The Story of the Lone Pine

Editor's Note: The information in this article was compiled by Dr. George Hoffmeister of Hastings, Neb., who has a keen interest in the famous tree, which was very special to his family.

On Jan. 6, 1950, a mix-up occurred in the Estes Park Trail, Estes Park's newspaper On the front page was a eulogy to the Lone Pine Tree on the High Drive in Rocky Mountain National Park, but the accompanying picture was that of a limber pine on top of Mt. Olympus east of Estes Park.

The Lone Pine Tree grew in a small crevice in a pile of solid rock along the Old High Drive Road. It was a small ponderosa pine tree that grew into a tortuous S-shaped tree and obviously had suffered and struggled to survive. There were no branches below where a deer could reach the needles.

The tree was at one time the most photographed tree in the world. When the seed fell into the small crack in the rock is unknown, but the tree was well known to early Estes Park travelers. It grew to about eight feet high and flourished until the late 1940s when it began to die, apparently from tourists picking needles and bark as souvenirs.

The famous Lone Pine Tree was portrayed on color postcards, was sketched by Estes Park artist Lyman Byxbe and photographed extensively by photographer Fred P. Clatworthy, as well as hundreds of amateur photographers.

Miss Blanche E. Bugh of Columbus, Ohio opened a gift shop directly across the road from the Lone Pine Tree on July 1, 1928. The shop was known as, “The Lone Pine Tree Trading Post”, It stood on High Drive, west of the Huntington Lodge, the summer home of the Theodore S. Huntingtons. Mrs. Huntington was a sister of Miss Bugh.

The trading post was built of logs, had two rooms and rustic furniture and a magnificent stone fireplace.

The shop sold Italian and Spanish pottery, Cape Cod pewter, costume jewelry and “bridge prizes.” It is unknown how successful the venture was but in May 1932, Miss Bugh moved the stock and fixtures of the Lone Pine Trading Post into the village of Estes Park.

In 1943, the Huntington Lodge and the nearby log cabin trading post were sold to Dr. George Hoffmeister of lmperial, Neb., who owned it until the National Park Service acquired it in 1966. The Hoffmeister’s named the summer home “Lone Pine Lodge.”

The High Drive at one time was the main road to Grand Lake, but when Trail Ridge Road opened it was closed at the west edge of the Hoffmeister property, High Drive leaves U .S. 36 at Beaver Point and continues for about two and a half miles west to a point where it is blocked by large stones. The Lone Pine Tree was about 120 yards west of the road's dead end.

The Estes Park Trail edition in question stated that. “During 1949, one of the most famous trees in America succumbed to time, tide and inquisitive humanity. It was the Lone Pine on the High Drive, the most photographed single timberline specimen of the area. Over the years, bits of the branches disappeared. Last year, the gnarled veteran was reduced to a misshapen trunk, then that rotted away from its rocky home and the cycle of nature was complete.  Longs Peak is in the background of this familiar photograph.”

This eulogy should have been accompanied by a picture of the S-shaped ponderosa pine instead of the photo of the limber pine.   After the tree died, the trunk skeleton was "stolen" from the pile of rocks and was probably used for decoration like a piece of driftwood.

In 1953, an attempt to replant a tree in the crack in the rock by the Omaha Methodist Hospital intern class failed. In 1954 a small seedling ponderosa pine was found across the road from the pile of rocks and was transplanted by Dr. and Mrs. George Hoffmeister of Hastings, Neb., the son of the elder Hoffmeisters. This tree survived and is healthy, but it grows straight and tall lacking the character the old tree had.

--Estes Park Trail Gazette