THE GRANITE NATIONAL PARKS
THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, NORTH CENTRAL COLORADO. AREA, 398 SQUARE MILES
THE Sierra Nevada Mountains of California and the Cascade Range of California, Oregon, and Washington have each three national parks which fully represent their kind and quality. The great central system of the United States, the Rocky Mountains, which also possess three national parks, are represented in kind by only one, for Yellowstone is an exceptional volcanic interlude, and Glacier is the chance upheaval of shales and limestones from a period antedating the granite Rockies by many millions of years; neither in any sense exhibits the nature and scenic quality of the backbone of our continent.
This is one of the reasons for the extraordinary distinction of the reservation appropriately called the Rocky Mountain National Park, namely that it is the only true example of the continental mountain system in the catalogue of our national parks. It is well, therefore, to lay the foundations for a sound comprehension of its differentiating features.
The Rocky Mountains, which began to rise at the close of the Cretaceous Period at a rate so slow that geologists think they are making a pace to-day as rapid as their maximum, extend from the plateau of New Mexico northwesterly until they merge into the mountains of eastern Alaska. In the United States physiographers consider them in two groups, the Northern Rockies and the Southern Rockies, the point of division being the elevated Wyoming Basin. There are numerous ranges, known, like the Wasatch Mountains, by different names, which nevertheless are consistent parts of the Rocky Mountain System.
The Rockies attain their most imposing mass and magnificence in their southern group, culminating in Colorado. So stupendous is this heaping together of granitic masses that in Colorado alone are found forty-two of the fifty-five named peaks in the United States which attain the altitude of fourteen thousand feet. Of the others, twelve are in the Sierra of California, and one, Mount Rainier, in Washington. Mount Elbert, in Colorado, our second highest peak, rises within eighty-two feet of the height of California's Mount Whitney, our first in rank; Colorado's Mount Massive attains an altitude only four feet less than Washington's Mount Rainier, which ranks third. In point of mass, one seventh of Colorado rises above ten thousand feet of altitude. The state contains three hundred and fifty peaks above eleven thousand feet of altitude, two hundred and twenty peaks above twelve thousand feet, and a hundred and fifty peaks above thirteen thousand feet; besides the forty-two named peaks which exceed fourteen thousand feet, there are at least three others which are unnamed.
Geologists call the Rockies young, by which they mean anything, say, from five to twenty million years. They are more or less contemporary with the Sierra. Like the Sierra, the mountains we see to-day are not the first; several times their ranges have uplifted upon wrecks of former ranges, which had yielded to the assaults of frost and rain. Before they first appeared, parts of the Eastern Appalachians had paralleled our eastern sea coast for many million years. The Age of Mammals had well dawned before they became a feature in a landscape which previously had been a mid-continental sea.
The Front Range, carrying the continental divide, is a gnarled and jagged rampart of snow-splashed granite facing the eastern plains, from which its grim summits may be seen for many miles. Standing out before it like captains in front of gray ranks at parade rise three conspicuous mountains, Longs Peak, fifty miles northwest of Denver, Mount Evans, west of Denver, and Pikes Peak, seventy miles to the south. Longs Peak is directly connected with the continental divide by a series of jagged cliffs. Mount Evans is farther away. Pikes Peak stands sentinel-like seventy-five miles east of the range, a gigantic monadnock, remainder and reminder of a former range long ages worn away.
Though many massive mountains of greater altitude lie farther west, the Front Range for many reasons is representative of the Rockies' noblest. To represent them fully, the national park should include the three sentinel peaks and their neighborhoods, and it is earnestly hoped that the day will come when Congress will recognize this need. At this writing only the section of greatest variety and magnificence, the nearly four hundred square miles of which Longs Peak is the climax, has been thus entitled. In fact, even this was unfortunately curtailed in the making, the straight southern boundary having been arbitrarily drawn through the range at a point of sublimity, throwing out of the park the St. Vrain Glaciers which form one of the region's wildest and noblest spectacles, and Arapaho Peak and its glaciers which in several respects constitute a climax in Rocky Mountain scenery.
