Rocky Mountain National Park celebrates its centennial in 2015 with the book “Rocky Mountain National Park: The First 100 Years” ($39.95, Farcountry Press, 2014) by award-winning Colorado author Mary Taylor Young.
“Rocky was established as a national park in 1915,” notes Young. “But the story of any park with ‘Rocky Mountain’ in its name begins not just 100 years but a billion years ago.”
Young’s lively prose carries the reader back in time to formation of the very rocks we see today. If geologic time could be speeded up, she writes, the forming of the landscape of Rocky Mountain National Park would play out in a grand spectacle of crashing tectonic plates, spouting volcanoes, gouging glaciers, and mountains thrust skyward.
The first people arrived 11,000 years ago as glaciers retreated. They left behind low stone walls, still visible along Trail Ridge, used to drive game animals toward hunters armed with spears. Later, Ute and then Arapaho came to the mountains to hunt, fish, and gather lodgepole pine trees for tepee poles. They left the evidence of their passing in the names of many Park landscape features.
Explorers and settlers followed. Young recounts Milton Estes’ first glimpse of the valley that would bear his name. “We stood on the mountain looking down at the headwaters of the Little Thompson Creek, where the Park spread out before us. No words can describe our surprise, wonder, and joy at beholding such an unexpected sight.”
Early settlers tried ranching, but the harsh climate and rugged terrain made life difficult. Many, such as Abner and Alberta Sprague, turned to providing lodging and meals for people drawn to the mountains, claiming “it is easier to make a living in the mountains by milking tourists rather than milking cows.”
Visible from far out on the prairie, the prominent, boxy top of Longs Peak, the Park’s only 14,000-foot mountain, has long been an irresistible lure for climbers, adventurers and travelers. One of those people was a young Enos Mills, fresh from Kansas, who wasted no time summiting Longs Peak and then starting a guide and naturalist service in the early 1900s. Mills became a passionate advocate for this mountain wonderland and devoted his life to preserving it as a national park, earning him the sobriquet “father of Rocky Mountain National Park.”
The Rocky centennial book is Young’s fifteenth book focusing on the wildlife, landscape, and heritage of Colorado and the West.