A deep-rooted love of wildlife, photography, storytelling and of course, the Rocky Mountains has been the driving force behind one Estes Park woman’s devotion to full-time writing and photography.
Dawn Wilson moved to Northern Colorado in 2002 to pursue her passions in a place where she could best focus her work. Now, Wilson has published a new book, 100 Things to Do in Estes Park Before You Die. The book provides knowledge-packed ideas for anyone who would like to discover the adventure, history and incomparable terrain which Estes Park has to offer.
We had the chance to sit down with Wilson to discuss the inspiration behind her new book and got a glimpse into some of the reasons why she chooses to write about Estes Park. From learning more about the town’s fascinating history to discovering more ways to enjoy the area’s open spaces, Wilson says even she discovered a lot about Estes Park while writing the book.
Read the full interview below!
(Author Dawn Wilson on her backpacking trip to Sandbeach Lake)
What made you decide to write this book?
I attended a writer's conference in May 2022 and had a casual conversation over a beer with a woman who turned out to be an acquisitions editor for Reedy Press, the publisher of the book. We got talking about some of the titles and series she works on, one being the 100 Things To Do series. I thought Estes Park would make an ideal subject since we have a national park that attracts a lot of people but not everyone is interested in hiking or can get a reservation to visit the park as much as they would like. There are so many other things to do in town, so it seemed like an ideal book.
How does contracting to write the book work?
After meeting with the acquisitions editor, I put a proposal together, which included a biography about me and a sizzle graph — content about, “Why me? Why now?” I also wrote up a preliminary list of 120 things to do in Estes Park, just in case a few didn't work for the book or the publisher didn't like some of the ideas. The proposal was accepted in July 2022 and a contract was written and accepted with a schedule, payment details and marketing expectations by both parties.
What is your background in writing?
I studied communications in college where I pursued a variety of writing styles, including news reporting, mass media, magazine article writing and public relations writing. Since then, I have written several newspaper columns, including my current three weekly columns for the Estes Park Trail-Gazette. I self-published a book in 2011 called Colorado: Flora, Fauna and Landscapes from the Perspective of Women. My writing and photography have also been published in regional and national magazines, including Colorado Life, Colorado Outdoors, Wyoming Wildlife and Outdoor Photographer. I currently have more than 600 bylined articles to my credit for my photography and writing.
How long does it take to complete a process like this?
That can be pretty variable. To make the goal of having this book on the shelves for the busy summer 2023 season, I needed to have a completed manuscript to the publisher by September 15, 2022. I was close, finishing it by early October. There were about five rounds of review on the manuscript and then, after about a month of page layout by the publisher, another five rounds of review on the pages. The book went to press in February for a March 15, 2023 publishing date. That is a very aggressive schedule for a book. I know authors who have worked on books for a decade; some finish a book a year. It all depends on the topic, the length of the book, other commitments on an author's plate and any deadlines that make sense for the success of the title.
How long have you been in Estes Park, and how much have you seen it change? How has seeing these changes contributed to your writing?
I have been coming to Estes Park since my first visit in 1997. I moved to Fort Collins, Colo. in 2002 and started visiting the area on a more regular basis. After 15 months of full-time travel, I settled in Estes Park in 2016. It has changed tremendously in some ways and then remains the same in many others. It has been fascinating to meet and interview some of the people who have been here for multiple generations. I have read several books about early settlers and travelers and love that I can still see the exact places they saw. The mountain views don't change. What has changed is the volume of traffic, the development of land and some of the urgency people bring with them. Estes Park is a wonderful place to slow down and enjoy the views. If you want to escape some of the downtown hustle and bustle, hike high, like up Kruger Rock and then look down on the valley. You can still really see how much open space there is here and can appreciate that the view today of the peaks is exactly as it was hundreds of years ago.
(Photo by Dawn Wilson of St. Catherine of Siena Chapel)
Was there anything you never knew about Estes Park that you learned through the process of writing this book? If so, what were some of them?
The history, absolutely the history. Estes Park is one of the few, if not the only, mountain towns in Colorado that really never had much of a mining history. Estes Park's history was much more recreation focused. That brought a completely different type of visitor to the town. Learning more about Enos Mills and F.O. Stanley made me realize that these two men from very different classes of society really had a huge impact on this little town. Much of the infrastructure for Estes is thanks to Stanley. Much of the conservation efforts are a result of Mills' enthusiasm for the outdoors. It made an interesting combination that built a town that still follows that path today. Hopefully, Estes Park can keep that balance and be a destination for people of all income levels. Oh, and as someone from New Jersey where salt water taffy, I thought, originated, it was fascinating to know we have a taffy shop that has been making the gooey treat since 1935!
How does Estes Park as the featured destination make this book stand out as compared to books in the series featuring other destinations?
Many of the other titles in this series from Reedy Press focus on large cities and whole states, like Tampa Bay, Ann Harbor, Atlanta, Baltimore, Alaska and Kansas. Estes Park, although not the first location in Colorado (they have already published books on Colorado Springs, Denver and Fort Collins), is certainly one of the smallest towns they have featured in the series. A lot of people travel through Estes Park each year, more than the population of many of the books in the series, and that gives this book a unique perspective.
If you could have chosen any other destination to write this book about, would you still have chosen Estes Park?
I have a few other ideas floating in my head that I want to pitch, but Estes Park is definitely where my heart resides and made sense for the first one for me to write.
Is there anything about Estes Park that made writing the book more enjoyable or exciting for you?
There are a couple of things in the book that I have never had a chance to experience, like staying at The Stanley Hotel or Lord Dunraven's cabin. That comes down to cost mostly, but it gives me a perspective that there will always be things I can still get out to experience for the first time. Writing it also reminded me that there are many, many great things to experience, and I need to do that more frequently. For example, visiting Eagle Plume's in Allenspark or enjoying a drink on a sunny afternoon on the deck of the Stanley Hotel needs to be in my days more often than they are. Life can often get hectic, especially as a content producer where I live by constant deadlines, but Estes Park reminds us that there is enjoyment in slowing down each day, even if just to take in the view.
(Photo by Dawn Wilson overlooking downtown Estes Park)
What was the most enjoyable part of writing the book?
Learning more about a town I thought I already knew a lot about. Everyone I spoke with and the people I met were fantastic and loved to talk about Estes Park as much as I loved writing about it.
Do you plan on writing any more books?
Absolutely! I am actually getting ready to pitch a project for Colorado's 150th anniversary and I have a couple more ideas for Reedy Press. I also have a few columns I am eager to turn into books, hopefully, sooner than later, and I have been writing an adventure narrative for several years but it seems to always take a back seat to more pressing work.
What advice do you have for other writers with the prospect of writing a book?
Be concise in your pitch. Know your subject. Be prepared for reading your book many, many times. And find a place where you can dedicate time to write. I had a tough time writing at home so I went to Coffee on the Rocks. It may have been a place with lots of people coming and going, but it really worked for me. It was a comfortable location where I could set up and then write without interruptions. Plus, they have a very tasty Raz Latte that kept me going on long days of writing.
(Wilson with her newly published book)
You can purchase Wilson’s Book, 100 Things to Do in Estes Park Before You Die, here.