The first tourists to visit Estes Park were not from Texas, California, or Nebraska. They did not arrive by car, bus, RV or any other modern mode of transportation. Ten-thousand years ago this popular family vacation destination first attracted the Ute and Arapaho Indian families who summered in the Estes Valley and wintered in the Middle Park region south of Grand Lake. Remnants of the trail they used to cross the Continental Divide still exist today in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Since those ancient times, scores of interesting characters have filled the chronicles of Estes Park history. In about 1800, the first of many adventurous explorers from the east arrived, including the intrepid "mountain men" who came in search of beaver pelts and bearskins. One of the first organized expeditions to the Rockies was led by Major Stephen H. Long in 1820. Longs Peak, the 14,255-foot centerpiece of Rocky Mountain National Park, was named in his honor although he never scaled the peak.
Settlers began to populate the Valley after gold was discovered in Colorado in 1959. Although most gold mining activities were to the south, one miner did wander into the areaJoel Estes, the man for whom the town is named. Estes, a Kentucky-born adventurer who struck it rich in California a decade earlier, "discovered" the Estes Valley in 1859. A year later he moved his wife and 13 children, along with a herd of cattle, to a beautiful meadow along the east side of the mountains. Realizing that the high altitude and short growing season made cattle ranching impractical, Estes sold his homestead in 1866 to Griff Evans, who established a dude ranch.
One of Evans guests, the Earl of Dunraven, was so enamored with the area that he pursued purchasing the entire valley as his own resort and hunting preserve. The questionable methods he applied toward that goal were eventually thwarted by area ranchers and mountain men.
Other characters like Mountain Jim and Isabella Bird color the areas history. Bird, a Victorian Lady from Great Britain, chronicled her experiences in A Ladys Life in the Rocky Mountains.
Dating back to the 1870s, the MacGregor Ranch is still operational. On the grounds is a museum that features the Ranchs history.
F.O. Stanley, originally a guest at the historic Elkhorn Lodge, came from Massachusetts in 1903 seeking a cure for tuberculosis. Stanley is credited with the development of a critical photographic process and as the co-inventor of the Stanley Steamer automobile. The mountain air proved so beneficial that he settled in the Estes Valley and built the Stanley Hotel.
Opened in 1909, after construction costs of more than half a million dollars, the publicity about the luxurious Stanley created a boon in the areas resort business. A growing number of tourists were vacationing by train. To capitalize on this trend, Stanley offered regularly scheduled "mountain bus" trips up the Big Thompson Canyon from the Front Range area to Estes Parkprobably one of the first shuttle services in the Rocky Mountain Region.
Since those early days, Estes Park has beckoned travelers from near and far. Pope John Paul II spent several days near Estes Park, enjoying a respite during a visit to the U.S. in 1993. The Emperor of Japan included Estes Park in his 1994 travel itinerary. President George W. Bush visited the YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park Center and Rocky Mountain National Park in August 2001. More than two million people visit the area annually and experience for themselves why Estes Park is high on the list of resort destinations.
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