Thus carelessly cropped, despoiled of the completeness which Nature meant it to possess, nevertheless the Rocky Mountain National Park is a reservation of distinguished charm and beauty. It straddles the continental divide, which bisects it lengthwise, north and south. The western slopes rise gently to the divide; at the divide, the eastern front drops in a precipice several thousand feet deep, out of which frosts, rains, glaciers and streams have gouged gigantic gulfs and granite-bound vales and canyons, whose intervening cliffs are battlemented walls and monoliths.
As if these features were not enough to differentiate this national park from any other, Nature has provided still another element of popularity and distinction. East of this splendid rampart spreads a broad area of rolling plateau, carpeted with wild flowers, edged and dotted with luxuriant groves of pine, spruce, fir, and aspen, and diversified with hills and craggy mountains, carved rock walls, long forest-grown moraines and picturesque ravines; a stream-watered, lake-dotted summer and winter pleasure paradise of great size, bounded on the north and west by snow-spattered monsters, and on the east and south by craggy wooded foothills, only less in size, and no less in beauty than the leviathans of the main range. Here is summer living room enough for several hundred thousand sojourners from whose comfortable camps and hotels the wild heart of the Rockies may be visited afoot or on horseback between early breakfast and late supper at home.
This plateau has been known to summer visitors for many years under the titles of several settlements; Moraine Park, Horseshoe Park, and Longs Peak, each had its hotels long before the national park was created; Estes Park and Allen's Park on the east side, and Grand Lake on the west side lie just outside the park boundaries, purposely excluded because of their considerable areas of privately owned land. Estes Park, the principal village and the distributing centre of all incoming routes from the east, is the Eastern GateWay; Grand Lake is the Western Gateway.
And still there is another distinction, one which will probably always hold for Rocky Mountain its present great lead in popularity. That is its position nearer to the middle of the country than other great national parks, and its accessibility from large centres of population. Denver, which claims with some justice the title of Gateway to the National Parks, meaning of course the eastern gateway to the western parks, is within thirty hours by rail from Chicago and St. Louis, through one or other of which most travellers from the east find it convenient to reach the west. It is similarly conveniently located for touring motorists, with whom all the national parks are becoming ever more popular. From Denver several railroads lead to east-side towns, from which the park is reached by motor stages through the foothills, and a motor stage line runs directly from Denver to Estes Park, paralleling the range. The west side is reached through Granby.
Entry to the park by any route is dramatic. If the visitor comes the all-motor way through Ward he picks up the range at Arapaho Peak, and follows it closely for miles. If he comes by any of the rail routes, his motor stage emerges from the foothills upon a sudden spectacle of magnificencethe snowy range, its highest summits crowned with cloud, looming upon the horizon across the peaceful plateau. By any route the appearance of the range begins a panorama of ever-changing beauty and inspiration, whose progress will outlive many a summer's stay.
Having settled himself in one of the hotels or camps of the east-side plateau, the visitor faces the choice between two practical ways of enjoying himself. He may, as the majority seem to prefer, spend his weeks in the simple recreations familiar in our eastern hill and country resorts; he may motor a little, walk a little, fish a little in the Big Thompson and its tributaries, read and botanize a little in the meadows and groves, golf a little on the excellent courses, climb a little on the lesser mountains, and dance or play bridge in hotel parlors at night. Or else he may avail himself of the extraordinary opportunity which Nature offers him in the mountains which spring from his comfortable plateau, the opportunity of entering into Nature's very workshop and of studying, with her for his teacher, the inner secrets and the mighty examples of creation.
In all our national parks I have wondered at the contentment of the multitude with the less when the greater, and such a greater, was there for the taking. But I ceased to criticize the so-called popular point of view when I realized that its principal cause was ignorance of the wealth within grasp rather than deliberate choice of the more commonplace; instead, I write this book, hoping that it may help the cause of the greater pleasure. Especially is the Rocky Mountain National Park the land of opportunity because of its accessibility, and of the ease with which its inmost sanctuaries may be entered, examined, and appreciated. The story is disclosed at every step. In fact the revelation begins in the foothills on the way in from the railroad, for the red iron-stained cliffs seen upon their eastern edges are remainders of former Rocky Mountains which disappeared by erosion millions of years ago. The foothills themselves are remnants of mountains which once were much loftier than now, and the picturesque canyon of the Big Thompson, through which it may have been your good fortune to enter the park, is the stream-cut outlet of a lake or group of lakes which once covered much of the national park plateau.
