Rocky Mountain National Park was founded in 1915, so this year was its 100th anniversary!
Within the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park are the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, which was created by the Laramide Orogeny. It occurred between 70 and 40 million years ago, and is a fancy way of saying that the Rockies were pushed up, instead of being formed by volcanic activity. They were formed by tectonic activity; one plate slid underneath another, causing an uplift of the mountains. Researchers think that immediately after the uplift, the Rockies were about 20,000 feet tall, but erosion has brought them down to their current heights – many over 14,000 feet.
The history of human habitation in the park goes back about 11,000 years, with spear points and other stone tools found as evidence; however, the people who came here are thought to have been transitory, without leaving evidence of permanent habitation. Later on, the Ute tribe occupied the west side of the park until they were driven further east by the Arapaho tribe.
White people began arriving in the Estes Park area around the 1860s, staking land claims for grazing territory. On the west side of the park, there were several mines established in the 1880s, after the land was found to be rich in several minerals, including gold. No matter who was living here, the higher elevations presented a harsh environment; winters were cold and very snowy.
In 1884, a sickly 14 year old boy named Enos Mills moved to Estes Park and was so enthralled with the scenery that he began lobbying for the area to be turned into a National Park. His original proposal included placing a larger swath of land under federal protection, but mining interests limited the amount ultimately designated as a National Park. But Enos Mills’ story certainly highlights the ability of young people to effect change!
Rocky Mountain National Park was designated by President Woodrow Wilson on January 26, 1915. Additional land has been added to the park since that time for a current total of 265,761 acres (415.25 square miles). In 2011, approximately 3,176,941 visitors went to the park, enjoying more than 359 miles of hiking trails, 150 lakes and 72 named peaks over 12,000 feet. The majority visit during July and August, although winter trekking, snowshoeing and skiing are popular too.
The most famous scenic drive in Rocky Mountain National Park, the Trail Ridge Road, has a maximum elevation of 12,183 feet! It takes visitors through all of the park’s habitats at various points, and is a great opportunity for some amazing scenic views. The park also has the distinction of having the highest elevation visitor’s center within the park system; the Alpine Visitor’s Center has an elevation of 11,796 feet!
Habitats found within the park include forests and grasslands, riparian wetlands, sub-alpine areas, and alpine tundra. Wildlife includes deer, bear, elk, moose, mountain lion, bighorn sheep, yellow-bellied marmots, and pika, and numerous species of birds.
And we were going to experience it!