Hiking Mount Ida for Ida Ruth

My gram, Ida Ruth Miller, was the kind of woman people would have named mountains or lakes or flower species for. She was an intent listener, a keen observer of the natural world, a lover of family and home. She was quick to laugh deep from her belly, and she was as content kneeling to nurture her bloodroot flowers (Sanguinaria canadensis) in the Iowa woodlands section of her lush Des Moines garden as she was to sit in the cool shade of the gingko my grandfather planted, discussing a New Yorker article with me, her oldest grandchild. A gifted writer who worked as a food editor and director of the test kitchen for Better Homes & Gardens before she married my grandfather Wayne, Gram wrote me long letters on canary yellow legal pad paper, detailing her thoughts about the world, the newest blooms in her garden, and her wonderings about my life. When I visited from wherever I was living or traveling, Gram and I would talk and talk for hours. She was brilliant, radiating love for me, for her home and her family, for her garden and the world. She had set out a rock cairn in her front yard, in view of her living room window, a rock cairn like the ones we followed on the trails we hiked in Rocky Mountain National Park on our summer vacations. "This cairn," she would tell me, "is the first marker on each family member's journey when they leave here." Always, when I pulled into her driveway for a visit, that perfectly balanced cairn of Iowa rocks would reassure me that I'd made it home again.
My gram's BH&G profile photo from
1948. The best Ida I knew.
Gram wasn't ever entirely sure she loved her name, though she allowed my sister Katie to incorporate it into "Elida," her daughter's name. I wonder if Gram knew that the ancient Greek name "idi," or "ida" in Doric dialect, meant a wooded mountain, a sacred forest. Crete's Mount Ida was so-named because it was once covered by a rich green forest. This etymology fits my gram, who loved to walk for hours in the Iowa woods, who invested her time and her money in returning a section of those woods at Living History Farms in Des Moines to native Iowa plants and flowers.

Some people have assumed that Rocky Mountain National Park's Mount Ida, a 12,889 foot mountain on the western side of the park, was named in allusion to that mountain in Crete. However, my sleuthing -- and my heart, now that I've climbed our Mount Ida -- suggest a different possibility.

When my mother Mary, my sister Katie and I planned our hike up Mount Ida, we compared calendars and found that Saturday, July 28, was the only possibility in the entire summer. Only later did we realize, with astonishment, that that date was the exact five-year anniversary of Gram's death, at age 97 (she would have turned 98 one month later). Of course. We were hiking Mount Ida as part of my quest to hike the mountains and lakes named for women in Colorado, but we were hiking together to honor Gram, the Ida we love and admire and miss dearly. The date was no coincidence.

On the Mount Ida trail (July 28, 2018)

As we ascended the mountain that morning at 6 am, in silence, our labored breath audible, I wondered about the Ida for whom this mountain had been named. It seems unlikely that the 19th century mountain-namers, who loved to honor themselves and their famous sponsors, would have just named it after a mountain in Crete. Surely, Ida was a woman worth naming a mountain for.

On our hike, the Ida who mattered was Ida Ruth Miller. As the white granite trail climbed upward through the tundra, along the side of an unnamed 12,000-foot mountain toward the right-triangle of Ida, the three of us admired the early sunlight on the Never Summer range, and we identified plants, as Gram would have done: white Yarrow, yellow Arnica, pink Moss Campion, purple Aster, purple Mountain Harebell, blue Jacob's Ladder. Some we didn't know, but we observed so we could identify them later: Dotted Saxifrage, Miners-candle, American bistort. We laughed in delight as the little pikas darted out from their rock caves, as the fat brown marmots squeaked alarms at us. And we climbed.

Mount Ida is the summit to the far right.

Of the 4.1-4.6 miles (depending on the route one takes through the boulderfield in the last stretch) to the summit of Mount Ida, all but 1.2 miles is above treeline. In the sunshine, beneath a blue sky, that means it is a stunning, expansive, exhilarating hike at the top of the world. It's true that the trail ascends 2100 feet from the trailhead, and that it is a strenuous hike, but it is also glorious, even for those exhausted by the effort. When Mom, Katie and I finally stepped onto the summit at 10:30 am, with a view of the turquoise Azure Lake and the blue Inkwell Lake down the steep cliffs, and the massive flat-topped hulk of Long's Peak rising to the southeast, we congratulated each other on the accomplishment. Mom, nursing a bruised chin from a fall, wanted us to stay away from the steep edges, but she smiled as she ate her sandwich, obviously relieved to have reached the top with us. Above all, we knew, the best way to honor our Ida was in our togetherness. She loved and valued family above all.

