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Born in 1831, Isabella, daughter of a clergyman, set off alone to the Antipodes in 1872 'in search of health' and found she had embarked on a life of adventurous travel. In 1873, wearing Hawaiian riding dress, she rode on her spirited horse Birdie through the American 'Wild West', a terrain only recently opened to pioneer settlement. Here she met Rocky Mountain Jim, her 'd Born in 1831, Isabella, daughter of a clergyman, set off alone to the Antipodes in 1872 'in search of health' and found she had embarked on a life of adventurous travel. In 1873, wearing Hawaiian riding dress, she rode on her spirited horse Birdie through the American 'Wild West', a terrain only recently opened to pioneer settlement. Here she met Rocky Mountain Jim, her 'dear (one-eyed) desperado', fond of poetry and whisky - 'a man any women might love, but no sane woman would marry'. He helped her climb the 'American Matterhorn' and round up cattle on horseback.The wonderful letters which make up this volume were first published in 1879 and were enormously popular in Isabella Bird's lifetime. They tell of magnificent unspoilt landscapes and abundant wildlife, of small remote townships, of her encounters with rattlesnakes, wolves, pumas and grizzly bears and her reactions to the volatile passions of the miners and pioneer settlers.


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Born in 1831, Isabella, daughter of a clergyman, set off alone to the Antipodes in 1872 'in search of health' and found she had embarked on a life of adventurous travel. In 1873, wearing Hawaiian riding dress, she rode on her spirited horse Birdie through the American 'Wild West', a terrain only recently opened to pioneer settlement. Here she met Rocky Mountain Jim, her 'd Born in 1831, Isabella, daughter of a clergyman, set off alone to the Antipodes in 1872 'in search of health' and found she had embarked on a life of adventurous travel. In 1873, wearing Hawaiian riding dress, she rode on her spirited horse Birdie through the American 'Wild West', a terrain only recently opened to pioneer settlement. Here she met Rocky Mountain Jim, her 'dear (one-eyed) desperado', fond of poetry and whisky - 'a man any women might love, but no sane woman would marry'. He helped her climb the 'American Matterhorn' and round up cattle on horseback.The wonderful letters which make up this volume were first published in 1879 and were enormously popular in Isabella Bird's lifetime. They tell of magnificent unspoilt landscapes and abundant wildlife, of small remote townships, of her encounters with rattlesnakes, wolves, pumas and grizzly bears and her reactions to the volatile passions of the miners and pioneer settlers.

30 review for A Lady's Life In The Rocky Mountains (Virago classic non-fiction)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Candi

    "I cannot describe my feelings on this ride, produced by the utter loneliness, the silence and dumbness of all things, the snow falling quietly without wind, the obliterated mountains, the darkness, the intense cold, and the unusual and appalling aspect of nature. All life was in a shroud, all work and travel suspended. There was not a foot-mark or wheel-mark. There was nothing to be afraid of; and though I can’t exactly say that I enjoyed the ride, yet there was the pleasant feeling of gaining "I cannot describe my feelings on this ride, produced by the utter loneliness, the silence and dumbness of all things, the snow falling quietly without wind, the obliterated mountains, the darkness, the intense cold, and the unusual and appalling aspect of nature. All life was in a shroud, all work and travel suspended. There was not a foot-mark or wheel-mark. There was nothing to be afraid of; and though I can’t exactly say that I enjoyed the ride, yet there was the pleasant feeling of gaining health every hour." My idea of ‘roughing it’ is sleeping in a tent in a state park with a shared bathroom a bothersome five minute walk away by flashlight in the dark. It’s waking up to the disagreeable chirping of a songbird in the early hours of the morning after a night of tossing and turning in a sleeping bag set atop an inflatable mattress. It’s cooking Kraft macaroni and cheese over a propane stove and hot dogs over a campfire. It’s showering in a public bathroom with an alarming number of spiders lurking in the corners. All this of course happens to be in the middle of summer with no threat of snow or freezing temperatures. Isabella Bird put me to shame. Her 1873 adventure into the Rocky Mountains of Colorado is nothing short of admirable. Her story is shared here in a series of letters written to her sister at home in England. What is even more remarkable is that she was in her early forties at the time, and had been traveling as a means to improve her health. Jumping on the back of a horse and riding through snow and wind with the mountains hemming one in on all sides is not my idea of restorative healing, but apparently it did a world of good for this gutsy lady. I couldn’t help but think about the cursed Donner party while reading of Ms. Bird’s exploits. How the heck did she come out of this alive? The descriptions of the landscape are stunning; and if ever you wish to imagine the beauty of a place before it was settled, before tourist attractions became permanent fixtures, then this book will take you right there. I’ve not been to the Rocky Mountains but I felt a part of this experience for a short time. I loved her depiction of Long’s Peak – she endowed it with a character all its own: "It is one of the noblest of mountains, but in one’s imagination it grows to be much more than a mountain. It becomes invested with a personality. In its caverns and abysses one comes to fancy that it generates and chains the strong winds, to let them loose in its fury. The thunder becomes its voice, and the lightnings do it homage." An adventure into the western Territories would not be complete without some colorful individuals, and we sure do meet a few along the journey with Ms. Bird. My favorite was “Rocky Mountain Jim” (or “Mountain Jim”), probably known only to his mother as plain old Jim Nugent. A trapper and hunter living a solitary life in Estes Park, Mountain Jim was a desperado with a handsome face scarred by a bear encounter. His story is both fascinating and a bit mysterious – he deserves a book all his own! A man with perhaps two sides, much like his ravaged face, Mountain Jim was a legend of his time. "He has pathos, poetry, and humor, an intense love of nature, strong vanity in certain directions, an obvious desire to act and speak in character, and sustain his reputation as a desperado, a considerable acquaintance with literature, a wonderful verbal memory, opinions on every person and subject, a chivalrous respect for women in his manner, which makes it all the more amusing when he suddenly turns round upon one with some graceful raillery, a great power of fascination, and a singular love of children." Is it possible that Ms. Bird may have had a bit of a schoolgirl crush on this guy?! It’s certainly hard to tell, given the very matter-of-fact nature of her writing. Maybe she didn’t want to reveal all to sister Henrietta in these letters. After all, Mountain Jim did have quite a reputation and mothers were said to threaten their naughty children with a visit from this most infamous of men. I really enjoyed my little jaunt to the Rockies. Ms. Bird was not much of one to show emotion in her writing, but she sure did share much of the excitement of the adventure itself! A bit wordy here and there, but overall a very satisfying and informative read.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sandy

