Entering Rocky Mountain National Park
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
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 magnificence—the 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. TOr else he may avail him-self 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 for-tune 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 moon-lit 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. TOr 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.