Summer life on the plateau is as effective as a tonic. The altitude varies from seven to nine thousand feet; Rocky Mountain's valley bottoms are higher than the summits of many peaks of celebrity elsewhere. On every hand stretch miles of tumbled meadows and craggy cliffs. Many are the excellent roads, upon which cluster, at intervals of miles, groups of hotels and camps. Here one may choose his own fashion of living, for these hostelries range from the most formal and luxurious hotel to the simplest collection of tents or log cabins around a central log dining structure. Some of these camps are picturesque, the growth of years from the original log hut. Some are equipped with modern comforts; others are as primitive as their beginnings. All the larger resorts have stables of riding horses, for riding is the fashion even with those who do not venture into the mountains.
Or, one may camp out in the good old-fashioned way, and fry his own morning bacon over his fire of sticks.
Wherever one lives, however one lives, in this broad tableland, he is under the spell of the range. The call of the mountains is ever present. Riding, walking, motoring, fishing, golfing, sitting under the trees with a book, continually he lifts his eyes to their calm heights. Unconsciously he throws them the first morning glance. Instinctively he gazes long upon their gleaming moonlit summits before turning in at night. In time they possess his spirit. They calm him, exalt him, ennoble him. Unconsciously he comes to know them in all their myriad moods. Cold and stern before sunrise, brilliant and vivid in mid-morning, soft and restful toward evening, gorgeously colored at sunset, angry, at times terrifying, in storm, their fascination never weakens, their beauty changes but it does not lessen.
Mountains of the height of these live in constant communion with the sky. Mummy Mountain in the north and Longs Peak in the south continually gather handfuls of fleecy cloud. A dozen times a day a mist appears in the blue, as if entangled while passing the towering summit. A few moments later it is a tiny cloud; then, while you watch, it thickens and spreads and hides the peak. Ten minutes later, perhaps, it dissipates as rapidly as it gathered, leaving the granite photographed against the blue. Or it may broaden and settle till it covers a vast acreage of sky and drops a brief shower in near-by valleys, while meadows half a mile away are steeped in sunshine. Then, in a twinkling, all is clear again. Sometimes, when the clearing comes, the summit is white with snow. And sometimes, standing upon a high peak in a blaze of sunshine from a cleared sky, one may look down for a few moments upon the top of one of these settled clouds, knowing that it is sprinkling the hidden valley.
The charm of the mountains from below may satisfy many, but sooner or later temptation is sure to beset. The desire comes to see close up those monsters of mystery. Many, including most women, ignorant of rewards, refuse to venture because they fear hardship. "I can never climb mountains in this rarefied air," pleads one, and in most cases this is true; it is important that persons unused to the higher altitudes be temperate and discreet. But the lungs and muscles of a well-trained mountain horse are always obtainable, and the least practice will teach the unaccustomed rider that all he has to do is to sit his saddle limply and leave everything else to the horse. It is my proud boast that I can climb any mountain, no matter how high and difficult, up which my horse can carry me.
And so, at last and inevitably, we ascend into the mountains.
The mountains within the park fall naturally in two groupings. The Front Range cuts the southern boundary midway and runs north to Longs Peak, where it swings westerly and carries the continental divide out of the park at its northwestern corner. The Mummy Range occupies the park's entire north end. The two are joined by a ridge 11,500 feet in altitude, over which the Fall River Road is building to connect the east and the west sides of the park.
The lesser of these two, the Mummy Range, is a mountain group of distinguished beauty. Its climax is an arc of gray monsters, Ypsilon Mountain, 13,507 feet, Mount Fairchild, 13,502 feet, Hagues Peak, 13,562 feet, and Mount Dunraven, 12,326 feet; these gather around Mummy Mountain with its 13,413 feet. A noble company, indeed, herded in close comradeship, the centre of many square miles of summits scarcely less. Ypsilon's big Greek letter, outlined in perpetual snow, is one of the famous landmarks of the northern end. Hagues Peak supports Hallett Glacier, the most interesting in the park. Dunraven, aloof and of slenderer outline, offers marked contrast to the enormous sprawling bulk of Mummy, always portentous, often capped with clouds. The range is split by many fine canyons and dotted with glacial lakes, an undeveloped wilderness designed by kindly nature for summer exploration.
