Written by YMCA of the Rockies – Estes Park Center Librarian, Robert Beach
Enos Mills (1870-1922), the “Father of Rocky Mountain National Park”, legendary mountaineer, was a lover and promoter of nature who lived and worked near Longs Peak in Estes Park, Colorado. He is also known as the “John Muir of the Rockies”.
At the age of fourteen, Mills, who was of a sickly disposition, left his home in southeastern Kansas for the healthier climate of Colorado where his father’s cousin, Elkanah Lamb, ran a tourist inn near Longs Peak called Longs Peak House.
Enos soon constructed his own small homestead cabin just east of Longs Peak House. His health strengthened as he spent time making himself familiar with his surroundings over the years and he became the premiere guide and interpreter of tourist hikes up Longs Peak. He eventually summited this mountain more than 300 times in all seasons.
During extensive travels to nature attractions in the US Mills met the naturalist and wilderness defender John Muir. Muir advised Mills to practice writing down everything he saw in nature and to practice speaking about nature in a systematic way. Later Mills said, “I owe everything to Muir. If it hadn’t been for him, I would have been a mere gypsy.”
Mills’ first writing was done for a Denver newspaper covering newsworthy items among the blossoming tourist industry of Estes Park. He also wrote a book about early settlers of Estes. By the time he purchased Longs Peak Inn in 1902, he was writing for large national magazines about wilderness preservation and the need for national parks. The state of Colorado hired Mills from 1903 to ‘06 to record snowfall data in the mountains. Mills said of this experience:
“Snow observers must go beyond the trails, climb the heights and traverse the wilds through all kinds of weather. They experience an amusing variety of conveyances, eat strange food and lodge in the best and worst of quarters. The work has roughness and its dangers, but there is abundance of life and fun in it. I wore medium weight woolen underwear, overalls, and a canvas coat. While on snowshoes I have my feet in German socks and arctic overshoes. I carry a camera, a barometer, thermometer, compass and a folding axe. The only food I carry is either raisins or peanuts. I eat lightly while on the go, and can if necessary live for a week upon a pound of raisins. I have many times travelled for three days in succession without eating a bite.”
This job was the source of many of his wilderness essays.
In 1907 President Roosevelt hired Mills to go on a national lecture tour to promote the need for conservation and more national parks.
Mills’ first book of collected essays, Wild Life on the Rockies, was published in 1909. In this year he began his 8-year campaign for the establishment of Rocky Mountain National Park. The Park was established in 1915 thanks to the efforts of Enos Mills, “Father of Rocky Mountain National Park”.
Maude Jellison Library has a large collection of books by Enos Mills including many first editions.
Join us at the library every Saturday afternoon in February at 3 PM to enjoy the mountaineering adventures of Enos Mills in his own words as we read selections from these books.