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Estes Park / Rocky Mountain National Park History

Updated on July 26, 2010

Millennia before the Roman Empire, Native American tribes were fishing and hunting in the area now known as Rocky Mountain National Park. The first European explorer to arrive in the area was Rufus Sage who wrote about his discovery of this enchanted area in 1843. Neither Sage nor the later European migrants ever encountered Native American tribes in the area, so it was always wide open for exploration and settlement without conflict or treaty. In 1859 Joel Estes and his son were engaged in a wide ranging hunting expedition when they arrived in the magical meadows which eventually would bear their name, Estes Park. The Estes marveled at this location and moved there the next year and began a ranching operation. This residence lasted only six years as the climate was far too severe at this elevation to support cattle.

In 1877, Windham Thomas Wyndham-Quin, The Fourth Earl of Dunraven, settled in the meadows area and built the Estes Park Hotel, which was locally referred to as "The English Hotel." The Earl was a colorful character and stories persist of his unorthodox property purchasing schemes to add lands to his estate which included mostly illegal and unethical means.

The mineral boom was soon felt in this area and the mining town of Lulu City was established in 1880. Some residents were forcefully ejected and they established a satellite town nearby and named it Dutchtown. Just three years later the Panic of 1883 sparked by the demonetization of silver hit the West hard and both Lulu City and Dutchtown were abandoned.

With mining gone and with the high altitude rendering the land ill suited for ranching over the next fifty years the only development in the area was tourism. The wonders of the area had been communicated around the world and tourists and nature lovers arrived in throngs of witness first hand the magnificent Rocky Mountain views they had first enjoyed in photographs and postcards.

F. O. Stanley (one of the Stanley Steamer automobile brothers) first arrived at Estes Park in 1903 on a trip to restore his failing health as he suffered from various ailments that physicians of the time were prescribing fresh mountain air to alleviate. Proving his physicians' advice sound and his health restored, Stanley built the Stanley Hotel in 1909, as well as an electrical generating plant on the Fall River to power his property and contributed to various road improvements to facilitate traffic arriving to the area.

When he was just 14 years old, Enos Mills moved to the area and began his lifelong exploration and appreciation of it. Years later he would purchase the Longs Park Inn. Mills spearheaded the promotion of the establishment of a grand National Park to forever preserve and protect the area. Mills came into frequent conflict with his contemporaries as his vision was for a park many times larger than the 1913 bill which was passed by Congress to establish Rocky Mountains National Park. The day the park was inaugurated in 1915 was marked by the largest gathering of automobiles yet in the state of Colorado. Thousands of others came on horseback, by wagon, or even on foot. In total over 50,000 were present to inaugurate the Rocky Mountains National Park which to this very day attracts visitors from all all over the world who come to wonder at the marvels of its boundless Colorado nature.

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