    This fascinating book, a series of letters written in 1873 by Isabella L. Bird to her sister, documents the amazing adventure of a resourceful and daring Victorian woman. Its lush descriptions of the natural world (sunrises and sunsets, plant life, landscapes, animals, and all varieties of weather) and of domestic life (buildings, living conditions, relationships, gardening, cooking and cleaning) are captivating and entertaining. In the autumn and early winter of 1873, on her return to England f This fascinating book, a series of letters written in 1873 by Isabella L. Bird to her sister, documents the amazing adventure of a resourceful and daring Victorian woman. Its lush descriptions of the natural world (sunrises and sunsets, plant life, landscapes, animals, and all varieties of weather) and of domestic life (buildings, living conditions, relationships, gardening, cooking and cleaning) are captivating and entertaining. In the autumn and early winter of 1873, on her return to England from the Sandwich Islands, the author travelled from San Francisco by train through the Sierra Nevadas. After a couple of days exploring the area near Truckee on a hired horse, she continued by train through to Cheyenne, Wyoming (which she described as "a God-forsaken, God-forgotten place" which existed solely as a railway depot for the distribution of essential goods to settlers within a 300-mile radius). While continuing her journey by train and wagon south to Fort Collins, Colorado, the author was smitten by her first glimpse of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. She writes (still 25 miles from the mountains) "they are gradually gaining possession of me." The mountains had captured her heart and she was determined to find someone to guide her through the Front Range into beautiful Estes Park, nestled in the hollow between the Front Range and the Long's Peak Massif. The Park, apparently inhabited by native tribes thousands of years ago, was first "discovered" by Europeans when fur trader Rufus B. Sage visited in 1843. In 1859, gold-digger Joel Estes settled there with his family for six years, eking out a living by ranching and hunting. The tallest of the peaks which surround Estes Park, Long's Peak, was named for early explorer Major Stephen H. Long who, while exploring the plains, noticed the high mountain on the horizon. Long's was first climbed in 1868, and mapped extensively in 1871. In early September 1873, the first woman to ascend Long's Peak was among the party of the Hayden Survey, a government expedition. One can only suppose that this event spurred the author's interest in visiting Estes Park and climbing Long's Peak herself. After several unsuccessful attempts, the author finally reached Estes Park, where she lived with one of the two families settled there, and made the acquaintance of the famous desperado, "Rocky Mountain Jim" Nugent, with whom she explored the local area and summited Long's Peak. Estes Park became her home base during her sometimes pastoral, sometimes hair-raising solitary horseback explorations. She was well-known among the local population, and her reputation as a hard worker, a keen explorer, and a superior horsewoman preceded her wherever she went. It was with a heavy heart that, in December 1873, Isabella Bird left her mountain home to return to England. I listened to a superb recording of this book by the Librivox volunteer, Laura Caldwell. The experience was, for me, like a multi-media installation consisting of a variety of vivid word pictures, which both informed me and spurred me on to further research. I found many websites with interesting information, maps, and photographs about the people, the history, and the geography of the places that the author visited. The couple of weeks that I spent with this book was time well spent. In fact, I would do it again!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Aubrey

    It's rare that I read Westerns due to the genre being one of the wrongest things that ever wronged in the history of United States' literature. Another one is the holiday being celebrated today by the US Federal Government, a day that my ongoing reads of Genesis and Almanac of the Dead has thrown into piercing scrutiny. This work was the odd one out in the group in the brutal sense of the word, something I knew would be the case when I started out but didn't deter me due to, frankly, the shock I It's rare that I read Westerns due to the genre being one of the wrongest things that ever wronged in the history of United States' literature. Another one is the holiday being celebrated today by the US Federal Government, a day that my ongoing reads of Genesis and Almanac of the Dead has thrown into piercing scrutiny. This work was the odd one out in the group in the brutal sense of the word, something I knew would be the case when I started out but didn't deter me due to, frankly, the shock I felt at learning that an English woman rode hundreds of miles in the Northwestern United States in 1873 and lived to not only tell, but write the tale. Her story is one where her deed proves her more a feminist than her word, a word that is horribly imperialist and the reason why I find more worth in a single work of fiction by an actual citizen than a hundred nonfiction pieces by tourists, but with a bag of salt these letters render the concept of the "fairer sex" null and void. It's compromised, but unlike reading something written by a white man during the same time period, this piece cuts through some of the bullshit by the sheer fact of existing. I pass hastily over the early part of the journey, the crossing the bay in a fog as chill as November, the number of "lunch baskets," which gave the car the look of conveying a great picnic party, the last view of the Pacific, on which I had looked for nearly a year, the fierce sunshine and brilliant sky inland, the look of long rainlessness, which one may not call drought, the valleys with sides crimson with the poison oak, the dusty vineyards, with great purple clusters thick among the leaves, and between the vines great dusty melons lying on the dusty earth. It helps that she's a decent prose stylist, along with the fact that for a while at the beginning, she's traveling through the area I grew up in. California is not one that crops up often in the literature I read, and when it does it is most often Los Angeles that graces the pages, a city I have my share of memories in but in no way compares to remembrance of the Bay Area. Reveler in imagery that I am, it is different when another agrees with the oddities, annoyances, and beauty that I have encountered in my daily life in and around San Francisco, a concordance that only becomes more precious when separated by almost 150 years. In other words, it made me nostalgic, but that happens rarely enough that I can afford to indulge. In traveling there is nothing like dissecting people's statements, which are usually colored by their estimate of the powers or likings of the person spoken to, making all reasonable inquiries, and then pertinaciously but quietly carrying out one's own plans. Judgmental she was, but not enough to forbear having a sense of humor. This and a firm (white) head on her shoulders helped her immensely through snow storms, bears, near starvation, a useless poet with a bottomless stomach, and a particularly infamous desperado called "Mountain Jim" who Bird had the most interesting time with because she thought he was really hot. She danced around the pronouncement like any white woman did at the time, but that's how it was. I have seen a great deal of the roughest class of men both on sea and land during the last two years, and the more important I think the "mission" of every quiet, refined, self-respecting woman—the more mistaken I think those who would forfeit it by noisy self-assertion, masculinity, or fastness. This is her in her last letter following up on her viewing the wife doing all the work in various settlements she stayed at as completely normal. How she would describe her own commitment to travel that would in the future venture far beyond shores both European and United States, I cannot say. However, she did write it down for those of us who need a "Look! If she could do it almost 150 years ago, so can I," every so often, so that's of merit. Birdie slipped so alarmingly that I got off and walked, but then neither of us could keep our feet, and in the darkness she seemed so likely to fall upon me, that I took out of my pack the man's socks which had been given me at Perry's Park, and drew them on over her fore-feet—an expedient which for a time succeeded admirably, and which I commend to all travelers similarly circumstanced. A bit of humor for the road.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Claire