On the summit of Mount Ida (me, Mom, and Katie)
Azure Lake, from the summit of Mount Ida.
We were wise, watching the cumulonimbus clouds darkening in the west, to start our descent at 10:45. With over three miles of exposed trail before we reached the safety of the trees again, we knew we needed to hike to beat the thunderstorms that growl across the tundra in the afternoons.

We didn't expect the first thunderstorm to strike only an hour later.

The clouds darkened quickly, blotting out the blue, shadowing the sun, as sheets of rain blurred the Indian Peaks to the south and the Never Summers to the west. Then, a hiker's worst nightmare: an electric white zigzag of lightning that seemed to blaze into the ridge just ahead of us. Katie and I looked at each other with wide eyes. We were still above 12,000 feet, with miles ahead of us. We could glimpse treeline a steep five hundred feet to our left, but it was as dangerous to hurl ourselves down that rocky ravine as to continue on. Between us, Mom kept hiking forward, one foot in front of the other, her head down.

In all my miles of hiking, I have never been so close to lightning strikes as we were that morning. Thunder cracked ahead of us, and freezing rain stung us -- and another lightning bolt zigged to the ground in front of us.

I am not religious, but I hold deep beliefs. I closed my eyes for a moment and thought of Gram, of her deep love for us, of her delight in the natural world, and I imagined a golden bubble around me, my sister, and my mother. And when I opened my eyes, I felt it -- from the east, where Ida Ruth's Bloodroot and Black-Eyed Susan and Oxeye Daisy still bloom, I felt this intense certainty that we three were safe. Another lightning bolt struck ahead of us, and Katie turned to me, panicked, and I said, "We're okay. We're safe," and within minutes, a spherical space cleared around us, a circle of blue sky opened above us, pushing the lightning and the thunder and the rain away from us until we stood in bright sunshine again beneath feathery cirrus clouds.

We hugged each other, hearts hammering, our legs shaky on the tundra trail. And then we applied sunscreen.

It's not that I believe Gram saved us. Gram herself told me, when I asked her in her last year of life, that she simply believed she would nurture the flowers and the plants in her spot beside my grandfather. But there is something besides fatal lightning that vibrates in the world. Great love does. Memory of being greatly loved does. The whole rest of the way down Mount Ida, my mom and my sister and I talked about this. Our legs ached and we wanted iced tea, but every moment had been worth it, if only to remind us how loved we are.

After a high-altitude lightning storm, it's easy to make fun of our fears. . .

Safely back in Denver, I started my research. Gram never loved her name, but she loved to ask good questions and pursue their answers. I learned that in 1904, when Estes Park pioneer Abner Sprague and Estes Park civil engineer Julian Hayden embarked on a fishing trip, they hiked and camped near Mount Ida, already named. That means the mountain must have been named by one of the late 19th century geological surveys -- by Hayden or King or Powell (Wheeler's survey did not stretch this far north). I exhausted Google, meticulously researching each man on each survey -- but I found no Idas as wives or daughters. I searched in Grand Lake and Estes Park histories, and found an Ida McCreery (1875-1941), a the daughter of a homesteader in Estes. I found famous Idas of the late 1800s: Ida B. Wells (1862-1931), the African American journalist and reformer; Ida Tarbell (1857-1944), the famous "muckraker" journalist who exposed the corruption of Standard Oil; Ida Kruse McFarlane (1873-1940), a Colorado poet and the head of the University of Denver English Department. Though Gram may have begun to love her name a little more after reading about all these other incredible Idas, none of them had any connection with the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. 

Cairns on the top of Mount Ida.

I called museums. The Estes Park Museum had no idea who Ida might have been. The Grand County Historical Association had no record of Idas during that time. 

I spent an afternoon buried in the stacks on the Western History/Genealogy Floor of the Denver Public Library, paging through brittle type-written papers and old scribbled diary entries in the glassed-in reading room. The old documents explained the origin of nearly every mountain named for men in Colorado, but they mentioned Mount Ida not at all.

