An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

September 12, 2009

Sprague Lake

Our final destination in Rocky Mountain National Park was sort of chosen randomly. The Sherpa Girls told us that the eastern side of the park was a bit more crowded as it was closer to population centers, especially to the very touristy town of Estes Park. However there were several places we could stop before we left the park. Reading the map I noticed an area known as Sprague Lake. This intrigued me as my grandfather was a Sprague, and the Sherpas had never been there, so they were up for it too.

Because of my ancestry, I was interested in how the lake got its name and at the Moraine Park visitors center asked yet another helpful NPS employee. He was a summer intern, and as we were leaving the center I heard his supervisor ask him outside to talk. We were walking right behind them, and I was able to hear her say how much she valued his work and how well he fit in. She was leading up to asking if he wanted a permanent position there. I heard all of this but as our paths diverged I could not here his answer. Anyway, this young man told me that Abner Sprague came to the area in 1875 and was an early supporter of Rocky Mountain National Park. He was one of the first settlers and was from the mid-west, maybe Illinois. He had come to find gold, then tried cattle ranching, but he (nor the cattle) were prepared for the extent of the winters. He finally found his niche operating a guest ranch that allowed visitors a taste of the west, where they could ride, hike, and hunt for abundant local game. They could also fish for trout from a lake that Sprague enlarged by damming it and thus - Sprague Lake.

In the picture below, Abner Sprague is the bearded gentleman just right of center.

Today Sprague Lake is used a little differently. You can still fish, but through the financial assistance of numerous companies, it has been made completely accessible for wheelchairs. There are even trails leading away from the lake into the wilderness where the disabled can enjoy back country camping.

Just a mile or so away from the lake is Moraine Park where Abner Sprague first settled and where a small town eventually developed. Later on his nephew even built a golf course here before the whole areas was sold to the park service in the early 1960's. In Colorado many places have the name Park in their name, and usually it indicates a relatively flat area surrounded by mountains. Geologically Moraine Park is what it is now because a once powerful glacier scoured the valley floor pushing everything out of its way. In the picture below, the ridge on the far left side of the shot was made up of boulders pushed aside by the glacier.

The eastern side of the park typically gets less rainfall and the plant species change accordingly. Thickly growing Spruce and Lodgepoles give way to more open areas full of Ponderosa Pine with its distinctive orange bark.

Apens seem to grow on either side of the park and this grove was outside the entrance to Sprague Lake, underneath was a carpet of wildflowers.

I could not identify all of the wildflowers, but there was a lot of pink Mondarda, blue Campanula and the interesting Mariposa Lily (Calochortus gunnisonii).

Before I wrote this post I tried in vain to see if I could trace any of my ancestry to Abner Sprague. I have not run into many people with that last name so I thought the connection would be possible. Apparently it is a very common name in the north and mid-west, but not so in the south. I don't know how true it is, but part of my family lore is that my great-great-grandfather Sprague fought for the Confederacy while his brother(s) fought for the Union and the two sides of the family fell out of touch. Since I am not sure I am related to the Colorado Spragues, I'll hang on to the possibility.

Since this is my last Colorado post (until our next trip), I think it only fitting to end with a quote from Abner Sprague, " ...there are those you can call nothing but tourists. Those that go tearing from coast to coast and back again on their vacations are tourists. When they reach home from their travels they are not certain where they saw this or that...". I want to assure my maybe-so maybe-not uncle, that now that I have reached home, this tourist does indeed know where I saw this and where I saw that, and I have filed enough memories to keep my mind wandering for years.


  1. You have spun a great tale of history and shared another beautiful spot in the Rockies.
    I just want to know how you got that chipmunk to pose like that?

  2. The chipmunk is the cutest thing ever. He looks like he's conducting an orchestra.

    The wildflowers are beautiful. I love those Mariposa Lilies.

  3. Janet,
    My son was tempting the Chipmunks with imaginary food. They seemed to have a pretty good gig along the trail at the lake.

    Sweet Bay,
    I thought the Mariposas were intresting too, I liked the structure. I read that the bulbs are edible and helped keep many a Morman alive in the early Utah years.


  4. I want to live there now. Minus the winters. I know I'm a Minnesota boy, but.... gorgeous, gorgeous photos I'm pleased to have seen and followed with your narrative. Mr Sprague.

  5. Wow, I didn't know Calochortus grew in the Rockies.