June 17, 2024


Full Of Eastern Travel

ESTES PARK TIMELINE | From mastodons to major motion pictures | Cp-premium

Big Thompson Fred Clatworthy

Famed landscape photographer, Fred P. Clatworthy, shot this photo of a man fishing in the Big Thompson River in the 1940s.

11,000+ years ago

Paleo-Indians, sometimes known by later tribes as “the ancient ones,” hunted large animals, mostly mastodons and bison antiquus, in the region.

1200s to the 1700s

Utes lived primarily on the west side of what is today Rocky Mountain National Park, but crossed the Continental Divide to hunt on the east side each spring and summer, coming and going on the Ute Trail. They were followed by the Arapaho, who trapped eagles on Longs Peak to make war bonnets; the Comanche, Shoshone and Apache came to hunt at times and sometimes do battle.

About 1800

Fur traders known as “mountain men” and the occasional explorer passed through the region.


Maj. Stephen H. Long was dispatched by Congress the year before to survey and find the source of the South Platte River, among his scientific pursuits in what would become Colorado. Though he was the first topographer to note the peak on behalf of the U.S. government on June 30, no record shows Long ever tried to climb it. It was officially named after him in 1890.


Joel and Patsy Estes

A portrait of Joel and Patsy Estes.

A decade after the Pikes Peak gold rush, Kentuckians Joel and Patsy Estes, with their sons, traveled to Colorado after building a nest egg in the California Gold Rush. They eventually settled in the unoccupied area that would soon bear their name. They left for Huerfano County in 1866.


William Byers

William Byers

Rocky Mountain News founding editor William Byers stayed with the Estes family before attempting, unsuccessfully, to summit Longs Peak. He named the area for the family in his newspaper, adding it would be a great place for a summer resort.


The author Jules Verne was the first to fictionalize the area. In his novel “From the Earth to the Moon” a rocket was fired at the moon from a giant gun, and its flight there was watched by an 80-foot telescope on Longs Peak, which had not yet been climbed by white people.


The first known non-native known to summit Longs Peak was John Wesley Powell with a party of six on Aug. 28. Powell Peak on the west side of the national park (like Lake Powell in Arizona) is named for the one-armed explorer.


Four women reached the top of Longs Peak in two years. Addie Alexander and a “Miss Bartlett,” were the first in 1871. Anna E. Dickinson made it in 1873, followed the same year by Isabella Bird.


Earl of Dunraven

The fourth Earl of Dunraven, Windham Thomas Wyndham-Quin

Windham Thomas Wyndham-Quin, the fourth earl of Dunraven, had been hunting bison on the plains with Buffalo Bill, when he heard about Estes Park at the Corkscrew Club in Denver. He arrived in the town on Dec. 28 for a hunting trip, and soon began plotting to buy up the area by abusing the Homestead Act, using fictitious names and having Americans passing through to file a homestead claim that he would buy from them, amassing 6,000 acres, collecting the most valuable land around rivers and streams. He opened the first resort in the area, though he rarely visited.


Abner Sprague

Abner Sprague 

Abner Sprague, who climbed Longs Peak in 1874 had moved to the area in 1876 after summiting Longs Peak, platted out the town in the springtime around a handful of existing buildings around what today is Elkhorn and Moraine avenues. Sales were brisk and within a decade most of the footprint of the downtown visitors know today was in place.


Freelan O. Stanley

Freelan O. Stanley

Wealthy inventor Freelan O. Stanley, who had stayed in Estes Park to treat his tuberculosis starting in 1903, opened the Stanley Hotel on the Fourth of July, where it still exists today. Stanley bought much of Dunraven’s property, including the competing Estes Park Hotel, but it burned down in 1911.


Enos Mills

Enos Mills, the father of Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park was dedicated on Sept. 1 by President Woodrow Wilson, a year before the creation of the National Park Service.


The town of Estes Park was incorporated from a vote of 317 year-round residents.

Fall River Road

Fall River Road is enjoyed by travelers over the Continental Divide after it opened in 1920.


Fall River Road over the Continental Divide was completed, followed a decade later by Trail Ridge Road along old native trails.

Northern Water

Tunnelers break through after a 13.1-mile shaft under the Continental Divide to move West Slope water to the Front Range.


Work begins on the 13-mile Alva B. Adams tunnel, an important part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Trans-mountain Irrigation Project, as it was originally known, on June 23. When tunnelers broke through on the east side on March 31, 1944, NBC Radio reported from the scene. The tunnel still moves water from Grand Lake under the national park to Lake Estes, where it joins the Big Thompson River.


The Shining

Actor Jack Nicholson in the last scene of the 1980 movie “The Shining,” inspired by the Stanley Hotel.

Author Stephen King and his family were the last guests of the season at the Stanley Hotel (the hotel wasn’t heated, or profitable, until 1982), where he had a nightmare involving his son that led to the novel and 1980 movie “The Shining.” The Kings lived in Boulder for a year, where he finished and set much of another famous thriller, “The Stand.”


The Big Thompson canyon flood on July 31 was the result of a stationary thunderstorm east of Estes Park that dumped 12 inches in four hours. The town was spared from major damage, but downstream 144 people were killed, including five people who were never found. Another 250 people were injured.

Estes Park Lawn Lake Flood

On July 14, 1982, the dam at Lawn Lake above Estes Park gave way, draining the 48-acre impoundment and destroying much of Elkhorn Avenue in downtown.


On the morning of July 15, a garbage man heard what he thought was a plane crash during a stop at a trailhead. He alerted park rangers who alerted the town. Three campers along nine-mile route to town were killed, and Estes Park was inundated, damaging or destroying 177 buildings.


Up to 18 inches of rain fell in the region over 30 hours, delivering a historic flood that swamped downtown Estes Park and shut the town off from the east at the height of the town’s fall tourist season.


Estes Park celebrated its centennial.