Book Review: “Death, Despair, and Second Chances in Rocky Mountain National Park”

This isn’t a novel and far from anything I’ve read before aside from maybe a textbook. And there’s actually a little story behind why it ended up on my TBR list.

While working in my favorite job at an outdoor store in Grand Lake, the west entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, I found a copy of Death, Despair, and Second Chances in Rocky Mountain National Park nestled near the register. On the slower days, I’d crack it open and read a passage. I was pretty interested in some of the stories because they happened practically in my backyard. I wanted to borrow the book and actually read it front to back but never did. And since I had moved on from working full time, I decided to add it to my want list and last Christmas it was under the tree with other National Park gifts.

Now I do have to issue a trigger warning for anyone that is easily scared by other people’s misfortunes. Don’t take the title of this book lightly. Yes, there are a few second chances, but most of the tales end in tragedy. The author, Joseph Evans, outlines nearly 300 people’s deaths from 1884 (before RMNP became a national park) to 2009 (a year before the book was published). The book is broken down into categories based on the nature of the deaths (or almost death). Some sections are bigger and have more stories than others such as the “Falls” category. Other’s are smaller but still interesting, like aircraft crashes. Each chapter highlights a handful of stories in detail and then ends with a collective list of all the fatalities.

I give tremendous kudos to Evans for the extensive amount of research that must have gone into finding all these stories and retelling them. I think he did a great job considering the content and creative restrictions. There were discrepancies in the writing style though that sometimes made it difficult to get through a given section. I think better editing could have helped make it flow better. Now with that being said, I know it is more of an educational book rather than a fictional novel and that flow isn’t something easy to achieve. One element that was written very precisely were the passages about safety. These were the lessons that should be learned from other people’s demise. Evans peppered them into almost every chapter with information pertinent to the content from that chapter. As someone who has done my fair share of self-education on outdoor recreation safety, none of the information was new for me, but for someone who didn’t grow up spending lots of time in the outdoors, it’s great information to read over.

Overall, it was a good book that I enjoyed reading, but it felt like I was reading for school rather than for pleasure which wasn’t my cup of tea. I think it’s a great read for someone interested in history or for someone curious about outdoor recreation and the safety precautions that need to be respected. So if that’s what you’re looking for, give it a read.

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