But it is the Front Range, the snowy pinnacled rampart, which commands profoundest attention.
From Specimen Mountain in the far northwest, a spill of lava, now the haunt of mountain sheep, the continental divide southward piles climax upon climax. Following it at an elevation well exceeding twelve thousand feet, the hardy, venturesome climber looks westward down a slope of bald granite, thickly strewn with boulders; eastward he gazes into a succession of gigantic gorges dropping upon the east, forest grown, lake-set canyons deep in mid-foreground, the great plateau spreading to its foothills far beyond the canyons, with now and then a sun glint from some irrigation pond beyond the foothills on the misty plains of eastern Colorado. Past the monolith of Terra Tomah Peak, with its fine glacial gorge of many lakes, past the Sprague Glacier, largest of the several shrunken fields of moving ice which still remain, he finds, from the summit of Flattop Mountain, a broad spectacle of real sublimity.
But there is a greater viewpoint close at hand. Crossing the Flattop Trail which here ascends from the settlements below on its way to the west side, and skirting the top of the Tyndall Glacier, a scramble of four hundred feet lands him on the summit of Hallett Peak, 12,725 feet in altitude. Here indeed is reward. Below him lies the sheer abyss of the Tyndall Gorge, Dream Lake, a drop of turquoise in its depths; beyond it a moraine reaches out upon the plateausix miles in length, a mile and more in width, nearly a thousand feet in height, holding Bierstadt Lake upon its level forested crown, an eloquent reminder of that ancient time when enormous glaciers ripped the granite from these gorges to heap it in long winding hills upon the plains below. Turning southerly, the Wild Gardens further spread before his gaze, a tumble of granite masses rising from lake-dotted, richly forested bottoms. The entrance to Loch Vale, gem canyon of the Rockies, lies in the valley foreground. Adjoining it, the entrance to Glacier Gorge, showing one of its several lakes, rests in peaceful contrast with its impressive eastern wall, a long, winding, sharp-edged buttress pushing southward and upward to support the northern shoulder of the monster, Longs Peak, whose squared summit, from here for all the world like a chef's cap, outlines sharply against the sky. Hallett Peak welcomes the climber to the Heart of the Rockies at perhaps their most gorgeous point.
South of Hallett difficult going will disclose new viewpoints of supreme wildness. Otis Peak, nearly as high as Hallett, looks down upon the Andrews Glacier, and displays the length of Loch Vale, at whose head towers Taylor Peak, a giant exceeding thirteen thousand feet.
I have not sketched this tour of the continental divide as a suggestion for travel, for there are no trails, and none but the mountaineer, experienced in pioneering, could accomplish it with pleasure and success, but as a convenient mode of picturing the glories of the continental divide. Some day a trail, even perhaps a road, for one is practicable, should make it fully accessible to the greater public. Meantime Flattop Trail invites valley dwellers of all degrees, afoot and horseback, up to a point on the divide from which Hallett's summit and its stupendous view is no great conquest.
The gorges of the Wild Gardens are most enjoyed from below. Trails of no difficulty lead from the settlements to Fern and Odessa Lakes in a canyon unsurpassed; to Bear Lake at the outlet of the Tyndall Gorge; to Loch Vale, whose flower-carpeted terraces and cirque lakelets, Sky Pond and the Lake of Glass, are encircled with mighty canyon walls; and to Glacier Gorge, which leads to the foot of Longs Peak's western precipice. These are spots, each a day's round trip from convenient over-night hotels, which deserve all the fame that will be theirs when the people come to know them, for as yet only a few hundreds a summer of Rocky Mountain's hundred thousand take the trouble to visit them.
To better understand the charm of these gray monsters, and the valleys and chasms between their knees, we must pause a moment to picture what architects call the planting, for trees and shrubs and flowers play as important a part in the informal architectural scheme of the Front Range as they do in the formality of a palace. It will be recalled that the zones of vegetation from the equator to the frozen ice fields of the far north find their counterparts in altitude. The foothills bordering the Rocky Mountain National Park lie in the austral zone of our middle and eastern states; its splendid east-side plateau and inter-mountain valleys represent the luxuriance of the Canadian zone; its mountains pass rapidly up in a few thousand feet through the Hudsonian zone, including timber-line at about 11,500 feet; and its highest summits carry only the mosses, lichens, stunted grasses, and tiny alpine flowerets of the Arctic Zone.