Who was Ida? My daughter Mitike suggested, as we ate Ethiopian food from a food truck in Civic Center Park, that we could just say it was named for Gram, "because she was the best Ida of all." I agree, but the historian in me needs to know. Why do these women get lost, while every website and book explains in detail who Stephen Long and Nathan Meeker and William Hallett were? 

After more meticulous research in the stacks, I began to develop a theory. Both Clarence King, the leader of the survey exploring California and the railroad route planned west, and Ferdinand V. Hayden, the leader of the survey exploring the Colorado and Wyoming territories, admired and were influenced by the famous Harvard geology professor Louis Agassiz, that controversial man revered for his glaciology and reviled for his racist beliefs. Agassiz's daughter Ida (1837-1935) married the banker Henry Higginson five years before the King and Hayden surveys explored Colorado, and either man may have thought to honor her -- and thus her father -- with a mountain name, King because he admired the man who had been his professor and Hayden because he wanted the scientific world to take his survey seriously. Hayden's botany surveys and reports threatened Agassiz's dream to found a museum of comparative zoology, and Hayden may have wanted to smooth over that conflict.

Maybe. From 1868-1873, when the surveys were naming mountains in the area, Ida Agassiz Higginson was in her early thirties, corresponding with famous people like Ralph Waldo Emerson, moving in the scholarly circles created by her stepmother, Elizabeth Cabot Cary Agassiz, a co-founder of Radcliffe College, and benefiting from her brother Alexander's fortune in copper mining. What else? Like other wealthy women of her time, Ida stayed home while her father roamed west in search of fossils and glaciers. She never viewed Mount Ida.

And maybe Colorado's Mount Ida wasn't named for Ida Agassiz Higginson at all. Maybe a map-maker loved an Ida who has been lost to history now. Maybe a pioneer named Ida lived there awhile and has now faded into dust.

And maybe Mitike is right: when our family is hiking Mount Ida, we will tell ourselves it is named for the Ida who will always be dearest and most famous to us, Ida Ruth Younkin Miller, lover of wildflowers and names and stories and, above all, the family love that can comfort even in the midst of a high-altitude lightning storm.

Ida Ruth's granddaughter Katie (my sister) on the summit of Mount Ida.


Getting to the trailhead: Drive to the parking area at Milner Pass trailhead, on Trail Ridge Road, 4 miles south of the Rocky Mountain National Park Alpine Visitor Center and 16 miles north of the Grand Lake entrance.

Roundtrip distance to the summit from the trailhead: 9.2-9.6 miles RT, depending on the route 
you choose to take through the boulder field

Elevation gain: 2,465 feet

How to reach the summit: 
1. Follow signs to Mount Ida (note that the sign says only 4.0 miles) from the parking lot, continuing on along the southern shore of Poudre Lake. 
2. At the intersection, take the righthand fork to the south, toward Mount Ida (the lefthand fork takes 
hikers up the Alpine Visitor Center).
3. After the trail emerges from treeline at about 1.2 miles, continue south toward Mount Ida, which is 
the right triangle peak straight ahead of you. 
4. At the summit of the unnamed Peak 12,150, the trail diverges. Take the righthand trail, descending 
toward the saddle.
5. From the saddle, which is about 3.5 miles into the hike, the trail climbs through tundra and a boulder field. Several routes exist here, mostly marked by cairns and the worn paths of feet in sections of tundra. Climbing straight up shortens the hike but is far rockier. The routes that curve to the right and then up take hikers through a softer tundra. 
6. Finally, climb the boulders to the summit, for an impressive view of Long’s to the southeast and of Azure and Inkwell Lakes straight below. 



Delbert, Jack E. and Brent H. Breithaupt. Tracks, Trails and Thieves: Hayden's 1868 Survey. Geological Society of America, 2016. Book.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. "To Ida Agassiz Higginson, Concord, November 11, 1870." The Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Columbia University Press, 1941. 

Fleming, Barbara. "Fleming: Abner Sprague left a large footprint behind." Coloradoan.com, Coloradoan, 7 May 2017, https://www.coloradoan.com/story/news/2017/05/07/fleming-abner-sprague-left-large-footprint-behind/101416518/.

"History: Psiloritis." Psiloritisrace.com, 2018, http://www.psiloritisrace.com/en/pages/history-en.php

Jones, Keith. History of Jelm, Wyoming, Vol. 1. Lulu.com, 19 April 2014, http://www.lulu.com/us/en/shop/keith-jones/history-of-jelm-wyoming-vol-1/paperback/product-21587948.html.

