Rocky Mountain National Park took millions of years in the making. The majestic Rocky Mountains you see today did not exist long ago. The park is located at the yellow marker.
Originally, Colorado was a flat piece of land covered in water. When the continental plates collided, land was pushed upward and the Rockies were formed.
Volcanic activity exploded along the mountain range for many millennium and eventually died out. The ice age arrived about 2 million years ago and huge glaciers slid through Colorado.
Thanks to the fire and ice, spectacular scenery has been left for all to enjoy. Around 1300 A.D. the first Native Americans settled in much of Colorado, this included Rocky Mountain National Park.
American explorer Stephen Long led an expedition in 1820, to find the source of the Platte River. He and his crew camped in the park for many weeks. The 14,000 foot mountain that stands in the center of the park, bears his name, Longs Peak.
With the first settlers, towns were formed in and around the park. One of the first to own property, was Joel Estes in 1860. The town of Estes Park is named for him.
With the gold rush of 1859, more people migrated to Colorado. Some to seek their fortune, others to buy property and a few, to keep the wilderness areas pristine.
F.O. Stanley, builder of the Stanley House in Estes Park, arrived in 1903 and set up a preservation society to protect the natural beauty of the area. Others were of like mind with Mr. Stanley.
Of note, the Stanley House has always been a popular hotel in Estes Park. Present day has made it a famous attraction by writer Stephen King, who based his haunted hotel in “The Shining” on the Stanley House.
Another early environmentalist was Enos Mills. He spent years as a lobbyist to preserve the mountain area around Estes Park and in 1915, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill creating the Rocky Mountain National Park.
Dirt roads and trails were the only means of getting around the park after World War I. Construction began in 1929 on the Trail Ridge Road that spanned the park, ending at Grand Lake.
Today, visiting the park is a breathtaking experience. Many lakes here are created from volcanic craters. Grand Lake, at the western edge of the park, keeps its air of tourism from the past.
Emerald Lake, Nymph Lake, Sprague Lake, Bear Lake and Dream Lake can all be seen as you drive along Trail Ridge Road. Waterfalls and small boulder strewn creeks trickle through the area.
There are also parks within “the park”. Horseshoe Park contains the Mummy Mountains and Sheep Lake.
Moraine Park and Kawuneeche Valley are lush areas where wildflowers erupt with color in the summer and wildlife, such as elk, mule deer and an occasional bear, can be spotted year round. Mountain backdrops enhance the experience.
You can easily travel to Rocky Mountain National Park by taking Interstate 70 west to Highway 36. Follow 36 and it will hook into Hwy. 34 at the eastern entrance of the park.
My husband and I have been here many times with friends and family who come to visit. The best way to have the experience of early explorers is to take the dirt road passes and travel through the winding trails. Four wheel drive is recommended and only drive on the trails marked for motorized vehicles.