    Isabella Bird was very ill, so her doctor sent her to America to regain some of her strength. When she set of from England for the first time, she was already a mature woman, considered a spinster by her sister's family and boring. Over the course of the next decades, Bird would travel the world, sending back mesmerizing accounts of her travels. It is particularly entertaining to compare her accounts with other travelers accounts- despite her gorgeous writing voice, Bird was considered to be rathe Isabella Bird was very ill, so her doctor sent her to America to regain some of her strength. When she set of from England for the first time, she was already a mature woman, considered a spinster by her sister's family and boring. Over the course of the next decades, Bird would travel the world, sending back mesmerizing accounts of her travels. It is particularly entertaining to compare her accounts with other travelers accounts- despite her gorgeous writing voice, Bird was considered to be rather overweight and "unlovely" by some of the men who encountered her as she hiked throughout the west, including ascents of some of the more difficult peaks in what is today Rocky Mountain National Park. True adventure literature, and highly worth reading.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Chelsea

    I LOVED it. She writes all about her travels through mainly Colorado and the people she meets. Its never just a catalog of facts and things, but an amazing account of the time period in the 'wild west' full of colors, emotions, vivid detail. Amazing woman.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    OMG this is all true- the story of a 19th century woman-- so brave, adventurous and she is so matter-of-fact about it. Isabella has traveled all over the worlds and sends detailed letters to her sister. She has lots of other books including about her time in Hawaii. After Hawaii, she travels to Colorado. For someone who is a bit prim and proper, she knows how to handle horses, climbs Longs Peak (over 14,000 feet) in the snow, rides all day in freezing cold sometimes camping out but somehow manag OMG this is all true- the story of a 19th century woman-- so brave, adventurous and she is so matter-of-fact about it. Isabella has traveled all over the worlds and sends detailed letters to her sister. She has lots of other books including about her time in Hawaii. After Hawaii, she travels to Colorado. For someone who is a bit prim and proper, she knows how to handle horses, climbs Longs Peak (over 14,000 feet) in the snow, rides all day in freezing cold sometimes camping out but somehow managing, often in blizzard conditions, to find a tiny cabin or town that she is heading for following vague directions. SHe meets "Mountain Jim" in Estes Park. Well, much can be read in between her prim proper lines about him! He is so interesting, as is his dog. She is a bit wordy sometimes, but over and over there are descriptions that paint vivid pictures of the sunrise, the colors within a canyon, the crisp frost air, the biting wind, etc. Her brave and surefooted pony and Isabella's use of her tropical Hawaiian riding clothing still leave me wondering --How the heck did she survive!?! This book was extra fun for me to read as I am just 1/2 hour from Estes Park (and Mountain Jim). She may have even passed through what is now my town, Lyons CO. So, now when it's cold outside or a bit snowy, I think of her in her non-technical clothing and footwear, riding her pony all day, snow up to the pony's belly and fording through frigid streams to follow her dreams.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Very good tale, written in a series of letters to her sister in England, of Isabella Lucy Bird's extensive (and mostly solitary) travels in the Colorado Rocky Mountains during the late summer and fall of 1873. I am in complete awe of her - I'm pretty sure I would've curled up into a little ball and refused to continue once the temperature plummeted! And I enjoyed her compulsively readable style enough that I will definitely read more of her travels (some of which you can find at Project Gutenber Very good tale, written in a series of letters to her sister in England, of Isabella Lucy Bird's extensive (and mostly solitary) travels in the Colorado Rocky Mountains during the late summer and fall of 1873. I am in complete awe of her - I'm pretty sure I would've curled up into a little ball and refused to continue once the temperature plummeted! And I enjoyed her compulsively readable style enough that I will definitely read more of her travels (some of which you can find at Project Gutenberg).

