado, however, the invalid can find comfortable and adequate accommodations at reasonable rates. He can enjoy the comforts of settled communities at the same time that he is putting himself under superb climatic conditions. He will have access to a market which can amply supply his demands, even should he desire such delicacies as a live lobster or oysters in the shell. He will be in direct telegraphic and postal communication with his home, and, should occasion demand, can walk the streets of Boston within three days of leaving Denver.

These are considerations of no little weight to the invalid, for he is a human being, sensitive like other human beings—in fact, rather more dependent on the comforts of life than other men—and he protests, and rightly too, that it is cruel to impose conditions on him which would depress and render sick even a strong and able-bodied man.

The idea which has been so prevalent, and which even now is not entirely eradicated, that to regain health it is necessary to "rough it," and the greater the privations one endures, the more he roughs it, the sooner he will get well, is an erroneous and most cruel one.

It is not necessary to pander to the consumptive so as to make him a hypochondriac; and yet, on the other hand, we protest against the rough usage so often entailed upon him, which would seem to justify the idea that the only way of curing the disease is by fairly knocking it out of a man.

We consider the proper regulation of an invalid's life as regards exercise, diet, hygienic conditions, accommodations for living, etc., as of great importance—equal, it may be, to considerations of climate.

We have already[10] given to the public our opinion of what they can expect to find, on such scores, in Colorado, and need not now weary the reader with a repetition.

We at that time took occasion to mention the kind of cases that, in our opinion, should not come to Colorado, and we will now briefly repeat the advice. It is an excellent place for persons in whom a recovery can reasonably be expected, but it is not a place where consumptives should be sent as a last resort.

In conclusion, we can only say that, if the figures and arguments we have adduced are not convincing, or if the reader is skeptical about the ranges of temperature and unbelieving in regard to the heating effects of the direct solar rays, or the further fact that low temperatures do not feel so cold in our light and dry air as at sea-level, or if he can not reconcile the facts presented with any theory he may hold, we can only say to such a one, "Come and see."

The theories in regard to the beneficial elements of elevated regions may be entirely erroneous. Men's theories are constantly changing, and it may or may not be true that elevation, dryness, and sunshine are the sole desiderata in selecting a suitable climate; or, on the other hand, that equability of temperature should alone be considered.

Writers may still object that we have high winds and sand-storms, which annoy the visitor; or that "the enormous monthly and also diurnal range of temperature must severely try any man"; or raise one objection after another on merely theoretical grounds: and yet the fact remains—a fact that rises superior to all argument and cavil, and which is in itself the most conclusive argument that can be advanced—that a large percentage of our population is made up of the so-called invalid class, who have obtained a restoration of health here; that thousands upon thousands of lives have been saved to the world, not to drag out an invalid's existence, but rather to take a manly part in the struggles of life, simply by coming to Colorado; and that to-day there are living within its borders persons, to be numbered by the tens of thousands, who would undoubtedly be glad to attest their gratitude to the climate by saying of it, as the writer thinks he can truthfully say, "It saved my life."

  1. Census, 1880.
  2. July, 1885.
  3. "Climate in the Cure of Consumption" ("Science," September 28 and October 6, 1883).
  4. As a member of the committee from that society, intrusted with the matter, we take pleasure in acknowledging the courteous attention our request received.
  5. Pepper's "System of Medicine," vol. iii, p. 432.
  6. "Boston Medical and Surgical Journal," June 12, 1884.
  7. "New York Herald" editorial, December 29, 1883.
  8. Dr. Edward T. Ely, "New York Medical Journal," July, 1884.
  9. The figures in this table should read so many miles per diem. In the former tables the velocities are given in miles per horam. While in New York recently, we tried to obtain data of observations at 9 a. m., 1 and 5 p. m., local time, as a means of comparison, but they were not to be had at the Signal-station.
  10. "Colorado for Invalids," "Popular Science Monthly," July, 1884.