Koster, John. "He tried to solve earth's mysteries and left a few mysteries of his own." History.net, 3 March 2017, http://www.historynet.com/tried-solve-earths-mysteries-left-mysteries-clarence-king.htm.

"Photo Record." Catalog number 2004.024.134. Estespark.pastperfectonline.com, Estes Park Museum, 1940, https://estespark.pastperfectonline.com/photo/63A7BBA5-DA66-47CA-83CF-892962937260.

Sargent, John Singer. "Ida Agassiz Higginson." Drawing, 1917. Harvardartmuseums.org. https://www.harvardartmuseums.org/art/309242. 

Sprague, Abner. My Pioneer Life: the Memoirs of Abner E. Sprague. Karen Sue Stopher, 2005. Book.

Mount Flora and Lake Ethel (and, to the north, Mount Eva)

Scarlet Paintbrush on the Mount Flora trail

My daughter Mitike crouched low on the Mount Flora trail to closely examine a fuschia-colored paintbrush. "It's beautiful," she told me and my cousin Johanna, reminding us to pause in our hike down the mountain, reminding us to examine the details, to breathe it all in awhile. So we did. We named the flowers we know: King's Crown, Moss Campion, Dwarf Clover, Chiming-Bells, Sky Pilot, Forget-Me-Not, Pussytoes, Alpine Sunflower, Pasque Flower. We could not identify the succulent with the white flowers; we did not know the specific names of any of the lichens or stonecrops. And what was the specific name of each species of paintbrush?

Me, Johanna, and Mitike (with Henry the golden retriever) on the summit of Mt Flora, July 10, 2018

An hour before, at the top of Mount Flora, another hiker, a man named Mark, told me that he had heard these peaks called "the Botanists' Peaks," because they were named for famous 19th century botanists and their wives -- a great lead to my research into the women for whom Mount Flora, Mount Eva, and Lake Ethel were named. Mark then asked me to tell him about other mountains and lakes named for women. Later, Mitike joked affectionately that she thought I would "explode with happiness," as I told Mark about Anna Dickinson and Helen Rich and Margaret Goldsborough. The stories behind these names matter. They do.

As we examined the flora beside the trail, though, Johanna suggested gently that this mountain we had just climbed -- and loved -- may have been so named merely because the botanists loved flowers. I hoped not.

The moment I got home, I googled "botanists' peaks in Colorado," and confirmed what Mark had said: Gray, Torrey, Parry, James, Audubon, Engelmann, and Guyot were all renowned botanists. Charles Parry gave the mountains their names, including his own; the 1997 book The King of Colorado Botany, by William Weber, notes that Parry named Mount Eva for his second wife, Emily ("Eva" must have been a nickname -- some people online have questioned this; is it possible "Eva" was someone else entirely?). Emily and Charles Parry married when they were 36 and 38, respectively, in 1859. Interestingly, they moved to Davenport, Iowa, where the determined Germans from which Johanna and I are descended were just beginning a farm. I know Emily outlived Charles by twenty-five years, and that she was, according to the Davenport Democrat and Leader, "a most estimable woman, whom older residents will remember for her many good qualities." Emily made such an impression on her husband's botanist colleague, Asa Gray, that he named the purple Sand Blossom for her, Linanthus parryae. She often accompanied her husband on his plant collecting excursions.

Left to right: Parry Peak, Mount Eva, Mount Flora

But was the name "Flora" merely a nod to those plants the famous botanists collected? In an era of honoring people with geographical namesakes, it seemed unlikely. I kept researching and found, in a PDF about Clear Creek County's history, two stories. Some say that Mount Flora is so named because Parry "introduced the Colorado flora to the world," as Weber's 1997 biography of Parry insists. Of course, in Latin, "flora" means "flowers." However, others say that Mount Flora was named for early Denver poet and short story writer Chauncey Thomas' mother, Flora Sumner Thomas (1866-1943). Flora Thomas was the sister-in-law of W.N. Byers, the founder of the Rocky Mountain News. According to Thomas, the famous western explorer, Major John Wesley Powell (a member of the first party of white men to summit Long's Peak, in 1868), stayed with Byers in Colorado, and started a Boy Scout Camp at Berthoud Pass. Again, according to Thomas, Powell named two mountains there, one for Byers' wife Elizabeth and the other for his sister-in-law Flora. Thomas' ashes are scattered on Berthoud Pass and on Mount Flora, and the Colorado Historical Society placed a monument to him at the pass in 1943.

