9 Facts About Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park was officially dedicated on September 4, 1915, making it America's tenth and highest elevation national park. With a quarter of the land located above the tree line, the alpine wilderness of the Rockies draws 3 million visitors a year. Here are a few facts about the Colorado wonder.
1. AN ADVENTUROUS TEEN BECAME ONE OF THE PARK’S BIGGEST ADVOCATES.
Enos Mills is considered the “Father of Rocky Mountain National Park.” Mills moved to Colorado on his own as a young teen in the 1880s and made himself right at home in the mountains, building a cabin in the Longs Peak Valley and ascending Longs Peak—the park’s highest point at 14,259 feet—approximately 300 times over the course of his life. His love of Colorado made him a devout advocate for the creation of the park, and he spoke and wrote at length to educate the public on nature preservation.
2. THE GREAT DIVIDE RUNS THROUGH THE LAND.
The 30 mile-long Continental Divide Scenic Trail is one of the park's biggest draws. It runs along sections of the actual Great Divide, the invisible border atop the Rocky Mountains that determines whether water runs east to the Atlantic or west to the Pacific. It splits the park into its eastern and western sections.
3. THE STORY OF A “MODERN EVE” EARNED THE PARK NATIONAL ATTENTION.
In 1917, the Denver Post documented the story of Agnes Lowe, a college student who was going to live in the park’s forests as a “modern Eve” for one week. Lowe, barefoot and dressed as a cavewoman, waved goodbye to a crowd of around 2000 people before she embarked on her wilderness adventure. Despite the national newspaper updates about Lowe’s escapades, the whole event was nothing more than a publicity stunt: Lowe actually spent most of the week at a lodge.
4. THE PARK'S HEADQUARTERS WAS INSPIRED BY A WORLD-FAMOUS ARCHITECT.
Tom Casey of Taliesin Architects and the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture designed Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, which is the park's headquarters as well as a National Historic Landmark.
5. THE COUNTRY’S FIRST FEMALE NATURE GUIDES WERE TRAINED IN THE ROCKIES.
Esther and Elizabeth Burnell first visited the park’s Estes Park area in 1916. Noting their enthusiasm for their new surroundings, Enos Mills encouraged them to take nature guide training. When the sisters passed the examination, they became the first female naturalists certified by the National Park Service. The women were popular as nature guides and recorded many personal accomplishments. Elizabeth became the first woman guide on Longs Peak and ran the park’s trail school for over a decade. Esther homesteaded in Estes Park, snowshoed 30 miles across the Continental Divide, and married Enos Mills in 1918.
6. IT FEATURES THE HIGHEST CONTINUOUS PAVED ROAD IN THE COUNTRY.
Peaking at 12,183 feet (2 miles above sea level), Trail Ridge Road runs 48 miles between Grand Lake and Estes Park. Work was completed on the "highway to the sky" in 1933 after four years of an off-and-on construction schedule that was largely determined by high-elevation weather conditions. Eleven miles of the road are above the tree line, offering spectacular, sweeping views of the park’s alpine forests, tundra, and meadows.
7. IT'S HOME TO ONE OF ONLY A FEW ACTIVE CEMETERIES LOCATED IN A NATIONAL PARK.
Grand Lake Cemetery, established in 1892, 23 years before the park was dedicated, is located just within park boundaries.
8. BIGHORN SHEEP ARE THE SYMBOL OF THE PARK.
Bighorn sheep, the largest wild sheep in North America, are both the symbol of the national park and for all of Colorado Parks & Wildlife, because of their distinct presence in the state. Though the population declined due to disease in the early 20th century, Rocky Mountain National Park is currently home to approximately 300 to 400 bighorn sheep. Visitors are most likely to spot a few between late May and June.
9. THE PARK’S FIRST PAYING GUEST WAS A LONGTIME FAN.
Abner Sprague, a 19th century homesteader and pioneer, was the first person to pay $3 for park admission in 1939. Sprague had a long history with the area: he homesteaded in Moraine Park in 1874, owned and operated a dude ranch on what would become park grounds, and named several natural features within the park. Sprague Lake is named after him. Today, visitors on foot or bicycle pay $10 per person and those in vehicles pay $20 for a seven-day pass.