Progressive and increasingly multicultural, COLORADO is the snowboarding, outdoorsy mountain state that produces more beer than any other, gave us South Park in 1997, and in 2012, legalized marijuana – its culture is often more Californian than cowboy, albeit without the ocean. Yet Colorado remains proud of its traditional Western roots, and it’s not all mountains; a third of the state is covered by plains as flat as Nebraska, and in the south the dry, desert terrain resembles New Mexico. And it’s only liberal to a point; parts are still very conservative (Obama won the state in 2012, but 46 percent voted Republican), and it was here that horrific mass shootings took place in Columbine (1999) and Aurora (2012).
Beyond the trendy capital Denver, the obvious attraction for travellers are the Rocky Mountains, littered with ski resorts such as Aspen that double as hiking and biking nirvanas in the summer, and with old silver towns like Leadville and Crested Butte. The most spectacular terrain and wildlife is protected within Rocky Mountain National Park and around Pikes Peak, which towers over the state’s second largest city, Colorado Springs. The far west of the state stretches onto the red-rock deserts of the Colorado Plateau, where the dry climate has preserved the extraordinary natural sculptures of Colorado National Monument, while the southwest boasts Mesa Verde National Park, home to remarkable cliff cities left by the ancient Ancestral Puebloans.