Category Archives: Native Americans

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.

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.

Cache la Poudre River

20141203_102528 Cache la Poudre The Cherokee Trail was forged in 1849 by a group of Cherokee Indians who were discontent with their reservation lives in Oklahoma. They chose to travel to California to search for gold. They created a new path from Bent’s Fort in southeastern Colorado to the popular trail leading wagons to Fort Bridger in southwestern Wyoming. Seeking the easiest route, they followed the Cache La Poudre River north until it joined the Platte River. Although the Oregon Trail was well-used during the years from 1843 until the Union Pacific Railroad was completed in 1869, the Cherokee Trail also became an important link between the Santa Fe Trail and the northern route to California.
The small settlement of La Porte, Colorado offered the best ford across the Poudre River. Wagon ruts are still visible in La Porte, revealing a trail which headed almost straight north to Virginia Dale from the crossing.
As you view the photos, imagine the Cherokees holding their breath as they explored the safest place for oxen and horses to drag wagons across. If the trees were as bare as these, they would also be searching for shelter during the winter and delay the difficult trip west across Wyoming and into the Rocky Mountains.
Cache la Poudre is French for “hide the powder” and La Porte is French for “the door”. In the 1820s, French trappers were caught in a snowstorm and had to bury their gunpowder along the banks of this river.
In 1864, the river flooded in La Porte and destroyed the military post, Camp Collins. When the post was moved and rebuilt, it was named Fort Collins.
If you follow the Cache la Poudre to its source in Rocky Mountain National Park, you will understand why it was an important travel route since prehistoric times. Archeologists have found evidence of tipi rings, rock shelters, fire hearths and burial sites.
If you were able to camp along the river, would you plan to hike, raft, hunt, fish, set off on horseback, hear a concert at Mishawaka or just have a picnic?
20141203_102011 Cache la Poudre

Lake Haiyaha

The trail to this natural wonder requires some strength of mind and body. Beginning at the popular Bear Lake trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park a person can hike to Bear Lake, Nymph Lake, Dream Lake and finally find the uphill climb to Lake Haiyaha. You can boast about the completion of a 4.2 mile hike, out and back. The name comes from the Arapaho Indian language meaning rocks. Be prepared to climb over some huge boulders to gain a view of this hidden lake.
Arapaho Indians lived in southeastern Wyoming and eastern Colorado during the 1800’s when white men began to settle the western territories. They were known for their beadwork, bravery and buffalo hunting. Today the Arapaho live in Oklahoma and on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.
Think about Enos Mills and F.O. Stanley, who were determined to protect this area by establishing Rocky Mountain National Park in 1915. Why did they choose an Indian word for one of the 150 lakes in the park? Can you name other places which use the word Arapaho?