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Note: Parts of the following are
reproduced with permission by
Estes Park Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The archaeological record shows that humans have lived in the area for at least 12,000 years. Remains from the Clovis culture, the first known people to cross the Bering Strait land bridge from Asia into North America, have been found within the park. Later, around 2,000 B.C., the McKean people, one of the Paleo-Indian cultures, conducted game drives in which animals were funneled towards natural “traps” where they would be descended upon by groups of eagerly awaiting hunters.
It was only 10,000 years ago that this popular family vacation destination first attracted Ute and Arapaho Indian families who summered in the Estes Park area and wintered in the Middle Park region south of Grand Lake. Remnants of the trail they used to cross the Continental Divide still are visible in Rocky Mountain National Park. In about 1800, the first of the many adventurous explorers from the east arrived, including the intrepid “mountain men” who came in search of beaver pelts and bear skins. One of the first organized explorations to see the Rockies was led by Major Stephen H. Long in 1820. As head of the Yellowstone Expedition, his mission was to probe the secrets of what was a very new and wild part of this country. Longs Peak, the 14,000-foot centerpiece of the park, is named in his honor though he never scaled the peak.
When gold was discovered in Colorado in 1859, significant numbers of people began to make their way into the Estes Valley. Although most of the gold mining was south of here, one miner did wander into the area: Joel Estes, the man for whom the village was named.
In 1864, William Byers, the owner and editor of the Rocky Mountain News, visited the area and named it Estes Park in honor of his host. However, Estes found the high altitude and short growing season made cattle ranching impractical, so he sold his homestead to Griff Evans who established a dude ranch. One of Evans’ guests, the Earl of Dunraven, was so enamored of the area he decided to buy the entire valley for his own resort and hunting preserve. Dunraven’s questionable actions to achieve that goal eventually were thwarted by area ranchers and mountain men. Colorful characters like Mountain Jim and Isabella Bird (a Victorian lady from Great Britain who chronicled her visit to the area in A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains) dot the area’s history.
Large cattle ranches were established in the 1870s by individuals like Alexander Q. MacGregor, who brought in prized herds of Aberdeen Angus. The MacGregor Ranch and Museum occupy the site of the founder’s operation and is still a working ranch. Another settler, W. E. James, built the Elkhorn Lodge and supplemented his income with a “fish ranch.” James and his sons would catch 500 to 800 trout a day for restaurants in Denver.
F. O. Stanley, originally a guest at the Elkhorn Lodge, came from Massachusetts in 1903 seeking a cure for tuberculosis. Stanley is credited with developing a critical photographic process and co-inventing the Stanley Steamer automobile with his twin brother F. E. Stanley. The mountain air proved so beneficial that he settled here and built the Stanley Hotel as a luxury travel stop. The facility, which opened in 1909, cost more than half a million dollars to build and the publicity created a boom in the area’s resort business. In an effort to capitalize on the growing numbers of people taking vacations by train, Stanley ran regular “mountain bus” trips up the Big Thompson Canyon, probably one of the first shuttle services in the Rocky Mountain region.
Since those early days, Estes Park’s reputation as a resort destination has grown. Millions of people have stayed and enjoyed vacations here since Stanley’s days. In 1993, Pope John Paul II spent several days near Estes Park enjoying a respite during his U. S. visit that year. In 1994, the Emperor of Japan included Estes Park on his travel itinerary.
What the visitor sees downtown today is vastly different from what was visible even 18 years ago. In 1982 a man-made earthen dam burst in Rocky Mountain National Park, sending the river out of its banks and into downtown Estes Park. The result was major destruction along the main street. The community used the disaster as a catalyst for major renewal of the downtown core and earned the nickname “The Gutsiest Little Town in Colorado.” Today, visitors are greeted by a main street lined with Victorian lights, trees, mountain flowers and sidewalk benches, walkways alongside the riverfront and lakefront and a landscaped riverside sculpture garden.
The entrances to Rocky Mountain National Park are 10 minutes west of Estes Park. Now more than 80 years old, “Rocky” stands as one of the crown jewels of the nation’s national park system. With its alpine tundra, rugged mountain grandeur, cascading waterfalls, tranquil meadows, massive glaciers, towering peaks, thousands of species of wildflowers, birds and wildlife, it is hard to imagine the area as anything else but a national park.
