Esther Burnell: My Kind of Woman


Highlight your visit to Rocky Mountain National Park with a hike to Mills Lake, named after Enos Mills. It is the quintessential scene in Rocky Mountain National Park due to Longs Peak, Pagoda Mountain, and Chiefs Head in the background.

Continue your investigation of the intrepid homesteaders who convinced Congress to preserve this wonderland in 1915. From Estes Park turn on S. St. Vrain Ave. Two miles south on Colorado Highway 7 from Lily Lake stands the sign indicating Longs Peak view. Across the road from that point is an intriguing cabin built in 1885 by young Enos Mills. Today, you can visit this authentic cabin and museum dedicated to Enos Mills’ legacy, which is run by Esther’s great-granddaughter, Eryn. The museum is open year-round, by appointment only. Go to to make an appointment or call 970-586-4706. A private tour costs $20.00 per person.

After attending Lake Erie College near Cleveland, Ohio and later studying interior design at the Pratt Institute, Esther Burnell worked as an interior designer. At age twenty six, she was tired of corporations and urban life. In 1916, she and her sister, Elizabeth took a life-altering vacation to Estes Park, Colorado, staying at the Longs Peak Inn, which Enos Mills founded. Esther decided to stay and stake her claim to land near the Fall River entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. Using her design skills, she planned her cabin and helped build it.

While living in her cabin alone and proving her claim, Esther explored the Rocky Mountains thoroughly. One winter day, she snowshoed 30 miles, to meet friends on the other side of the Continental Divide. After a rest and full-day’s visit, Esther spent 2 days returning to her homestead. People who knew her claimed she was formidable.

The “Father of Rocky Mountain National Park”, Enos Mills, hired her to help him with secretarial work while he was writing his book, “Your National Parks.”

Esther became the Park Service’s first female nature guide. In 1917 she worked alongside her older sister, Elizabeth, and Enos Mills, taking guests as far as they were keen to hike.

Esther and Enos were married on August 12, 1918 at his cabin. Their daughter, Enda, was born in 1919. Just three years after their daughter’s birth, Enos died at age 52. Esther continued to run her husband’s business, the Long’s Peak Inn, and published several of his books.

In 1935, Esther Burnell Mills co-authored a book with Hildegarde Hawthorne on Enos Mills’ life, Enos Mills of the Rockies. Later, she also wrote A Baby’s Life in the Rocky Mountains.

Like Esther, I plan to influence those who seek an understanding of Colorado’s early inhabitants. My novel, Sun on Snow, delves into the White River Ute band and their effective survival skills.

Rowing the Colorado River Through the Grand Canyon




When John Wesley Powell made the first successful expedition through the Grand Canyon by boat, he started from Green River, Wyoming. Three boats and ten men headed for Big Canyon without maps or knowledge of white water navigation. It took over three months with time out for exploration and recovery. The journey covered over 1,000 miles.

One hundred and fourteen years later, three men in one wooden row boat launched from Lee’s Ferry intending to set a speed record through the entire Grand Canyon. There was an excess of rainfall and snowmelt in 1983. The spillways on Glen Canyon Dam had to be opened to their maximum flow.

Kenton Grua, Rudi Petschek, and Wally Rist knew the river as well as any boatmen could. Their dory, named the Emerald Mile, was highly maneuverable. Still they had no idea how they would control their boat on a river flowing at 70,000 cfs or more. Since they were not carrying proof of a permit for this trip, they started in the middle of the night. They had 276.5 miles to cover before reaching Lake Mead.

It was the gamble of a lifetime and one which these three adrenaline-charged raft guides felt compelled to take. Each man was clear on their role, leaning into the gunnels whenever they were high-sided, keeping the bow weighted if there was danger of flipping, and rescuing the rower if his arms started to give out.

It took exactly thirty-six hours, thirty-eight minutes, and twenty-nine seconds. The speed record was beyond their highest expectations. The fact that they were all alive was an additional accomplishment.

If you desire a brilliant description of this and other trips through the Grand Canyon, read The Emerald Mile by Kevin Fedarko.

Kevin Fedarko has continued his quest to describe the Grand Canyon by attempting a 650-mile ”sectional” thru-hike across the rugged and unmarked trails of the south rim. Go to: to discover the whole story. The September 2016 issue of National Geographic paints a thorough picture of what Kevin Fedarko and Pete McBride attempted.







Stories from ancient times were preserved in stone. Depending on when and where the authors lived, they might be carved using different alphabets or pictures. This runic alphabet was used in Sweden in the 11th Century. During this portion of the Middle Ages, Vikings were traveling to many other countries searching for precious minerals and conquering other people.
Here is one story which has been reproduced. “They fared like men far after gold and in the east gave the eagle food They die soutward in Serkland” The explanation is they killed enemies while traveling far. Serkland was “the Saracens land”.
Many rune stones such as this were found in Sweden. This one is on the lawn of Gripsholm Castle, one of eleven royal palaces in Sweden.

To study the entire futhark alphabet and the modern translation go to:


Vikings: The Good, Bad, and Dirty

The Vikings were extraordinary ship builders. Before 800 AD, they invented ships which could sail up rivers and travel across the Atlantic Ocean. Since their boats were designed to flex with the movement of waves, a massive new era of trade with far-flung people developed.