  8. 4 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    An interesting travel-memoir, written as letters home by an Englishwoman of independent means, touring the Far West in 1873, centered on her time in Colorado, then the Union's newest state and still *very* rough around the edges. She does get to the major tourist attractions around today's Rocky Mountain National Park, at considerably more trouble and expense than a present-day traveler will meet. It was *much* less crowded, but you are likely to conclude, as I did, that some crowding is a fair An interesting travel-memoir, written as letters home by an Englishwoman of independent means, touring the Far West in 1873, centered on her time in Colorado, then the Union's newest state and still *very* rough around the edges. She does get to the major tourist attractions around today's Rocky Mountain National Park, at considerably more trouble and expense than a present-day traveler will meet. It was *much* less crowded, but you are likely to conclude, as I did, that some crowding is a fair tradeoff for paved roads, clean beds, cold beer and hot showers. 3.3 stars, recommended particularly to northern Coloradans

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tasha

    Isabella Bird was an adventuring marvel, especially for the time (1800s) of her travels. At times I had to remind myself that I was reading non-fic as her bravery and escapades were truly remarkable! I love books depicting nature as well and she was thoroughly descriptive. Very descriptive.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    Why did this truly remarkable woman ride 800 miles in 1873 through the Rocky Mountains in the dead of winter alone? She like many in England suffering from a damp climate came for the “camp cure” of the thin dry air of Colorado. But, beyond that she was mesmerized by the sublimity and ethereal beauty of the place. She stayed with families leading hard lives of subsistence, living in un-chinked log cabins where snow settled on her bed over the night. She lent a hand in all endeavors; herding catt Why did this truly remarkable woman ride 800 miles in 1873 through the Rocky Mountains in the dead of winter alone? She like many in England suffering from a damp climate came for the “camp cure” of the thin dry air of Colorado. But, beyond that she was mesmerized by the sublimity and ethereal beauty of the place. She stayed with families leading hard lives of subsistence, living in un-chinked log cabins where snow settled on her bed over the night. She lent a hand in all endeavors; herding cattle, baking bread, washing dishes and clothes. Observations made to her sister in a series of letters are telling. A hard working lack luster lifestyle spiced with tales of adventure from hunters, trappers around the fire in the evening became her routine. A desperado named Mountain Jim became her guide and companion on many of her rides through country she describes with the passion of the devout pilgrim. In her lifetime Ms. Bird traveled extensively writing letters from the Sandwich Islands, China, India,Japan and other exotic realms before she passed at 73. I truly admire this plucky lady’s zest for life and true Brit grit. www.lindaballouauthor.com

  11. 5 out of 5

    Rita

    In fall 1873 Bird travelled by train, apparently alone, from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe, where she rented horses and looked around up in the mountains. Then the train through Wyoming to Ft. Collins, Colorado. Then rented a horse again, staying with various settlers living in remote parts of the foothills of the Rockies., mostly struggling for a miserable existence. Then she gets lucky and finds a Welsh couple's farm in Estes Park, 'park' being a local term to refer to a large mountain valley wh In fall 1873 Bird travelled by train, apparently alone, from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe, where she rented horses and looked around up in the mountains. Then the train through Wyoming to Ft. Collins, Colorado. Then rented a horse again, staying with various settlers living in remote parts of the foothills of the Rockies., mostly struggling for a miserable existence. Then she gets lucky and finds a Welsh couple's farm in Estes Park, 'park' being a local term to refer to a large mountain valley where grass grows, rather than trees. Such 'parks' were the only places to try to do some farming. Anyway, the two Welsh couples who run the farm with several hired hands are quite successful, partly because of doing a lot of hunting on the side, and renting out cabins to tourists looking for adventure. Here Bird feels she's in paradise. The highlight of her stay is when a local trapper takes her up to the TOP of Longs Peak, the last 2000+ feet being mostly loose rock. In sub-freezing temperatures. She admits she wouldn't have done it if she had known what was ahead, but found the scenery all glorious up there and was endlessly thrilled to have done it. The book, published in 1878, is based on letters she wrote to her sister [in England], which she later turned into this book. I like learning what all she got up to, and how the settlers she came across lived. Her passion is describing the scenery she rides through, but I mostly can't keep my mind focused on her descriptions, don't know why. What a lot of spunk she had! And what hardships she was willing to undergo!

  12. 5 out of 5

    John

    May 2010 - A very interesting book. An English horsewoman traveling western USA in the 1870's. She rode a borrowed horse, Birdie, 500 miles in Colorado, by herself, in the winter, for pleasure. The idea I remember most is that Isabella felt safe (and was safe) traveling alone because westerners "have respect for a lady". Unless she was seeing with rose colored glasses, our civilization has deteriorated a lot. Safety and security are very valuable. July 2012 - At the time of the review above, I ha May 2010 - A very interesting book. An English horsewoman traveling western USA in the 1870's. She rode a borrowed horse, Birdie, 500 miles in Colorado, by herself, in the winter, for pleasure. The idea I remember most is that Isabella felt safe (and was safe) traveling alone because westerners "have respect for a lady". Unless she was seeing with rose colored glasses, our civilization has deteriorated a lot. Safety and security are very valuable. July 2012 - At the time of the review above, I had some concern that Isabella might have stretched the truth. I have researched everything I can find about her and the subject of western respect for a lady in those times that are often referred to as lawless. I read the book the second time with a different edition. (It was free on Kindle 7/1/2012 but on 7/10/2012 it was not free.) Everything I have found indicates Isabella told the truth. I recently read "The Gentle Tamers" by Dee Brown. About midway in the book I realized what I was reading supported Isabella's assertion that "westerners have respect for a lady". Dee Brown is a respected historian and "The Gentle Tamers" indicates that women were held in high regard out west. The book concludes by pointing out that Wyoming was the first state that passed woman's suffrage and that seven states west of the Mississippi passed woman's suffrage before it was ever passed east of that river.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kerry Booth

    Very interesting seeing Americans and American history thru the lens of someone not from here. Highly recommended if you would like to see which ‘western’ tropes are real, and which are not.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Panayoti Kelaidis

