Except for a white dusting of snow or the solid face of a sun-soaked rock, from a distance, the towering horizon of peaks surrounding Estes Park doesn’t seem to change. Time and time again, we have heard returning travelers express the solace found in that remarkably unchanged landscape. A view that reminds us of the great unknown and the appreciation of the beauty we are so lucky to encounter.
One of those returning travelers is Lexie Coyle. Now a student of Texas A&M University, Coyle spent her childhood taking vacations to her family cabin and summers working at Brownfield’s here in Estes Park. In her article featured in Fathom Magazine, “A Cabin Built by the Rockies,” she recalls her formative experiences with the Rocky Mountains as she grew up and worked in a place she now holds dear to her heart.
After reading her article, we sat down with Lexie to learn more about why she considers Estes Park and the Rocky Mountains home. Read the interview below!
What childhood memories stand out the most to you in Estes Park?
Each summer in Estes Park held a happy familiarity. I could always count on some things like the fireworks on the Fourth of July, a hike up to Emerald Lake, careening down the slide at Fun City, mini golf at Tiny Town and pizza at Poppy’s. But more than that, it was sitting on the porch working on summer homework in front of the mountains. It was the 50 dollars my grandpa would hand out to each grandchild at the beginning of our month in Estes. The memories are happy because I was with the people I love most and because we got to share all of our favorite places with our friends.
(pictured: Coyle and Family)
Describe more about how the mountains actively calm the anxiety you experience.
The mountains remind me that there is more than myself. They are so much bigger than I am, and that reminds me of how big and powerful my God is. When I know that I am small, it helps me to put my worries into perspective. Suddenly, my anxiety feels less oppressive and life feels less threatening. Looking at the mountains, I am too filled with awe and wonder to think about anything else. Everything fades away, and all that is left is peace.
Why do you think mountains, in particular, have this effect on you? For some, it may be the beach or the desert. Why do you find mountains so calming?
I think this has something to do with my history of going to the mountains. For me, Estes has always meant summer and family. It is about the tradition of coming back every year and having a second home. My sister and I have discussed this before. We both love the beach, but it does not have the same effect on us. We know that whatever happens in the year we are gone, it will be ok because next summer, we will come back. No matter how changed we are or how changed the world may seem, the mountains will be the same. That cannot be said about the beach or the desert in the same way.
Do you think happy childhood memories are linked to the solace you find in the Rocky Mountains?
There is no doubt about it. I like to think I see the mountains a little differently than a first-time visitor. When I drive up to Many Parks Curve, I see the rocks we climbed every year just to wave and smile down at our parents. When we walked through Moraine Park, I see the curve in the river where I learned to fly fish with my dad. When we arrive at Rock Cut on Trail Ridge Road, I see the point where we took our Christmas card picture every year. The park and the town are not just places to me. They are memories and significant life events. All of the time we have spent there, more than really anything we have done, is what helps me to feel so at home.
What are your favorite trails, hikes, and things to do when you return to Estes Park?
This question is hard for me because there are so many things that I love, and it is hard to choose. I’ll try my best to pick a few. When we arrive, our first hike is almost always Emerald Lake. In recent years, Mills Lake has also become a favorite. Sprague Lake is our favorite spot for sunrise, and Rock Cut on Trail Ridge is our go-to for sunset. In town, we always stop for ice cream at Hailey's, shop at Brownfield’s and pizza at Poppy’s. When I’m on my own, I like to walk to Lake Estes and take the loop around. Often, I’ll work in a stop at Kind Coffee as a part of that loop. Truly you can not go wrong in the town and the park. Each hike is special, and each store or restaurant is filled with lovely people.
What is the first thing you do each time you return to Estes Park?
I sit out on the porch, normally with a book in hand. Then, I take a long deep breath and smell the pine trees and the fresh air. There’s nothing like it. Usually, my next stop is at Brownfield’s to see my friends and co-workers. Then, we drive into the park to get a closer look at the mountains we have missed so much since we have been away.
(pictured: Coyle's family cabin)
What is it about Estes Park and our Rocky Mountains that you think stands out to you and your family compared to other destinations in the country?
For me, it is the people. Even before I worked in Estes for the summer, I had friends that I looked forward to seeing every year. I think each person who ends up living in Estes or visiting regularly comes back because they have felt the same pull of peace. I know we all have something in common because we all share the same love. I have been to a lot of National Parks in my life; they were always at the top of the list when we decided on family vacations. But none of them felt the same. Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park represent solace in a way that none of the other parks ever have.
When you think about Estes Park and the Rocky Mountains from afar, what is the first thing that comes to mind?
Longs Peak and the front range. The shape of those mountains lives etched in my mind's eye. Seeing them is connected with being home. When we round the last curve of the mountain pass and drive across the lake, I know I am back and that all is well.
How do you think you would be different today if you had not grown up with these experiences in the Rocky Mountains?
I do not think I would have the same love of beauty. I grew up in art classes, and I am also currently pursuing a degree in animation. Part of growing up in the mountains was understanding that the God I believe in created the overwhelming beauty all around me. I believe he made it for no other reason than he loves to make beautiful things. He is a creative God, and when I paint or work on animation projects, I am acting in his image. This brings me so much fulfillment and joy. I feel most connected to my faith when I am in the mountains because I feel closest to creation.
What would you say to someone who has never seen Estes Park or the Rocky Mountains and may think visiting any mountains will be good enough?
You will not understand it until you see them. You can not totally get it until you’re walking through Moraine park and the peaks stretch into the sky on all sides of you. There might be other mountains, but there’s only one Rocky Mountain National Park. It has been beautifully preserved, and it’s waiting for you.
What is the most “Estes Park” thing you can think of?
Elk wandering through Bond Park. It's the perfect image of the town and the way it is still inextricably connected to nature and the park. You can see the strip of shops and the mountains simultaneously while sitting down for a picnic. Then, out of nowhere, a bull elk will wander into view. That just does not happen anywhere else.
When did you work at Brownfield’s, and what was that experience like? Have you worked anywhere else in Estes Park?
I started working part-time at Brownfield’s while I was in Estes when I was 16 or 17, but I had known Jamie, Don, Anne, and the other staff there for much longer. I came back to work full-time in the Summer of 2021 and have not ever worked anywhere else. The people I worked with became a second family and some of my most cherished friends. It was genuinely the greatest working experience I have ever had. I have never felt more appreciated and encouraged than in my days there. It was so fun to chat with each customer, learn where they were visiting us from and give suggestions about what hikes to try in the park. We did a lot of hiking ourselves. It was not out of the question to see the Brownfields staff driving into the park at 4:30 in the morning to get a hike in before opening. We even climbed Hallet and Flattop to take pictures at the top in staff shirts.
(Pictured: Lexie and Manager of Brownfield's, Jamie Palmesano)
What is it like to not be technically an Estes Park “local” but to have such deep ties and such a deep sense of home in it?
It is an odd sensation sometimes. I calculated it once, and over my lifetime, I have spent almost two years in Estes Park. It is weird to have spent so much time in a place that is not technically your home. Estes is home in a way, even if it's only for a month or two at a time.
Lexie is an animator, writer, and artist based out of Bryan, TX. You can see more of her work by following her on Instagram @lexiecoylecreates or on her website at lexiecoyle.myportfolio.com.