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January 26 , 2011

Quicklet on Isabella Bird's A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains (CliffNotes-like Summary & Analysis)



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I have just dropped into the very place I have been seeking, but in everything it exceeds all my dreams.

Imagine a time when the wild west was still wild, when no one knew what lay inside the dense forests blanketing Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. When grizzly bears still reigned supreme over California’s forests and the night was filled with the sounds of night creatures. Imagine a time when “ruffians” and “desperados” roamed the land, inspiring both fear and awe in all those who saw them.

Imagine a time when Denver was a rough and ready town just recently brought under civil law, and the ink on the document proclaiming Colorado’s statehood was still wet. The mountains were not yet riddled with mine shafts, but hopes and dreams were just beginning to be smashed by the empty promises of wealth below the Earth’s surface.

The year is 1873 and America is a wild place still recovering from a devastating civil war and learning how to be a country. Colorado is a wilderness just beginning to be populated by miners, settlers looking for a new life, and invalids grasping at the hope that the clean air will bring a cure. It is a beautiful place full of promise, but it is also a hard place that is more likely to break your heart. It is to this Colorado that Isabella Bird, a 43-year-old English lady, finds herself drawn.


In 1873, Isabella Bird is 42 years old and she has mountain fever. She yearns to immerse herself in the beauty and culture of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. She doesn’t care if she has to rough it a little; she wants to ride a horse through dense forests and climb atop rocky crags, to look down on the world from above.

Isabella’s journey begins in San Francisco and quickly moves to the Sierra Nevadas where she is transfixed by the sparkling emerald beauty of Lake Tahoe and the tragic mountain gem of Donner Lake. Dipping down on the easterly slope of the Sierras, she begins a long and tedious crossing of the Plains. Here she finds herself enclosed in an endless sea of grass that possesses all the loneliness of the ocean and none of the beauty. Isabella is stifled by the heat and black flies that coat every surface. The towns in which she stops are dreary outposts of no merit. So, she runs for the hills.

For weeks, Isabella finds herself stuck in Canyon, Colorado staying with the Chalmers family. There is nothing beautiful about this place where everyone lives and breathes work. She lends a hand where she can and bides her time until she can figure out a way to reach Estes Park, the mountain land of her dreams.

Just when Isabella is about to give up hope of ever reaching Estes Park, she finds two young men who will take her there. The ride is beautiful and before she knows it, they are at Rocky Mountain Jim’s cabin at the mouth of Estes Park. She is immediately struck by both the handsomeness, brutality, and charm of the ruffian. He continues to be in her thoughts until she comes upon Evans’s camp set up in a lovely meadow next to a picturesque lake. She decides to stay in this idyllic setting until winter comes on.

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Isabella Bird's A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains

+ About the Book

+ Introducing the Author

+ Overall Summary

+ Chapter-by-Chapter Summary and Commentary

+ ...and much more

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