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.

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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.


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 ...