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Tourists usually travel to Estes Park primarily because Rocky Mountain National Park is adjacent to the town. In fact, the settlement has served traveler’s needs for over a hundred and thirty years when news of the spectacular scenery and bountiful wildlife started emerging across the country. Nowadays, Estes Park offers shops, restaurants and lodging to meet nearly every tourist’s needs. However, there is more to Estes Park than just being a great tourist town. Estes Park has a rich history that can be relived with a simple walking/driving tour while visiting.
First stop should be the Estes Park Museum which has a wonderful display of Native American items. The Ute and Arapaho tribes, in particular, were frequent inhabitants of the region. Learn how Old Man Mountain (located just a few miles from the museum) was believed to be a site for vision quests for centuries. The museum also has a preserved cabin to be explored.
Which brings us to the 1860’s when the Estes family first settled the region. Although they only stayed a few years, the area was named after them by an editor of a Denver newspaper. If you look across the street from the museum at Lake Estes, formed in the 1940’s along with the dam, you will be observing the original home site. Obviously, the 1900’s did not have the same sensibilities as the modern era for preserving history. However, a great example of original homesteading can be viewed by a visit to the preserved MacGregor Ranch, founded in 1873. Tours are available of the still working cattle ranch.
Next stop, as you drive back towards town, should be the Stanley Hotel. In brief, after the world started discovering what a great area Estes Park was, there was a struggle over land development. Basically, wealthy Lord Dunraven wanted to turn the region into his own private game preserve and cattle ranch. Local settlers fought back and Dunraven eventually dropped his plans. Now step in steamer car fame, F. O. Stanley, to not only purchase some of Dunraven’s land in the early 1900’s, but also to improve the roads and infrastructure of the region. His hotel is a testament to the man’s foresight. Even if you do nothing but enjoy a delicious meal there, the Stanley is a must see visit.
Head into the town proper next and visit Macdonald’s Bookshop. Besides offering a great selection of novels and magazines, the store is housed in one of the original forestry cabins built in 1907. Finally, consider taking in a movie at the Park Theater, the oldest operating motion picture theater in the United States. The place started out showing silent films.
Don’t you wish history lessons growing up could have been as much fun as this?
write by Rodela Arturo