Isabella Bird's 1873 Visit to Rocky Mountain National Park

Isabella Bird, the intrepid Victorian traveler, is famous for her 1873 ascent of Longs Peak and her ostensible romance with the wild Estes Park mountain man, James Nugent. But Bird's importance to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park is much greater than notoriety and adventure. Considering the influence of the book that told the story of her travels in Colorado, Bird might easily merit the sobriquet "Mother" of Rocky Mountain National Park. Her book sold like hotcakes, mostly in the eastern United States and in Britain, where a reading public just becoming interested in wilderness travel and conservation was hungry for news of far-flung scenery. Many of her readers were, no doubt, influential and involved in the nascent conservation movement of the later 19th century.

Bird's published letters describing her travels in Colorado and especially Estes Park, praised the mountains for their healing power and their sublime beauty. Hers was the first thorough account of a tourist experience in the area that later became Rocky Mountain National Park, and she praised everything from the cool temperatures to the brilliant sunsets and the dark evergreens.

We could go on about Bird and her travel adventures, her intrepid character, and her ability to describe scenery as few of her time could. But the best way to get to know her -and hear her tell of the Estes Park of 1873 -is to read the published letters. They came out in 1879 as A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains and were so popular they've pretty much stayed in print since that time. The latest edition is from the University of Oklahoma Press and features footnotes (to help with those pesky Victorian terms), historical photographs, and Bird's sketches.

Last updated: March 31, 2012

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