Thus one may walk waist deep through the marvellous wild flower meadows of Loch Vale, bordered by luxuriant forests of majestic Engelmann spruce, pines, firs, junipers, and many deciduous shrubs, and look upward at the gradations of all vegetation to the arctic seas.
Especially interesting is the revelation when one takes it in order, climbing into the range. The Fall River Road displays it, but not dramatically; the forest approach is too long, the climb into the Hudsonian Zone too short, and not typical. The same is true of the trail up beautiful Forest Canyon. The reverse is true of the Ute Trail, which brings one too quickly to the stupendous arctic summit of Trail Ridge. The Flattop Trail is in many respects the most satisfying, particularly if one takes the time to make the summit of Hallett Peak, and hunts for arctic flowerets on the way. But one may also accomplish the purpose in Loch Vale by climbing all the way to Sky Pond, at the very foot of steep little Taylor Glacier, or by ascending Glacier Gorge to its head, or by climbing the Twin Sisters, or Longs Peak as far as Boulder Field, or up the St. Vrain valley to the top of Meadow Mountain, or Mount Copeland.
All of these ascents are made by fair trails, and all display the fascinating spectacle of timber-line, which in Rocky Mountain National Park, I believe, attains its most satisfying popular expression; by which I mean that here the panorama of the everlasting struggle between the ambitious climbing forests and the winter gales of the summits seems to be condensed and summarized, to borrow a figure from the textbooks, as I have not happened to find it elsewhere. Following up some sheltered forested ravine to its head, we swing out upon the wind-swept slopes leading straight to the summit. Snow patches increase in size and number as the conifers thin and shrink. Presently the trees bend eastward, permanently misshaped by the icy winter blasts. Presently they curve in semi-circles, or rise bravely in the lee of some great rock, to bend at right angles from its top. Here and there are full-grown trees growing prostrate, like a rug, upon the ground.
Close to the summit trees shrink to the size of shrubs, but some of these have heavy trunks a few feet high, and doubtless have attained their fulness of development. Gradually they thin and disappear, giving place to wiry, powerful, deciduous shrubs, and these in turn to growths still smaller. There are forests of willows just above Rocky Mountain's timber-line, two or three inches tall, and many acres in extent.
From the Front Range, well in the south of the park, a spur of toothed granite peaks springs two miles eastward to the monarch of the park, Longs Peak. It is this position in advance of the range, as much as the advantage of its 14,255 feet of altitude, which enables this famous mountain to become the climax of every east-side view.
Longs Peak has a remarkable personality. It is an architectural creation, a solid granite temple, strongly buttressed upon four sides. From every point of view it is profoundly different, but always consistent and recognizable. Seen from the east, it is supported on either side by mountains of majesty. Joined with it on the north, Mount Lady Washington rises 13,269 feet, the cleft between their summits being the way of the trail to Longs Peak summit. Merging with it in mass upon the south, Mount Meeker rises 13,911 feet. Once the three were one monster mountain. Frosts and rains carried off the crust strata, bared the granite core, and chipped it into three summits, while a glacier of large size gouged out of its middle the abyss which divides the mountains, and carved the precipice, which drops twenty-four hundred feet from Longs Peak summit to Chasm Lake. The Chasm, which is easily reached by trail from the hotels at the mountain's foot, is one of the wildest places in America. It may be explored in a day.
Mountain climbing is becoming the fashion in Rocky Mountain National Park among those who never climbed before, and it will not be many years before its inmost recesses are penetrated by innumerable trampers and campers. The "stunt" of the park is the ascent of Longs Peak. This is no particular matter for the experienced, for the trail is well worn, and the ascent may be made on horseback to the boulder field, less than two thousand feet from the summit; but to the inexperienced it appears an undertaking of first magnitude. From the boulder field the trail carries out upon a long sharp slant which drops into the precipice of Glacier Gorge, and ascends the box-like summit cap by a shelf trail which sometimes has terrors for the unaccustomed. Several hundred persons make the ascent each summer without accident, including many women and a few children. The one risk is that accidental snow obscure the trail; but Longs Peak is not often ascended without a guide.