With elevations ranging from 7,000 feet to more than 14,000 feet, the Estes Park area comprises a diversity of ecosystems offering outstanding opportunities for wildlife viewing. Matching the habitat with a particular species is key to finding that species.
There are four general types of habitat: alpine tundra, subalpine forest, montane forest and wetlands.
Alpine tundra is the area above tree line and is home to marmot, ground squirrels, pika, coyote, elk and big horn sheep. Subalpine tundra extends from the twisted, windblown pine at tree line through the dense, moist fir and spruce forests to the lodgepole pine and aspen at lower elevations. Residents include chipmunks, ground squirrels, pine marten, porcupine, bobcat, black bear and elk.
Montane forest fills most of the area around Estes Park, Roosevelt National Forest and lower elevations of Rocky Mountain National Park. It is characterized by open ponderosa stands on dry south-facing slopes, Douglas fir on moist northern slopes and scattered aspen groves. This is the favorite habitat of Abert’s squirrel, coyote, mountain lion, mule deer, elk, fox and big horn sheep. Wetlands are found from the plains to the alpine tundra where marshes and willow thickets spring up in water-forming habitat for beaver, deer, coyote, bobcat, raccoon, muskrat, porcupine, fox, black bear and weasel.
Wild animals that are rarely seen are not necessarily few in number. Bobcats, mountain lions and porcupines are well established in the Estes Park area but not easily spotted.
The ultimate wildlife watching experience is viewing animals’ behavior without disturbing their normal activities. Following a few simple guidelines will increase your chances of a “good look.”
Try to blend with the landscape by wearing subdued, natural colors, walking softly and quietly without trying to sneak. It helps if you’re as free of added scent as possible.
Stay on the sidelines, using binoculars or telephoto lenses to avoid crowding your subject. Move slowly, act uninterested, avoid staring. Animals can detect tension and, if you try to sneak up on them, they’ll interpret your behavior as that of a predator and run. Please do not feed the wildlife. Feeding produces a dependence on unnatural foods not healthy for survival in the wild. What's more, it's illegal.
Fall, winter and spring are the best seasons for wildlife watching. Elk observed at a distance on the tundra in summer are frequent visitors in town during the winter. In the fall, elk and bighorn sheep ruts produce spectacular sights and sounds. In spring, deer & elk sport new sets of velvet-covered antlers.
Wildlife Watching Tips: Your car serves as a good “blind” for watching wildlife, protecting you and the animals from one another. Pull all the way off the road, turn off the motor and the lights. Keep young children and pets quiet and inside the car. Don’t trespass on private property and, when in the national park or national forest, observe posted signs.
Photo Tips: Use at least a 300 to 400 mm telephoto lens and tripod. Respect the safety and welfare of your subject, aiming for photos of calm, dignified, unstressed animals. Morning and afternoon light are best, with the sun at your back. If you don’t have a telephoto lens, show the animal in its natural surroundings rather than trying to move in too close. You could lose the shot altogether by spooking the subject.
Binocular Tips: First find the subject with the unaided eye and, bringing the eyepieces just under your eyes, sight the subject over the tips of the eyepieces. Slowly bring the binoculars to your eyes and focus. By following the guidelines provided, you’re likely to be rewarded by animals accepting you into their world. It’s a special feeling you’ll never forget.
There are festivals such as Estes Park Wool Market, Estes Park "Come Catch the Glow", Estes Park Rooftop Rodeo, Estes Park Elk Fest, Estes Park Jazz Fest and Art Walk, Estes Park Scandinavian Midsummer Festival, and the Longs Peak Scottish/Irish Highlands Festival. Here is a link to more Colorado Festivals.
Estes Park has bed and breakfasts, resorts, dude ranches, motels and cabins, RV parks and camping, vacation homes, music, colleges, pets, communities, crafts, newspapers, banks, museums, shopping, fishing and hunting, weddings, therapies, jewelry, art organizations, clothing stores, birding, home improvement, florists, web cam, churches, doctors, title companies, senior healthcare, senior communities, photographers, galleries and artists, bars and venues, real estate companies real estate agents, and restaurants.
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