Award-winning writer and naturalist Mary Taylor Young has been writing about the landscape and heritage of Colorado and the American West for 33 years. Her 20 books include ”Rocky Mountain National Park: The First 100 Years” and ”Land of Grass and Sky: A Naturalist’s Prairie Journey.” Mary was a National Park Service Artist-in-Residence at Rocky Mountain National Park in 2012. In 2016, she was the spring commencement speaker for Colorado State University College of Natural Sciences, her alma mater from which she earned a BS in zoology.
Mary was honored to be chosen the 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award winner by the Colorado Authors League. She has taught writing to thousands of adults and children since 1988 at many venues, including the Rocky Mountain Conservancy Field Institute at Rocky Mountain National Park. She lives in Castle Rock with her family.
The following is an interview with Mary Taylor Young.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.
What inspired you to write this book?
The Cheley family, owners of Cheley Colorado Camps, loved my book “Rocky Mountain National Park: The First 100 Years” and contacted me about writing the centennial history of their iconic Colorado summer camp in Estes Park. I was so impressed with the history of Cheley Colorado Camps, how it is entwined with the history of Colorado, the thousands of lives Cheley has affected positively, and the family’s ongoing commitment, even in the fourth generation, to the founder’s vision to build character in youth through challenges and experiences in the outdoors, that I was happy to jump in.
Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole and why did you select it?
The excerpt is from Chapter Two. I chose it as it gives an overview of the camp in time and place, reflecting also the greater Cheley community of campers, camp families, Cheley family and staff.
Tell us about creating this book: any research and travel you might have done, any other influences on which you drew?
I spent months delving into 100 years of files, photos and memorabilia the Cheley family has of their business. Working with fourth-generation camp director Brooke Cheley-Klebe, we found wonderful material, heartstring-tugging stories, fun, funny and evocative historical photos that tell their story.
The memory of third-generation director, Don Cheley, was an invaluable resource. The history of his family and business are all there in Don’s vibrant memory. Plus he knows everybody—he could just get on the phone with people like Sen. Hank Brown (a former camper and counselor) to ask a question.
I interviewed Don several times, and also sat down with him, his wife Carole and sister Carolyn around the kitchen table with coffee and cookies and we chatted our way through decades of Cheley history, lore, anecdotes and stories.
I also interviewed certain long-time campers (including Sen. Brown, who wrote our foreword) like Tom Hornbein, an iconic American mountaineer who was in the first American team to summit Mt Everest. The Hornbein Couloir on Everest is named for him. He credits his future path in mountaineering to coming to Cheley as a 12-year-old camper and discovering the mountains.
Endless stories of how Cheley changed lives made this project so rich and with a sense of greater purpose.
What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book?
For 100 years, as camp ended every season, the Cheleys turned their energy into making sure the next camp summer was full and a great experience, meaning cataloging and archiving their vast amount of material was a low priority. Yet that was the primary source for information, so I did a lot of digging. This wasn’t a story I could research much online or in a library.
Walk us through your writing process: Where and when do you write? What time of day? Do you listen to music, need quiet?
I am a 33-year career, full-time freelance writer. I have always, out of necessity, conducted my writing as a business (which it is, and had to be if I wanted to make a living!). I have a sunny home office and write, or do related tasks (interviewing, research, bookkeeping), every day. I maintain business hours though might not be in my office every minute of the day, 9 to 5.
What’s your next project?
I am working on the history of Colorado State Parks for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Working title: Colorado’s State Parks Story.
The book is an anthology and I am managing editor, working with a group of about 15 writers who are CPW employees and retirees. We have a draft manuscript and hope to have a printed book by the end of 2021.
I have a novel which will hopefully be out next year, with a traditional publisher — don’t want to talk details yet.
Shopping for a publisher for “Bluebird Seasons: Witnessing Climate Change In My Piece of the Wild,” which I describe as a memoir of climate change – this is at proposal stage, not written yet.
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