    I've been meaning to read this more decades than I care to say: more's the pity that I waited so long: this is a book to re-read again and again! It is a very quick and extremely entertianing read. Isabella Bird is one of a kind, incredibly bold--a burly mountain man would have had trouble keeping up with some of her innumerable cross-country treks in a single Colorado autumnal visit. Her lyrical penned descriptions of the Colorado Front Range will never be equalled (post Victorian writers would I've been meaning to read this more decades than I care to say: more's the pity that I waited so long: this is a book to re-read again and again! It is a very quick and extremely entertianing read. Isabella Bird is one of a kind, incredibly bold--a burly mountain man would have had trouble keeping up with some of her innumerable cross-country treks in a single Colorado autumnal visit. Her lyrical penned descriptions of the Colorado Front Range will never be equalled (post Victorian writers would never dare use such flagrantly magenta-tinted ink for one thing). Isabella was an astute observer who revels in her depictions and opinions. Anyone even SLIGHTLY interested in Western history generally, and Colorado history specifically should buy and promptly read this frequently reprinted classic and not wait as long as I did to revel in its lush descriptions of the austere Great Plains, the dingy, dusty, unruly towns and the magnificent mountain scenery and extremely colorful pioneer characters. I guarantee you: open it to any page and you will be hooked: Isabella rules!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Melody Charles

    My grandma gave me this book for my seventeenth birthday, 18 months before she died, with the inscription, "Melody, dear -- Isabella Bird will surely take you on a grand adventure! Hope you enjoy the trip." Nearly 13 years later, I've discovered that she was right, and I wonder what took me so long to set out for the Rocky Mountains of 1872. I guess I didn't expect much of an adventure, but was pleased to find that Bird was no passive observer. She immersed herself in the places she travelled, m My grandma gave me this book for my seventeenth birthday, 18 months before she died, with the inscription, "Melody, dear -- Isabella Bird will surely take you on a grand adventure! Hope you enjoy the trip." Nearly 13 years later, I've discovered that she was right, and I wonder what took me so long to set out for the Rocky Mountains of 1872. I guess I didn't expect much of an adventure, but was pleased to find that Bird was no passive observer. She immersed herself in the places she travelled, mostly on horseback and in fierce weather. She was foolish, really, embarking on one risky foray through the wild after another, yet her confidence is inspiring. I lived in Colorado for a decade, but there isn't as much wilderness left in this milennium, and I've seen relatively little. I laughed aloud to read Bird assert that to her "no place could be more unattractive than Colorado Springs," my hometown. She blames its ugliness on "its utter treelessness," which has certainly changed, but the barren quality of the plains persists in the shadow of Pike's Peak nevertheless. I feel somehow homesick for places I've only visited, which are much different than the lushly described, barely settled land Isabella Bird travelled. The crisp, thin mountain air ("rarefied," says Bird), has changed much less, undoubtedly, and I look forward to my next breath of it.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lena

    Isabella Bird was an English gentlewoman who first came to Colorado on her way back from Hawaii in 1873. In this collection of letters Bird wrote to her sister back home, she details her experiences as she rode over 700 miles, usually alone, though the mountains that fall. This is a spectacular gem of a book. Bird is an astonishingly brave person to undertake such a journey through an untamed landscape as winter was rapidly bearing down, but that she did so as a woman at that time is truly inspir Isabella Bird was an English gentlewoman who first came to Colorado on her way back from Hawaii in 1873. In this collection of letters Bird wrote to her sister back home, she details her experiences as she rode over 700 miles, usually alone, though the mountains that fall. This is a spectacular gem of a book. Bird is an astonishingly brave person to undertake such a journey through an untamed landscape as winter was rapidly bearing down, but that she did so as a woman at that time is truly inspiring. First and foremost, this is a love letter to the landscape she discovered here on her journey. She paints vivid portraits of the awe inspiring beauty in prose that could fairly be described as purple. Yet reading it, I couldn't help but feel every word she penned was justified by the unbridled majesty she was attempting to capture. Bird is no romantic and she also grimly describes mountainsides devastated by mining operations whose barren legacy we still live with today. In addition, she gives us images of early Cheyenne and a downtown Denver crowded with horses and pelt shops, not to mention my own town of Boulder, which she described as a "hideous collection of frame houses on the burning plane." (Oh, if she could see us now!) Bird's letters provide a gripping glimpse into what life in these early mountain pioneer communities was like. She spent much of her time in Estes Park when it consisted of a dude ranch and a dozen people. Though Bird was a wealthy woman, money was of little use when there were no fancy hotels to spend it on, banks were closed due to financial panic, and she was trapped by a storm for days on end in a log cabin with unchinked walls in sub-zero temperatures. At one point, she discusses how the hunters and trappers she shared the ranch with were so afflicted with cabin fever they obsessed themselves with attempting to keep her ink from freezing. As Bird traveled throughout the region, her reputation as the crazy English horsewoman began to proceed her and the rough and tumble men of the region accorded her a grudging respect. It was one that was clearly earned from events like the time she was caught riding on the plain in an ice storm. The blowing crystals stung her face, bringing tears to her eyes that froze them shut. She survived the storm with frostbite on her hands from constantly having to deice her lashes. It was undoubtedly adventures like this one that allowed her to earn the respect and confidence of the notorious Mountain Jim. He was an Indian hunter and animal trapper with a whiskey problem who guarded the entrance to Estes Park. Over the course of her time there, Jim served as her guide on several trips, and ultimately confided in her the tortured tale that led to his perception of himself as a fallen man. The insight Bird offers into characters like Jim, as well as other settlers she met who came for the "cure" offered by the high, dry climate, is fascinating. Not unsurprisingly for the time, her attitude towards the few Native Americans and Chinese laborers she observes is openly racist. But although she clearly prefers the refinements of her English race over white Americans as well, her observations of the differences between her homeland and this rowdy mountain culture are very thoughtful. I closed this book with a much greater understanding of the history of my state. In the wake of the floods that have devastated many of the regions she writes about, I was also grateful to be able to see anew the mountainous backyard I have come to take for granted through the eyes of a woman who was well traveled enough to know that there is no place else like it on earth.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jen (NerdifiedJen)

