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Theme of the Park

IN 1859, COLORADO HAD A GOLD RUSH. Although not as important historically as the California discoveries, it led indirectly to the settlement of the verdant meadows at the foot of the Front Range in the vicinity of modern Estes Park, and eventually to a "rush" of vacationists. As the scenic splendor of this region became better known, many public-spirited citizens recognized the need for preserving portions of the area as a national park. In 1915, Rocky Mountain National Park was dedicated in simple ceremonies at what is now called Horseshoe Park. Since that time millions of visitors have enjoyed the natural wonders of the park, including placid mountain lakes, rushing streams, and verdant high-country meadows. Here are trout to catch, native animals and birds to be seen and photographed, and trails to hike.

Park rangers are often asked by visitors, "What are the main attractions of Rocky Mountain National Park?" It is hard to answer this question, for the appeal of the park, somewhat like that of a symphony, lies in the varied yet repeated experiences or melodies which may be found within its framework. The raw beauty of the rugged mountains contrasts with the calm loveliness of wildflower gardens growing nearby. Some visitors enjoy the solitude, while others appreciate the opportunity to meet people with like interests and hike with organized groups on some of the 200 miles of trails. Many derive pleasure from quietly studying the fascinating world of Nature preserved in the park. Some vigorously battle the steep slopes of the mountains; others relax in camp, satisfied by the sound of the wind in the trees. All people enjoy the park in their own way. There are regulations, but no regimentation, no compulsory activities, no "musts." That's one reason the park was established—for all to use, but not to abuse.


Rocky Mountain National Park comprises a bit over 400 square miles of the Front Range. The altitude of the park is high, with cool summers the inevitable result. There are more than 65 named peaks exceeding 10,000 feet. The Continental Divide, separating slopes draining to the Pacific Ocean from those draining to the Gulf of Mexico, runs through the park.

The stories which the park reveals to those who study it are of intense interest. Its climax scenery is made up of great gorges, lofty peaks, and remote lakes—the product of once mighty glaciers. Its forests and wildflowers tell a story of struggle and adjustment to environments which differ with altitude and exposure. Its native populations—deer, elk, bear, beaver, birds and the myriad lesser creatures of the wild—can be seen in their natural habitats. Its streams attract the hopeful fisherman; its unmodified natural compositions enthrall the artist; its cool, green setting appeals to all summer travelers.


Enos Mills, "father" of Rocky Mountain National Park, wrote some 40 years ago:

A National Park is a fountain of life. . . . Without parks and outdoor life all that is best in civilization will be smothered. To save ourselves—to enable us to live at our best and happiest, parks are necessary. Within National Parks is room—glorious room—room in which to find ourselves, in which to think and hope, to dream and plan, to rest and resolve.

His words are even more significant to our generation than they were to his. This handbook is an attempt to provide a concise summary of some of the park's important natural values and to arouse your appetite for further pursuit of the enjoyment they offer. The basic experience in this national park, as in most, is to capture some of the inspiration and spiritual qualities of the landscape which Enos Mills felt so keenly.

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Last Modified: Sat, Nov 4 2006 10:00:00 pm PST

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