The view from the summit of the entire national park, of the splendid range south which should be in the park but is not, of the foothills and pond-spotted plains in the east, of Denver and her mountain background, and of the Medicine Bow and other ranges west of the park, is one of the country's great spectacles. Longs Peak is sometimes climbed at night for the sunrise.
The six miles of range between Longs Peak and the southern boundary of the park show five towering snow-spotted mountains of noble beauty, Mount Alice, Tanima Peak, Mahana Peak, Ouzel Peak, and Mount Copeland. Tributary to the Wild Basin, which corresponds, south of Longs Peak, to the Wild Gardens north of it, are gorges of loveliness the waters of whose exquisite lakes swell St. Vrain Creek.
The Wild Basin is one of Rocky Mountain's lands of the future. The entire west side is another, for, except for the lively settlement at Grand Lake, its peaks and canyons, meadows, lakes, and valleys are seldom visited. It is natural that the east side, with its broader plateaus and showier range, should have the first development, but no accessible country of the splendid beauty of the west side can long remain neglected. Its unique feature is the broad and beautiful valley of the North Fork of the Grand River, here starting for its great adventure in the Grand Canyon of the Colorado.
The Rockies are a masterpiece of erosion. When forces below the surface began to push them high in air, their granite cores were covered thousands of feet deep with the sediments of the great sea of whose bottom once they were a part. The higher they rose the more insistently frosts and rains concentrated upon their uplifting summits; in time all sedimentary rocks were washed away, and the granite beneath exposed.
Then the frosts and rains, and later the glaciers, attacked the granite, and carved it into the jagged forms of to-day. The glaciers moulded the gorges which the streams had cut. The glaciers have passed, but still the work goes on. Slowly the mountains rise, and slowly, but not so slowly, the frosts chisel and the rains carry away. If conditions remain as now, history will again repeat itself, and the gorgeous peaks of to-day will decline, a million years or more from now, into the low rounded summits of our eastern Appalachians, and later into the flat, soil-hidden granites of Canada.
These processes may be seen in practical example. Ascend the precipitous east side by the Flattop Trail, for instance, and notice particularly the broad, rolling level of the continental divide. For many miles it is nothing but a lofty, bare, undulating plain, interspersed with summits, but easy to travel except for its accumulation of immense loose boulders. This plain slopes gently toward the west, and presently breaks, as on the east, into cliffs and canyons. It is a stage in the reduction by erosion of mountains which, except for erosion, might have risen many thousands of feet higher. Geologists call it a peneplain, which means nearly-a-plain; it is from fragmentary remains of peneplains that they trace ranges long ages washed away. History may, in some dim future age, repeat still another wonder, for upon the flattened wreck of the Front Range may rise, by some earth movement, a new and even nobler range.
But what about the precipitous eastern front?
That masterpiece was begun by water, accomplished by ice, and finished by water. In the beginning, streams determined the direction of the valleys and carved these valleys deep. Then came, in very recent times, as geologists measure earth's history, the Great Ice Age. As a result of falling temperature, the mountains became covered, except their higher summits and the continental divide, with glaciers. These came in at least two invasions, and remained many hundreds of thousands of years. When changing climate melted them away, the Rocky Mountain National Park remained not greatly different from what it is to-day. Frosts and rains have softened and beautified it since.
These glaciers, first forming in the beds of streams by the accumulations of snow which presently turned to ice and moved slowly down the valleys, began at once to pluck out blocks of granite from their starting points, and settle themselves in cirques. They plucked downward and backward, undermining their cirque walls until falling granite left precipices; armed with imprisoned rocks, they gouged and scraped their beds, and these processes, constantly repeated for thousands of centuries, produced the mountain forms, the giant gorges, the enormous precipices, and the rounded granite valleys of the stupendous east elevation of the Front Range.
There is a good illustration in Iceberg Lake, near the base of Trail Ridge on the Ute Trail. This precipitous well, which every visitor to Rocky Mountain should see, originally was an ice-filled hollow in the high surface of the ridge. When the Fall River Glacier moved eastward, the ice in the hollow slipped down to join it, and by that very motion became itself a glacier. Downward and backward plucking in the cirque which it presently made, and the falling of the undermined walls, produced in, say, a few hundred thousand years this striking well, upon whose lake's surface visitors of to-day will find cakes of floating ice, broken from the sloping snow-field which is the old glacier's remainder and representative of to-day.