This second story rings truer, I think, considering the times, though I wonder why Powell's wife Emma did not get a mountain named for her, too. Or maybe she did, and the record has been lost.

Finally, who was Ethel, for whom the little turquoise lake at the base of Mount Flora is named? I found a 2013 obituary for an Ethel Schwartz, who grew up skiing at the Berthoud Pass Ski Area in the 1920s and 30s, but that doesn't seem to indicate a reason to name a lake for her. None of the famous botanists were married to Ethels; Parry's daughter (who died as a child) was named Elizabeth; and Powell was not connected to any Ethels. Who was she? I emailed the Colorado Ski History organization to see if they know -- I'll update this if they reply.

Image may contain: mountain, outdoor and nature
Lake Ethel, as seen from Mount Flora's summit

Sometimes, pursuing the people behind the names, immersed in research, I lose sight of the fact that I am trying to more deeply appreciate this place I love even as I am trying to get people to honor historical women. Sometimes I forget to just appreciate the paintbrush. Today, I hiked across tundra meadows for miles with Mitike and Johanna, and I watched the hardy flora blossoming and thriving even in the wind and the cold and the exposure. I am a writer, not a botanist, and so I collected the riot of color and the sweet strangeness of names (groundsel, alpine valerian, arctic gentian). I looked and looked at the mountain ranges. Like the famous botanists who collected here, I never feel like I can gather enough into my mind and my heart, and that in itself is glorious.

Who was Ethel? I DID find that this succulent is Alpine Spring Beauty (Claytonia megarhiza)

How to hike Mount Flora:
1) Drive to Berthoud Pass, and park on the east side. Enjoy reading the informative signs at the pass, especially the one about the Continental Divide Trail, which you will be following to the summit of Mount Flora.
2) Follow the Continental Divide Trail on the east side of Berthoud Pass. The trail follows a service road for 0.89 miles, and then clearly forks to the left (the signage to Mount Flora is clear).
3) Follow the CDT for another 2.5 miles to the summit of Mount Flora. It's a relatively easy hike, though the false summit may temporarily defeat tired 11-year-olds. From the summit of Mount Flora (13,146'), you can peer down into the steep valley at Lake Ethel, which would be a dangerous scramble. Similarly, it does look possible (and challenging ) to climb Mount Eva by following the Continental Divide ridge line north from Mount Flora -- but no trail heads in that direction.


Lake Dorothy

Lake Dorothy, June 30, 2018

Just 1/4 of a mile south of Arapaho Pass, at the cradled base of the jagged Mount Neva, is a small lake shaped somewhat like a heart: Lake Dorothy. The stunningly gorgeous 3.7 miles of trail from the the Fourth of July trailhead reveal nothing at all about this little lake -- the engraved wooden signs point to Diamond Lake, to Arapaho Glacier, to Arapaho Pass and to Caribou Pass, but not to Lake Dorothy. It is as if this little lake, relatively easy to reach, is a secret. If so, it is a lovely secret, reflecting the blue sky, then changing suddenly with a cloud's shadow, the snowfield at its southern edge cobalt blue in the water. It is perfectly beautiful.

My cousin Johanna and I ventured up to Lake Dorothy on a surprisingly cool day in late June (it was 40 degrees in the sun at the trailhead at 8 am). We had visited the lake before, years ago, but we have been more focused on summiting peaks. Now we delighted in the trail that edged along the steep mountainside of columbine and paintbrush, opening to a more and more expansive view of the jagged, snowy Indian Peaks: North Arapaho, Neva, Satanta, and then Arikaree, Kiowa, Apache, Shoshone, Pawnee, Paiute. We hiked past the rusting metal remnants and sunken holes of the once prosperous Fourth of July mine, we stood in the whipping wind on Arapaho Pass, and then we made our way to little Lake Dorothy, where we found shelter from boulders to eat our snacks.