    First of all, I thought this book was great. Bird is unflinchingly honest (to the point where she actually made me mad a couple of times), and she was not shy about sharing her opinions as well as every detail, no matter how embarrassing, of her excursions. My biggest disagreement with her was her belief that Estes Park was the most beautiful and superior place in Colorado and all other natural sites were inferior, and in some cases, “hideous”. I have a really hard time thinking of any natural a First of all, I thought this book was great. Bird is unflinchingly honest (to the point where she actually made me mad a couple of times), and she was not shy about sharing her opinions as well as every detail, no matter how embarrassing, of her excursions. My biggest disagreement with her was her belief that Estes Park was the most beautiful and superior place in Colorado and all other natural sites were inferior, and in some cases, “hideous”. I have a really hard time thinking of any natural area in the state as “hideous”. My biggest surprise came when she dismissed Garden of the Gods completely, saying something along the lines of ‘if I were a divinity...I would not choose to reside there’. Garden of the Gods is one of my favorite things about living here. I go at least 2-3 times a month. Despite her use of strong adjectives, both in the positive, but mostly in the negative (hideous, repulsive, etc.), I really enjoyed this read. When I started out, I expected a very isolated, and extremely dangerous existence for Bird in the “wild west,” but what I found was quite a bit different. The story was not just about the natural beauty that she encountered along the way and the hardships she faced, but there were also portraits of the people she met, some with very famous names, and some extremely detailed and lifelike. Today, one would expect someone embarking on a journey like this to have the luxury of camping equipment or even hotel stays, but the fact that settlers would open their doors to strangers traveling through and give them room and board surprised me. It was not in keeping with the idea I had in my mind of life in the Colorado Territory in the 1870s. I was very interested in her relationship with Jim and her characterization of him as an extremely dark man and a drunk, but also one of her closest companions, and a handsome English gentleman, at that. My other preconceived notion that I had when I first began reading was that Bird would have a really hard time accomplishing her task because she was a woman. It was not that I thought her incapable, but I believed that it would be much more dangerous for her in the “wild west” and that she would be specifically targeted by less than savory characters, many of whom she met along the way. On the contrary, it seemed as though being female was actually to her benefit under most circumstances. She was treated very courteously by those she visited, and was often given shelter, food, or help when she may not have been otherwise. That surprised me, and it gave me a more well-rounded idea of what a journey like this would have been like.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Trisha

    I kept thinking that surely this couldn’t really have been true. How could a wealthy English woman, born in the 19th century and used to a life of relative ease, travel alone through the Rocky Mountains in the fall of 1873? But she was no fictional character and this series of letters written to her sister back home in England is no hoax. She was one gutsy Victorian lady and apparently quite used to roughing it on her own, because no sooner had she finished a trip to the Sandwich Islands then sh I kept thinking that surely this couldn’t really have been true. How could a wealthy English woman, born in the 19th century and used to a life of relative ease, travel alone through the Rocky Mountains in the fall of 1873? But she was no fictional character and this series of letters written to her sister back home in England is no hoax. She was one gutsy Victorian lady and apparently quite used to roughing it on her own, because no sooner had she finished a trip to the Sandwich Islands then she set off again for San Francisco to travel by train through the Sierra Nevadas and on to Cheyenne, Wyoming and from there to Fort Collins, Colorado to begin her journey on horseback into the Rocky Mountains. Her goal was Estes Park, and her letters are an amazing account of her adventures. She often relied on word of mouth to point out which trail to follow and had no qualms about wandering alone into remote areas where she described even the roughest “mountain men” as perfect gentlemen when in the presence of a lady. She traveled either by foot or “rent-a-horse” (which apparently was pretty easy to do back in the days when there was no other method of getting from place to place.) In an era that pre-dated motel chains and tourist resorts, there was an informal network of shacks and cabins inhabited by settlers who were ready to offer a bed for the night to strangers who needed a place to stay before setting off again to wherever they were headed. Despite freezing temperatures, winter storms, rattlesnakes, wild animals and treacherous mountain paths, Isabella always managed to find her way to where she wanted to be, hiring local people when necessary to serve as guides. She loved the mountain scenery and rhapsodized at length about sunsets, sunrises, snow on the mountain peaks and the lush vistas that stretched out all around her as she traveled into Estes Park where she managed to make it to the top of Long’s Peak after a truly horrifying climb, dressed in her “Hawaiian riding costume” (whatever on earth that was!) Through it all, she managed to write faithfully to her sister back home in England, filling her letters with detailed accounts of all her adventures and somehow making it sound like it was nothing more strenuous than a stroll across the English moors.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Sammis

    One hundred thirty-two years before Linda Moore set out for the BookCrossing convention in Texas on her bike "Beastie", Isabella Bell set out by ship, train and finally beastie (in this case, horse) for Estes Park in the Rocky Mountains. Like Linda, Isabella wrote about her entire journey in a series of seven letters which were later published in book form, A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains. Linda blogged about the experience and later published her experience as A Little Twist of Texas. When One hundred thirty-two years before Linda Moore set out for the BookCrossing convention in Texas on her bike "Beastie", Isabella Bell set out by ship, train and finally beastie (in this case, horse) for Estes Park in the Rocky Mountains. Like Linda, Isabella wrote about her entire journey in a series of seven letters which were later published in book form, A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains. Linda blogged about the experience and later published her experience as A Little Twist of Texas. When I read through the first letter I was afraid I was reading another Riding the Iron Rooster because the first letter is nothing more than a long diatribe about how lousy the second leg of her trip was (San Francisco to Sacramento) and much she regretted leaving Hawaii. But by her second letter I was madly in love with the book. Isabella's letters reflect her mood as well as record the places and people she met along the way. When she is tired she grumbles. When she's well rested, she thrills at her adventure. She even includes passages about the history of the areas she visits and all I could think was: "She's snarfing!" If you like travelogues and you like history, get yourself a copy A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains. Then read A Little Twist of Texas and enjoy a modern version of the adventure.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Albert

