Tuesday, May 20, 2014

History in Estes Park

Estes Park has served travelers' requirments for over a hundred and thirty years when news of the spectacular scenery and bountiful wildlife started emerging across the country. Nowadays, Estes Park offers shops, restaurants and lodging to meet nearly every tourist's needs. However, there is more to Estes Park than just being a great tourist town. Estes Park has a rich history that can be relived with a simple walking/driving tour while visiting.
First stop should be the Estes Park Museum which has a wonderful display of Native American items. The Ute and Arapaho tribes, in particular, were frequent inhabitants of the region. Learn how Old Man Mountain (located just a few miles from the museum) was believed to be a site for vision quests for centuries. The museum also has a preserved cabin to be explored.
Which brings us to the 1860's when the Estes family first settled the region. Although they only stayed a few years, the area was named after them by an editor of a Denver newspaper. If you look across the street from the museum at Lake Estes, formed in the 1940's along with the dam, you will be observing the original home site. Obviously, the 1900's did not have the same sensibilities as the modern era for preserving history. However, a great example of original homesteading can be viewed by a visit to the preserved MacGregor Ranch, founded in 1873. Tours are available of the still working cattle ranch.
Next stop, as you drive back towards town, should be the Stanley Hotel. In brief, after the world started discovering what a great area Estes Park was, there was a struggle over land development. Basically, wealthy Lord Dunraven wanted to turn the region into his own private game preserve and cattle ranch. Local settlers fought back and Dunraven eventually dropped his plans. Now step in steamer car fame, F. O. Stanley, to not only purchase some of Dunraven's land in the early 1900's, but also to improve the roads and infrastructure of the region. His hotel is a testament to the man's foresight. Even if you do nothing but enjoy a delicious meal there, the Stanley is a must see visit.
Finally, consider taking in a movie at the Park Theater, the oldest operating motion picture theater in the United States. The place started out showing silent films.
Don't you wish history lessons growing up could have been as much fun as this?

Thursday, March 13, 2014


Reaching Rocky Mountain: A Novel Based on the True Life Stories of James Nugent and Isabella Bird is now available as an ebook on Amazon Books. The paperback will be released in Spring, 2014 by Mountain Track Publishing.

It has been a long time coming. Ever since booklovers started reading Isabella Bird’s famous travelogue A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, published in 1879, about her visit to Estes Park, readers have been curious about the character of James Nugent, better known as Rocky Mountain Jim. Yet, only a trifling has ever been written about him.
With a charismatic personality and an extremely handsome left side of his face, he was a favorite with the women. And that was despite the fact that he led the life of a rough trapper and was severely scarred on the right side of his face from a grizzly bear attack.
Children and dogs loved him. (And what better can you say about a man’s character?) He allowed kids to scramble on his back and play with his long curly hair. He had a good rapport with most of his neighbors and was well-liked by some men.
However, it was his confrontational relationship with powerful and wealthy Lord Dunraven that led to most of Jim’s difficulties. Lord Dunraven schemed to turn Estes Park into his own private game preserve. (Lord Dunraven’s underhanded way of obtaining land on the cheap is well-documented in the historical record.) Jim was opposed to Dunraven’s plan, thankfully—because would Rocky Mountain National Park even exist today? Would anyone have even bothered to try turning the area into a national park if it was only enjoyed by the ultra-rich and privileged?

Reaching Rocky Mountain Jim not only recounts the compelling attraction that develops between Isabella and Jim (and you cannot find two people more opposite), but also details the conflict with Lord Dunraven. Furthermore, the novel provides little known historical facts about Jim’s life, while telling the tale amidst a stunning, rugged landscape and a frontier just beginning to learn its potential. Hope you enjoy the book.

MacDonald's Bookstore, A Gem of a Store in Estes Park

Did you ever see the movie where a big box bookseller took over a small children’s bookstore? Though the movie came out years ago and independent bookstores seemed doomed forevermore, there is a charming, family-owned bookshop still thriving in Estes Park, Colorado.

In fact, no visit to Estes Park, which is the town adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park, should be considered complete without a stop in MacDonald’s Bookstore. Though small in size, this shop manages to pack in the latest bestsellers, magazines and an exclusive selection of Rocky Mountain regional books.

But before you even enter the bookshop, take a good look at its exterior. The store is housed in an original log cabin built in 1907 by the forest service, which was then purchased a year later by Ed MacDonald, the current store owner’s grandfather. Ed originally opened a general store with a small corner devoted to books. But when Ed retired in 1928, his wife decided to change the parlor of their home into a bookstore. Over the years the bookstore expanded to take over more of the original home.

This shop has survived more than one major Estes Park flood in its long history. In particular, in 1982, the Lawn Lake flood devastated the structure. But by then this bookstore had become so beloved that over eighty volunteers helped to repair the building.

Once you enter the store, expect to be greeted with exceptional service. Paula Steige, the current family member owning the store, and her staff are invariably friendly and very knowledgeable in helping you choose a book of your choice. The store has a wonderful collection of books concerning all western themes. The owner likes to support local authors and topics of regional interest, but if all you’re interested in is picking up the latest bestsellers, the store keeps them regularly stocked. It is one of the amazing things about this store, that a structure so small can be so wonderfully stocked with such a wide variety of reading materials.

On a personal note, my son Charlie always loathed having to do summer reading assignments and would pick his books based on how short they were. His famous line in our family was “I’d read an American Girl book if it was only a hundred pages long!” Yes, even my son Charlie frequents this bookstore. By the way, Charlie is now at the University of Colorado…he must have learned something from his 100 page novels!