Adventures in the Rocky Mountains – Penguin Great Journeys

I knew Isabella Bird was a Victorian solo traveler, who had visited far-off places such as China on her own. What I didn’t know was what a great writer she actually was.

Adventures in the Rocky Mountains contains excerpts from her book, A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains (1879). Surprisingly for a travelogue, here you’ll find a variety of experiences and emotions – from courage and trepidation to hilarity and friendship. I was really impressed by Isabella’s fearlessness, paired with her knitting needles and an honest confession of her physical weaknesses. Still, this middle-aged lady exhibits far more stamina than I could ever dream of, whether it’s braving out the freezing cold in a cabin or helping cowboys round up their cattle! Through it all, she focuses on the exhilarating beauty of the Rocky Mountain landscape, which is the subject of all her voluntary hardships and a lesson to all of us (privileged to travel comfortably) not to take it for granted.

Among other quirky characters, Mr. “Mountain Jim” Nugent features frequently: a handsome, rugged desperado who is determined Isabella shall achieve her goal of climbing Pikes Peak, Colorado. Behind the genteel prose, it’s clear Ms. Bird and Mountain Jim have a thing for each other, but Jim’s criminal past and alcoholism makes it a futile (and bittersweet) romance.

Modern readers should know that Isabella was a person of her time in many ways, so there are some derogatory references to Native and African Americans early in the book. Interestingly, in a later letter, she does strongly condemn the way the U.S. government treated the Native Americans (p. 93โ€“94).

In both history and human element, Adventures in the Rocky Mountains packs a lot of punch for a mere collection of excerpts. When I got to the end, I regretted not having read the full original, and I probably will someday. Recommended if you want to read an eye-witness account of the Old West from a unique perspective.


  1. i know i read the original, but i only recall bits of it… her adventures in Japan were more startling: she didn't have much good to say about that country… i've got her travels in the middle east as well… i'll get to it some day… maybe…


  2. Interesting – I'd definitely like to read that one! I also have Gertrude Bell (sometimes called the \”female Lawrence of Arabia\”) on my list, who I think came a little later.


  3. GB was an amazing person… courageous to the point of crazy… i don't think i've read a bio of her, tho… they made a tv movie about her once, if i'm not mistaken…


  4. I was waiting for your review of this one. Sounds like a great read. I can't imagine in those times as a woman having the independence and fortitude to set out on one's own. Very gutsy and the making of a wonderful adventure!


  5. Yeah…sometimes I wasn't sure if she was excessively brave or exceedingly naive! She would write casually of incidents like killing a rattlesnake or getting lost by herself. Either way, a great story. ๐Ÿ™‚


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