The Fourth of July trail toward Arapaho Pass and Lake Dorothy

And of course, I wondered: who was Dorothy? Already, I had done some research, and I had discovered some famous Dorothys from late 19th century and early 20th century Colorado, when the US Geological Survey was naming these peaks and lakes. I knew that Dorothy Cave had been the sister of Ruth Cave, who was one of the first African Americans to attend CU Boulder. I knew Dorothy Guinn, also African American, had run Denver's YWCA in the 1920s. I knew Dorothy Starbuck had been an accomplished and brave WWII nurse, and that Dorothy Woodruff had been a pioneering schoolteacher. I knew Dorothy Teague Schwartz became the sixth woman to climb all of Colorado's fourteeners in 1949. I knew Dorothy Hughes ran for mayor of Nederland in 1976. But none of these Dorothys had a strong association with the Fourth of July Mine or with the Indian Peaks Wilderness, though of course Teague Schwartz hiked and skiied throughout this area.

Who was Dorothy? My cousin, always a little entertained by my wish to discover for whom these lakes and peaks have been named, tolerated a stop at the Nederland Visitor Center, where a thin pale man named John shrugged his shoulders at me. No idea. Dorothy? Anyone know who Dorothy was? When I called the Nederland Mining Museum, the response was the same. No one had any idea. If I had asked about Mount Neva, they would have been quick to tell me about Chief Niwot and Neva of the Southern Arapaho tribe. If had asked about Long's Peak, just visible to the north from Arapaho Pass, they would have shown me multiple sources about Stephen Long. But the women for which these places are named are often forgotten.

I wanted Dorothy to be a nickname for the fascinating Baby Doe Tabor, the aristocratic woman who made headlines because she worked in the Fourth of July mine, among other reasons. But Baby Doe was named Lizzie, or Elizabeth.

I researched C.C. Alvord, who discovered silver in the area on the Fourth of July of 1872, but he was connected to no Dorothys (incidentally, his wife, Nancy Alvord lived most of her later years in Davenport, Iowa, where I attended high school).

Finally, I thought to find out who exactly named all the Indian Peaks after Colorado's Native American tribes and chiefs. I found a high school botany teacher named Ellsworth Bethel who, in the spring of 1914, wrote to the US Board on Geographic Names in his capacity as a leader in the Colorado Mountain Club and suggested eleven tribal names for the unnamed Snowy Peaks, the area where he most loved to collect fungi and flowers. This was an unusual suggestion, as it was common to honor naturalists or politicians with names. The board accepted only six of the names: Apache, Arikaree, Kiowa, Navajo, Ogalalla, Pawnee. They replaced "Ute" with Paiute.

A columbine on the trail. I photographed no fungi, which Bethel studied.

By 1917, Bethel had earned an honorary master's degree from the University of Denver, had retired from teaching, and had joined the United States Department of Agriculture’s Forest Pathology laboratory. By October 1924, at the age of 61, he had married thirty-one-year-old Dorothy Stokley from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and lived in Wheatridge, Colorado.

Dorothy. There she was! Sometime in those years (I cannot find when or how he met Dorothy Stokley), Bethel wrote another suggestion to the US Board on Geographical Names: name that little heart-shaped lake just beyond Arapaho Pass Lake Dorothy, after the woman I love.

That's what I can surmise, anyway. The name Dorothy is not documented officially in the Geographical Names Informational System (GNIS) until 1978, but people in the area could have been calling the lake that name for the five decades since Bethel traipsed those trails.

There's a tragic story hidden here. Just under a year after he married Dorothy, Ellsworth Bethel died suddenly, in September of 1925. In 1926, the US Board on Geographical Names changed the "Little Professor Peak" in Clear Creek County to Mount Bethel. Census records from 1930 show that Dorothy moved to Washington, D.C., where she lived with her mother. She died in D.C. in 1975, still Dorothy Bethel, "widowed."

What else? As usual, the real stories are hidden. Did Dorothy meet Ellsworth on a vacation to Colorado, or did they meet in the D.C. offices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture? Did Ellsworth ever take Dorothy to her namesake lake? Did Dorothy collect Puccinia interveniens (rust fungi) and study the Betheliella bee on the mariposa lily with him? When he died suddenly, did Dorothy leave Colorado right away, or did she grieve him first in the mountains he had loved?

As usual, the lake and the mountains and the sky keep their secrets.

An alpine sunflower on Arapaho Pass

How to hike to Lake Dorothy:
1. Drive through the little town of Eldora, to the Forest Service Road. Take the righthand fork (not the lefthand fork to the Hessie Trailhead), and drive on the rough, potholed road four miles to its end. The trailhead to Arapaho Pass is well-marked here.
2. Hike three miles to Arapaho Pass (pass the Diamond Lake fork, and veer left at the fork that veers off to Arapaho Glacier).
3. At Arapaho Pass, turn left (not into the pass) and hike up along the ridge for 0.25 miles until you reach the lovely Lake Dorothy.