The glaciers which shaped Rocky Mountain's big canyons had enormous size and thickness. Ice streams from scores of glacial cirques joined fan-like to form the Wild Basin Glacier, which swept out through the narrow valley of St. Vrain. Four glaciers headed at Longs Peak, one west of Mount Meeker, which gave into the Wild Basin; one west of Longs Peak, which joined the combination of glaciers that hollowed Loch Vale; one upon the north, which moulded Glacier Gorge; and the small but powerful glacier which hollowed the great Chasm on the east front of Longs Peak. The Loch Vale and Glacier Gorge glaciers joined with giant ice streams as far north as Tyndall Gorge to form the Bartholf Glacier; and north of that the mighty Thompson Glacier drained the divide to the head of Forest Canyon, while the Fall River Glacier drained the Mummy Range south of Hagues Peak.
These undoubtedly were the main glacial streams of those ancient days, the agencies responsible for the gorgeous spectacle we now enjoy. The greater glaciers reached a thickness of two thousand feet; they have left records scratched high upon the granite walls.
As the glaciers moved down their valleys they carried, imprisoned in their bodies and heaped upon their backs and sides, the plunder from their wreckage of the range. This they heaped as large moraines in the broad valleys. The moraines of the Rocky Mountain National Park are unequalled, in my observation, for number, size, and story-telling ability. They are conspicuous features of the great plateau upon the east, and of the broad valley of the Grand River west of the park. Even the casual visitor of a day is stirred to curiosity by the straight, high wall of the great moraine for which Moraine Park is named, and by the high curved hill which springs from the northeastern shoulder of Longs Peak, and encircles the eastern foot of Mount Meeker.
These and other moraines are fascinating features of any visit to Rocky Mountain National Park. The motor roads disclose them, the trails travel them. In combination with the gulfs, the shelved canyons and the scarred and serrated peaks and walls, these moraines offer the visitor a thrilling mystery story of the past, the unravelling of whose threads and the reconstruction of whose plot and climax will add zest and interest to a summer's outing, and bring him, incidentally, in close communion with nature in a thousand happy moods.
The limitations of a chapter permit no mention of the gigantic prehistoric monsters of land, sea, and air which once haunted the site of this noble park, nor description of its more intimate beauties, nor detail of its mountaineering joys; for all of which and much other invaluable information I refer those interested to publications of the National Park Service, Department of the Interior, by Doctor Willis T. Lee and Major Roger W. Toll. But something must be told of its early history.
In 1819 the exploring expedition which President Madison sent west under Colonel S. H. Long, while camping at the mouth of La Poudre River, was greatly impressed by the magnificence of a lofty, square-topped mountain. They approached it no nearer, but named it Longs Peak, in honor of their leader. Parkman records seeing it in 1845.
The pioneers, of course, knew the country. Deer, elk, and sheep were probably hunted there in the forties and fifties. Joel Estes, the first settler, built a cabin in the foothills in 1860, hence the title of Estes Park. James Nugent, afterward widely celebrated as "Rocky Mountain Jim," arrived in 1868. Others followed slowly.
William N. Byers, founder of the Rocky Mountain News, made the first attempt to climb Longs Peak in 1864. He did not succeed then, but four years later, with a party which included Major J. W. Powell, who made the first exploration of the Grand Canyon the following year, he made the summit. In 1871 the Reverend E. J. Lamb, the first regular guide on Longs Peak, made the first descent by the east precipice, a dangerous feat.
The Earl of Dunraven visited Estes Park in 1871, attracted by the big game hunting, and bought land. He projected an immense preserve, and induced men to file claims which he planned to acquire after they had secured possession; but the claims were disallowed. Albert Bierstadt visited Dunraven in 1874, and painted canvases which are famous in American art.
It was Dunraven, also, who built the first hotel. Tourists began to arrive in 1865. In 1874 the first stage line was established, coming in from Longmont. Telephone connection was made in 1906.
Under the name of Estes Park, the region prospered. Fifty thousand people were estimated to have visited it in 1914. It was not, however, till the national park was created, in 1915, that the mountains assumed considerable importance except as an agreeable and inspiring background to the broad plateau.
Last Updated: 30-Oct-2009