Isabella Bird, the subject of Linda Ballou’s historical novel, “Embrace of the Wild,” rode 800 miles in the Rockies in 1873.
Fired by the rapturous descriptions of Estes Park and surrounds by Isabella Bird, a plucky Englishwoman who rode 800-miles solo in the Rockies in 1873, I headed to Colorado to breathe in the beauty of the region for myself. Isabella, like many people suffering from the damp in England, came to Colorado for “the pure dry air.” She waxed poetic about the granite faces of the peaks flushing crimson at days end with a religious fervor in her travel memoir Lady of the Rockies.
Her first stay in Colorado was with the Alexanders, squatters on the land where Sylvan Dale Ranch rests today. Sylvan Dale, established in 1946 by the Jessup family, sits on the banks of the energetic Big Thompson River lined with cottonwoods. With manicured grounds, private cabins for extended families, facilities for weddings and family reunions, it provides an all-inclusive holiday with activities for all shapes and sizes.
The ranch land is where the vast open plains meet the staggering peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Horseback rides and hikes at Sylvan Dales take you through varied terrain rich in history of the region. Spring-green grazing meadows spiked with wildflowers are banked by the lush river corridor snaking through towering walls of salmon- colored rock to vistas of the 14,000 foot snow-capped peaks in the distance.
Isabella yearned to ride in Estes Park, the gateway to what is now the Rocky Mountain National Park, just 15-miles away as the crow flies. In 1873 the park was a wilderness inhabited by a few hunters, trappers and gold seekers along with a full complement of wild animals. It was once the hunting grounds of the Ute Indians who were run out by settlers claiming it for their own. The bison that roamed here were slaughtered and replaced with cattle grazing in tall stands of grass in the parks (or meadows) framed in stern, snow- streaked sentinels.