Mount Margaret

Sometimes, the raucous history of a place -- and a name -- is incongruent with its reality. Look at Mount Margaret, near Red Feather Lakes in northern Colorado. The 7.2-mile roundtrip hike to the summit of Mount Margaret winds through through gentle green meadows that bloom with pasque flower, golden banner, and pussy toes in June. It crosses a clear, burbling stream. The path is wide enough for three people to walk beside each other. "Mount" is deceptive, as this is the only mountain I have ever hiked that requires a downhill walk to the summit. On a sunny day, Mount Margaret is merely a lovely pile of smooth boulders, a perfect place to eat a lunch.

But examine its history, and Mount Margaret and the surrounding area, known as Maxwell Ranch, reveal an astounding series of scandals and land dramas. Houses and barns burned, people died suddenly, land was bought and sold and contested. The most scandalous story, though, involved the namesake of the mountain, Margaret Goldsborough. According to Lon Lewis of the Red Feather Historical Society, Margaret bought three homesteads on Maxwell Ranch for her daughter Mildred, as a wedding present in 1926. Mildred married a veterinarian named Dr. Wallace Brown. However, after just three years, Mildred filed for divorce from Dr. Brown, claiming that he was cruel and that he had only married her for her mother Margaret's wealth. Brown, still in possession of the land Margaret had purchased, promptly married a rich Denver socialite named Marion Elliot -- before his divorce was finalized -- and was charged $500 for bigamy. Only a year later, Marion filed for divorce, charging Brown with extreme cruelty. In 1935, Margaret managed to re-purchase the ranch. She, her daughter Mildred, and Mildred's son John from Mildred's second (failed) marriage moved onto the ranch. Mildred re-married and had a daughter, Margaret Ellen, in 1941. In 1943, Mildred heard that Dr. Brown had been found dead in Sweetwater, Texas, where he was widowed from his fifth wife and probably practicing veterinary medicine illegally.

Meanwhile, on Mount Margaret, the pasque flower bloomed purple and the bluestem grass waved in the breeze, and somewhere cattle lowed.

And exactly who was Margaret Williams Goldsborough? I can find no photographs of her. I know, from Ancestry.com, that her middle name was Luetta and that she was born in Illinois. I know Mildred was a daughter from her first marriage, though I can't figure out how the first marriage ended. I know she married Lewis Custice Goldsborough, twenty years her senior, who was rich, and who died in 1919, only four months after he and Margaret married, leaving Margaret with enough money to buy ranchland. I know she married A.G. Barnes Stonehouse, the famed owner of the Al. G. Barnes Circus, in 1930, and that he died seven months later (was Margaret cursed, or was she killing her husbands?) I know Margaret lived in Denver until she moved onto the ranch with Mildred and John in 1935. I know from the Denver Public Library archives that Margaret died in 1938, in early September, just three years after she moved onto the ranch.

But what was she like? What did she think and feel? The mountain named for her hides it all. She was persistent, evidently, since she got the ranch back after all those complicated changes of ownership. She was resourceful, since her marriage gained her wealth. But was she happy? Did she sometimes walk to the top of her mountain and feel some peace from the view?

These are the answers the cold archive, the birth records, the marriage records, the death records, hide. We can only imagine the stories.
Walking on the mostly flat trail on Mt. Margaret

On the summit of Mt. Margaret (June 2, 2018)

Cows grazing behind us

How to hike Mount Margaret:
1. Drive west on Highway 74E to the Mount Margaret trailhead, on the north side of the road.
2. Follow the Mount Margaret trail for 3.6 miles to the summit. Note that several other trails intersect with this trail, but the signage is good, if you are paying attention. Just before the summit, the trail goes downhill, and then hikers must scramble up boulders for a view of the surrounding valley.


Lewis, Lon D. "Maxwell Ranch History." Red Feather Historical Society.  2015. Retrieved from http://redfeatherhistoricalsociety.org/local-histories/historic-local-sites/maxwell-ranch-history/, 14 June 2018.

Hiking Mount Ida for Ida Ruth

My gram, Ida Ruth Miller, was the kind of woman people would have named mountains or lakes or flower species for. She was an intent ...