They were the first Europeans to reach North America. In 1,000 AD Leif Ericsson, also known as Lucky Leif, began a settlement in Newfoundland.

They were also superior at mass producing tools, clothes, and equipment. They communicated in runes and carved messages in stones and wood. They began the very first parliament in Pingvellir, Iceland.

BUT, they were also vicious warriors. They used surprise attacks in Russia, France, Turkey, the British Isles, Greenland, and Iceland to conquer new territory. They used swords, axes, spears, and bows to kill and capture their enemies. They took slaves and were particularly cruel to women. They stole everything of value.

Historically, bathing was a problem in cold places or while traveling long distances. Instead, a group of Viking men might share one bowl of water, rinsing their faces, necks, and beards, clearing their nasal passages and spitting, then passing the bowl to the next warrior.

The photos are from the earliest town in Sweden, which is now a World Heritage Site. During the summer months, you can take a guided tour of Birka, climb their ancient fields, visit a museum of archeological treasures, and wander through a reconstructed village. The island of Birka is located on Lake Malaren.

For more information go to:

No Quick Trips to the Market

Well before Longs Peak was named by explorers Native Americans were using the visible peaks we call Meeker and Longs as guides to their hunting grounds. As long ago as 3850 B.C. Ute and Arapaho tribes camped in the tundra to hunt large animals such as deer, elk, and bears. Before Spanish explorers brought horses to Northern Colorado, these ingenious people used hunting walls and hunting blinds to corral their prey.


Today you can find evidence of these in Rocky Mountain National Park. Driving over Trail Ridge Road there is a place where Hidden Valley Ski Area was established in 1934. You will not find a trail, sign, or parking area therefore you will need guidance from the experts at Alpine Visitors’ Center. Once you park in a pullout, you can hike above treeline. Gaze at the landscape until you discover two rugged lines of rocks which had been walls. These walls gradually narrowed to a point where hunters would wait in a round blind. Women and children might have scared the game into the entrance between the walls and ran them uphill toward the blind. Spears, bows and arrows, and hatchets were used to kill the animals.


The circle of rocks, or blind, you see here may have been altered since prehistoric times, but the “walls” are authentic. If you see or hear any signs of a storm while hiking, head downhill immediately.

The Mystery Below Dream Lake


You cannot help focusing on Flattop Mountain while at Dream Lake. It juts 3,000 feet above you and, for the most intrepid hikers, lures you 4.4 miles to the Continental Divide.

The most impressive aspect of Dream Lake, however, is what lies below. The Ancestral Rocky Mountains were formed 1.7 billion years ago. They are made up of the oldest rocks in North America, which are Precambrian metamorphic rocks. What you know as the Rocky Mountains of Colorado are actually the newer rocks, which were pushed up about 80 – 55 million years ago. Since then glaciers, wind and water have carved the spectacular chain of skyscrapers we know as The Rocky Mountains.

As these modern mountains were forced upwards, they left some rock slabs tilted at steep angles. One popular place to see results of tectonic forces is the Flatirons in Boulder, Colorado.

However, don’t overlook the rare beauty of the Ancestral Rocky Mountains revealed in Big Thompson Canyon. In the narrowest section of this twisted river canyon are black walls of banded gneiss and shiny schist deposited 1.8 billion years ago. Highway 34, from Estes Park, CO to Loveland, CO will open on Memorial Day weekend, 2017. The road will still be under construction for another year. They are reshaping the canyon so the Big Thompson River cannot do as much damage as it did in the flood of 2013.

Take this historic drive to Rocky Mountain National Park and head toward the bus stop to Bear Lake. From Bear Lake, maps and signs will lead you to Dream Lake and beyond.

For further information about the Geology of the Rocky Mountains go to: of the Rocky Mountains

If you are fortunate upon arriving at exit 254 on Colorado’s I-70, you will be rewarded with a perfect view of The American Bison herd. I say “The” because these animals are descendants of seven of the remaining wild animals discovered in Yellowstone National Park in 1914. Exceptional survivors such as this herd escaped the twenty-year massacre of bison, which took place after the Transcontinental Railroad was completed and the Civil War ended.

Try to excuse the sign, which states “Buffalo Herd Overlook.” The City and County of Denver Parks still use the popular name for bison. If you do not spy the herd immediately, you can drive to the Chief Hosa exit and continue north on a dirt road which is part of the Lariat Loop National Scenic Byway. The bison are also fed here and can actually cross under I-70 to the Overlook.

Prior to being hunted to the brink of extinction, American bison roamed over 40% of our nation. Indigenous people and early explorers thrived on bison meat and were protected by their hides. Since there were millions of bison, it was not unusual for people to come upon a herd of 1,000. They were so numerous that members of the Lewis and Clark expedition stopped mentioning them in their journals.

Why do you think the United States Army, and early pioneers ignored the value of these beasts and did nothing to preserve the species? With no foresight, they concluded that wiping out the bison would make it easier to wipe out the Indians. Were news and historical agencies aware that 50 million bison were being exterminated?

These facts help with our current efforts to right the wrongs.

  • A bison can outrun a Quarter horse over a ¼ mile tract
  • A bison can jump a six- foot fence from a standing position
  • Their curved horns can grow to be two-feet long.
  • Today there are about 4,000 American bison in Yellowstone National Park. They are more dangerous to humans than bears.
  • See The Long Trail of Yellowstone Bison, Defenders of Wildlife.