    Isabella L. Bird travelled the World during the mid to late 1800's and became a well-known travel writer. One of her adventures was through the Rocky Mountains of the early 1870's where comforts were few and dangers were plentiful. Through a series of poetically penned letters, Bird tells of an Old West which now only exists in the pages of history. Bird was an articulate and sensitive lady who moved with ease amongst desperate men, trying circumstances, and unimaginable hardships, but her journ Isabella L. Bird travelled the World during the mid to late 1800's and became a well-known travel writer. One of her adventures was through the Rocky Mountains of the early 1870's where comforts were few and dangers were plentiful. Through a series of poetically penned letters, Bird tells of an Old West which now only exists in the pages of history. Bird was an articulate and sensitive lady who moved with ease amongst desperate men, trying circumstances, and unimaginable hardships, but her journeys were set always against the pattern of a Wild and wondrous West. Of particular interest was the friendship which developed between this proper lady and the outlaw "Mountain Jim" Nugent. Nugent was so feared that the mention of his name was used to rein in recalcitrant children. Yet, this one-eyed Indian fighter--once a handsome man--showed the deepest respect for Bird. She reciprocated, thinking him a most worthy human being. One hopes that rumors of their romance were based in fact. Bird's daring, her compassion, her love for the wilds of frontier America make for an interesting and thoughtful read. Sometimes, I thought I was on a great adventure her stories were so exciting. I don't know how she survived the Rocky Mountains, a lady alone on horseback, but I am so ever glad she did.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    Living in the Denver area, this was a really fun read! Because of my location, I was able to visual precisely where Miss Bird was throughout her travels. I learned so much about the areas around where I live. Believe me, I still want to take a day trip up to Estes Park after listening to all of her expansive declarations of love for the location. I was amazed at how much trouble this woman would go through simply to explore the world. I wouldn't deal with that much snow and trouble today let alon Living in the Denver area, this was a really fun read! Because of my location, I was able to visual precisely where Miss Bird was throughout her travels. I learned so much about the areas around where I live. Believe me, I still want to take a day trip up to Estes Park after listening to all of her expansive declarations of love for the location. I was amazed at how much trouble this woman would go through simply to explore the world. I wouldn't deal with that much snow and trouble today let alone on a horse, in severe weather, wearing crappy clothes, with no money and in the 1800s! Wow. What a woman. She was truly amazing.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Tracy

    This was a collection of letters by Isabella Bird about her wanderings on her horse, by herself through the Rocky Mountains. She was an English lady and it was hard to imagine how she got through these mountains on her own, sometimes in snow storms, and never got lost. This was in the late 1800s so it was interesting to see how her descriptions of Colorado matched up with what I know about it. This book made me homesick for the Rockies again.

  23. 5 out of 5

    drowningmermaid

    I know it shows my own subcultural bias, but... I wish this woman's life were a video game.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I enjoyed this book so much more than I expected to! This is the collection of letters which Isabella wrote to her sister about her travels through the Rocky Mountains in the 1870’s. Isabella is travelling on her own; sometimes with companions she picks up along the way. She has a beautiful gift for describing what she sees and experiences along the way. Her reason for the journey is to see Estes Park. She travels from San Francisco to Colorado and then into the mountains. She tells her sister a I enjoyed this book so much more than I expected to! This is the collection of letters which Isabella wrote to her sister about her travels through the Rocky Mountains in the 1870’s. Isabella is travelling on her own; sometimes with companions she picks up along the way. She has a beautiful gift for describing what she sees and experiences along the way. Her reason for the journey is to see Estes Park. She travels from San Francisco to Colorado and then into the mountains. She tells her sister about all the people she encounters, a very motley collection of humanity. People that have been sent to the mountains by their doctors back East in an attempt to improve their health. People who are building ranches and farms and communities out of nothing. She meets desperadoes and dandies, devoted wives and their hardworking husbands, law-breakers and those trying to create law and order where none exists. Isabella gets to try her hand at herding cattle, climbing mountain peaks, slogging through blizzards, fording streams and rivers. It seems like she has the opportunity to experience every hardship the west has to offer but also all the beauty and glory that await in the Rocky Mountains. This book was first published in the 1870’s but don’t let that put you off. If you enjoy stories of the Old West or travel books I think you will find this book worth reading. Isabella’s writing style is very approachable and not stuffy, as some books from the 19th century feel to today’s reader. Try something different today and pick up “A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains”. Happy Reading!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Tania

    This sounds like the kind of book that should be dull, but I was actually quite enthralled by it. There's something deeply fascinating about reading the personal letters of an an independent woman traveling alone though the rockies in the 1870s. Isabella Bird is a bit uppity at times, but there's no denying she's also a badass. I know I wouldn't have to guts to travel alone, unarmed, in the mountains in the dead of winter. Some of her descriptions were so harrowing, I could hardly believe she CH This sounds like the kind of book that should be dull, but I was actually quite enthralled by it. There's something deeply fascinating about reading the personal letters of an an independent woman traveling alone though the rockies in the 1870s. Isabella Bird is a bit uppity at times, but there's no denying she's also a badass. I know I wouldn't have to guts to travel alone, unarmed, in the mountains in the dead of winter. Some of her descriptions were so harrowing, I could hardly believe she CHOSE to life this lifestyle. At times she describes sub-zero temperatures where she must keep her ink jar on a stove to prevent the ink from freezing while she writes. Now THAT'S dedication. Imagine having to sweep snow out of your cabin every morning because your walls have giant gaps in them, or plunging into a frozen river when your horse falls, and still keep going for miles. I especially enjoyed her accounts of the other mountain people she met along her travels, particularly the "desperado", Mountain Jim, whom she clearly carried a torch for. All her descriptions of nature's majesty were also really lovely, and makes me want to go out and revisit the rockies again someday soon!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Thom Swennes

