Colorado is a diverse mosaic of spectacular terrains, from the snowcapped peaks of the forested Rocky Mountains in the west, to the vast plains and dry desert stretches of the east. The state is very much a large outdoor park, attracting vacationers and sports enthusiasts. Many of the travelers are particularly drawn to the Rocky Mountains for its breathtaking scenery and multitude of opportunities for skiing, fishing, hunting, camping, biking, and backpacking. These mountains reach peaks of 14,000 feet, the highest in the U.S. outside of Alaska, and are part of millions of acres that make up the national forests, parks, and recreation areas of Colorado – which themselves foster colorful canyons, deep gorges, mesas, and even Dinosaur graveyards like the Dinosaur National Monument in the northwest. Even visitors who are not “nature lovers” are typically amazed by the beauty and tranquility of this state. Around the Colorado mountains are several world-class resorts like Aspen, Vail, Breckenridge, and Beaver Creek that hail among its visitors rich celebrities and powerful politicians.
The Colorado Mountains and plateaus are also rich with minerals and precious metals, producing gold, silver, tin, uranium, granite, sandstone, basalt, clay, oil, and coal, among other valuables. The state’s deep history as a mining state has left numerous ghost towns and remains of mining camps like St. Elmo, Vicksburg, Silverdale, and Columbia City that testify to a time when life was rougher albeit simpler. These abandoned museum sites with their Victorian shacks, railroad tracks once run by steam locomotives, and shanty saloons lined along dusty streets paint a portrait of the quintessential Old West – certainly an interesting historic and educational diversion from the glamorous ski resorts of the Rockies or the natural hot springs of spa cities like Glenwood Springs. And, of course, there are the Native American ruins of millennia-old adobe-and-stone villages once home to tribes like the Apache and the Cheyenne.
The region that makes up Colorado today was inhabited by Native Indians for more than 13,000 years. The Spanish explored the area in the mid-16th century after it had established the colony of New Mexico. The French, however, were the ones who claimed and took control of Colorado when they established the colony of La Louisiane at the turn of the 18th century, claiming the entire drainage basin of the Mississippi River. Sixty years later, they signed over administration of Colorado to the Spanish, but then later reacquired it secretly with the Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1800. In 1803, French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte sold the colony to the U.S. as part of the Louisiana Purchase, after which much of the exploration of Colorado took off.s
In 1858, Colorado grew in population after gold was discovered in present-day Denver. When silver was discovered not too long afterwards, a wave of settlers poured into the state in what is now historically referred to as the 1859 Pike’s Peak Gold Rush. Mining camps and small towns were set up by the ‘59ers. To administrate the area and the growing number of residents, the region was organized by the U.S. into the Territory of Colorado. By 1876, the territory was admitted into the union, becoming the State of Colorado.
For much of the late 19th and early 20th century, Colorado grew around its mining industry, from precious metals and minerals to coal. After these mines closed, Colorado switched to agriculture and was also aided by the establishment of several federal facilities including NORAD, the U.S. Air Force Academy and other federal agencies. In recent years, Colorado has diversified into high-technology and scientific research industries. And tourism continues to be a huge draw with its national parks and world-renowned ski resorts.