The diverse state of COLORADO veers from the outstretched flats of the east and the colossal mountains of its central region to the arid canyons and plateaus of the west. In the north, Native Americans hunted and trapped in lush mountain valleys in summer, and returned to the prairies for the winter; in the south, the Ancestral Puebloans of Mesa Verde grew corn on their isolated mesas and shared in the great early civilization of the Southwest.

Parts of what is now Colorado accrued to the US at different times: the east and north were acquired under the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, while the south was won 45 years later in the war with Mexico. Gold-hungry Spaniards came through in the sixteenth century, and US Army Colonel Zebulon Pike ventured into the mountains on an exploratory expedition in 1806, but the Native American way of life only became seriously threatened with the actual discovery of gold west of Denver in 1858. At that time, Colorado was still part of Kansas Territory; it became a territory in its own right in 1861, and a state in 1876. The distractions of the Civil War gave the Native Americans the opportunity to fight back, but they were soon overwhelmed. From then until the end of the century, Colorado boomed; the quantities of gold and silver extracted from the mountains did not compare with the riches found in California, but were sufficient to fuel a rip-roaring frontier lifestyle.

For the modern visitor, one of the most obvious places to visit is Denver, at the eastern edge of the Rockies and the biggest city for several hundred miles around. Outside Denver, the northern half of the state holds many popular destinations, starting with the dynamic college town of Boulder and spectacular Rocky Mountain National Park. Most of the resorts that make Colorado the continent’s foremost skiing destination snuggle into the mountains west of Denver: Summit County attracts the most visitors, Vail is best for terrain, and Aspen boasts the glitziest après-ski scene. 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. Pikes Peak towers over the state’s second-largest city, Colorado Springs, but beyond that, the state’s southeast quarter is mostly agricultural plains. In the southwest, Mesa Verde National Park preserves remarkable cliff cities left by the ancient Ancestral Puebloans, while the former mining towns of Durango and Crested Butte stand revitalized in the mountains.

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  • Denver
  • Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
  • Mesa Verde National Park