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.


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