    The old and almost forgotten art of letter writing that once flourished from the pens men and women before the twentieth Century is presented in A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella L. Bird. In almost poetic verse her letters are much more than just readable and interesting but a glimpse of the west that will never be seen again. Isabella Lucy Bird (October 15, 1831-October 7, 1904) was born in Boroughbridge, England and spent a large part of her life traveling. In 1872 she left Engl The old and almost forgotten art of letter writing that once flourished from the pens men and women before the twentieth Century is presented in A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella L. Bird. In almost poetic verse her letters are much more than just readable and interesting but a glimpse of the west that will never be seen again. Isabella Lucy Bird (October 15, 1831-October 7, 1904) was born in Boroughbridge, England and spent a large part of her life traveling. In 1872 she left England for Australia. From there she then traveled to New Zeeland and via Hawaii sailed to San Francisco. Her life is an enigma to me as few women would travel alone and rough the wilderness for pleasure. When she wrote the letters to her sister, Henrietta, which made up this book she was 42 years old and traveled extensively through Colorado and Utah. I think this is a very remarkable work and think it is well worth reading as it gives the reader a look at the Wild West from a woman’s point of view.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    This is the third travellog/memoir of Isabella Bird that I've read and again thoroughly enjoyed. Bird was an extraordinary woman who traveled independently in the 1870s, mostly on horseback through the wilds of which ever local she visited. In this book she begins her journey from Lake Tahoe and then through the Rocky Mountains. Her travel is documented through letters to her sister back in England. She travels throughout the Rockies but describes both the scenery around Estes Park and the many This is the third travellog/memoir of Isabella Bird that I've read and again thoroughly enjoyed. Bird was an extraordinary woman who traveled independently in the 1870s, mostly on horseback through the wilds of which ever local she visited. In this book she begins her journey from Lake Tahoe and then through the Rocky Mountains. Her travel is documented through letters to her sister back in England. She travels throughout the Rockies but describes both the scenery around Estes Park and the many cattle rustlers, trappers, pioneers and mountain people she stays with. The descriptions of the beauty and wild state of this land during the four fall and winter months she lives there is very entertaining and you feel like you have never been as free and unfettered as she was. It's hard to decide if I think of her as a very brave or foolish woman and it depends I suppose on how lucky you are not to encounter death in the wilderness. Regardless she led an amazing travel filled life of extreme adventure.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    I am completely enchanted with Isabella Bird as an amazing woman and as a writer! Just a few chapters into A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains, I had to return the copy I borrowed from the library and purchase a copy. There were so many beautiful passages, sentences and phrases that I felt compelled to highlight for future rereading. Her descriptions of both the beauty and the harshness of Colorado's geography and weather are worthy of being framed and displayed in an art museum! She paints in- I am completely enchanted with Isabella Bird as an amazing woman and as a writer! Just a few chapters into A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains, I had to return the copy I borrowed from the library and purchase a copy. There were so many beautiful passages, sentences and phrases that I felt compelled to highlight for future rereading. Her descriptions of both the beauty and the harshness of Colorado's geography and weather are worthy of being framed and displayed in an art museum! She paints in-depth portraits of the individuals she encounters on her journey. I am eager to read another of her books. I have downloaded several onto IPad. It is only a matter of time before the desire for a paper copy of one of them will overcome me.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    Great saga of one woman's journeys through late 19th century America, primarily in Colorado and primarily by herself. Her letters and diary entries include wondrous descriptions of people (esp. Mountain Jim for whom I've no doubt she had the hots, big time) and wildlife and landscapes- including flowers! trees! rivers! streams! and etc.; Bird named them all in all their living and changing brilliant colors!- she encountered along the way. I admire Ms. Bird- she was a great writer and a fearless t Great saga of one woman's journeys through late 19th century America, primarily in Colorado and primarily by herself. Her letters and diary entries include wondrous descriptions of people (esp. Mountain Jim for whom I've no doubt she had the hots, big time) and wildlife and landscapes- including flowers! trees! rivers! streams! and etc.; Bird named them all in all their living and changing brilliant colors!- she encountered along the way. I admire Ms. Bird- she was a great writer and a fearless traveler-and apparently an accomplished equestrian, too. postscript: if the cow roundup in which Bird participated while she was living in Estes Park, CO were to be made into movie, it would be as great, or maybe even better than, the buffalo stampede in 'How the West Was Won'. Seriously.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    The author is truly an amazing person. In 1873 she explores the Rocky Mountains/Estes Park on her own -- well, connecting with local people for assistance. She is courageous, tough, bright, curious, and -- did I say tough! She is an adventurer with obvious financial resources, but very unusual for the late 1800 to be such an independent woman. I didn't rate the book higher as her writing is so-so. The book is a collection of letters to her sister, and while it gives a brutally hones description The author is truly an amazing person. In 1873 she explores the Rocky Mountains/Estes Park on her own -- well, connecting with local people for assistance. She is courageous, tough, bright, curious, and -- did I say tough! She is an adventurer with obvious financial resources, but very unusual for the late 1800 to be such an independent woman. I didn't rate the book higher as her writing is so-so. The book is a collection of letters to her sister, and while it gives a brutally hones description of conditions and people, it does get tedious. There are some really fine moments and insight, but would have been better if there was an editor who worked on the script.

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