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Being one of the square western states does not mean that Colorado is square at all. If you're looking for skiing, fly fishing, hiking and an infamous cannibal this is the state for you. The traditional home to several Native American tribes, the first Europeans were Spanish settlers following the Rio Grande. After the Mexican-American War the Colorado Territory was created and eventually became a state on August 1st 1876. Today the state of Colorado is known for its great outdoor activities and delicious breweries.
The geography of the state of Colorado is diverse, encompassing both rugged mountainous terrain, vast plains, desert lands, desert canyons, and mesas. The state of Colorado is defined as the geospherical rectangle that stretches from 37°N to 41°N latitude and from 102°03'W to 109°03'W longitude (25°W to 32°W from the Washington Meridian). Colorado is one of only three U.S. states (with Wyoming and Utah) that have only lines of latitude and longitude for boundaries.
The summit of Mount Elbert at 4,401 metres elevation in Lake County is the state's highest point and the highest point in the entire Rocky Mountains. Colorado has approximately 550 mountain peaks that exceed 4,000 metres elevation. Colorado is the only U.S. state that lies entirely above 1,000 metres elevation. The state's lowest elevation is 1,010 metres at the point on the eastern boundary of Yuma County where the Arikaree River flows into the state of [Kansas], which is higher than the highest point of 18 states.
A little over one third of the area of Colorado is flat and rolling land. East of the Rocky Mountains are the Colorado Eastern Plains of the High Plains, the section of the Great Plains within Colorado at elevations ranging from roughly 1,020 to 2,300 metres. The Colorado plains are usually thought of as prairies, but actually they have many patches of deciduous forests, buttes, and canyons, much like the high plains in New Mexico as well. Eastern Colorado is presently mainly covered in farmland, along with small farming villages and towns.
The Continental Divide extends along the crest of the Rocky Mountains. The area of Colorado to the west of the Continental Divide is called the Western Slope of Colorado. Drainage water west of the Continental Divide flows to the southwest via the Colorado River and the Green River into the Gulf of California.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is a United States National Park located in western Colorado and managed by the National Park Service. There are three entrances to the park. The south rim entrance is located 24 kilometres east of Montrose, while the north rim entrance is 18 kilometres south of Crawford and is closed in the winter. The park contains 19 kilometres of the 77-kilometre long canyon of the Gunnison River. The national park itself contains the deepest and most dramatic section of the canyon, but the canyon continues upstream into Curecanti National Recreation Area and downstream into Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area. The canyon's name owes itself to the fact that parts of the gorge only receive 33 minutes of sunlight a day, according to Images of America: The Black Canyon of the Gunnison. In the book, author Duane Vandenbusche states, "Several canyons of the American West are longer and some are deeper, but none combines the depth, sheerness, narrowness, darkness, and dread of the Black Canyon.
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The Great Sand Dunes National Park is located in southern Colorado and is one of the latest national parks created, in 2004. Before that it was a National Monument. Compared to many other national parks in the country, including the most famous two in Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park and Mesa Verde National Park, the park is not visited that often. Still, it's a popular place to hang out for half a day or more if you are keen on taking longer hikes. Most of the sand originated in the San Juan Mountains, about 65 miles to the west. Wind and water are the primary movers of the sand. Streams, creeks, melting snows and flash floods brought bits of rock out of the mountains to the valley floor. Southwesterly winds then began the slow process of bouncing the sand toward the low curve of the Sangre de Christo Mountains. There they pilled up at the base of the mountains or dropped into creeks to be washed back out toward the valley floor. Although research is still continuing, most researchers agree that the situation is like this at least for 12,000 years but probably much longer.
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Ever see the picture of Cliff Palace in the American Southwest and wonder, where in the world is that? Mesa Verde National Park is where the majority of easy to access cliff dwellings are located and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These stunning homes were built in cliff alcoves, which were dug out by natural springs, in the sides of canyons of Mesa Verde near present day Cortez (Colorado). The builders of these amazing towns are the ancestors of the current day Pueblo People that live further south in current day New Mexico and Arizona. The ruins at Mesa Verde are considered to part of the Ancestral Pueblo People heritage. In the past, the term Anasazi was used to describe the inhabitants of these ruins. This is no longer a proper term because Anasazi is actually a Navajo word that means “ancient enemies.” Current day Pueblo peoples find the term Anasazi offensive.
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Rocky Mountain National Park in northern Colorado was USA's tenth national park, a status it achieved in 1905. The park is approximately 40 kilometres from north to south and 32 kilometres) east to west and covers a particularly wild and scenic part of the Colorado Rockies. Much of the area is over 3,600 metres above sea level and here the landscape resembles the arctic tundra. Main access is via Estes Park on the eastern side and the smaller Grand Lake on the west. These are the only towns bordering the region and both offer a good choice of accommodation. As its name suggests, the main feature of the park are the Rocky Mountains themselves with the continental divide ridge passing more or less through the middle of the park. The rivers on the eastern side flow eventually to the Atlantic while for those on the west, the Pacific is a final destination. The only road in the park to cross the divide is Trail Ridge which does so at Milner Pass. The altitude varies from just over 2,100 metres around Estes Park to over 4,200 metres at the summit of Longs Peak.
Article: Ski Areas in Colorado
Colorado is a big area for skiing. There are over a dozen major ski areas with terrain for any ability level. Although many of the bigger ski areas have become very corporate and expensive there are still some smaller ones with lots of charm. Remember that there is plenty of skiing outside of I-70 or Summit County.
Colorado's weather is best described as diverse and extreme, with big differences between seasons and between places in the state. The eastern parts are generally much drier than the central and northern parts. Generally temperatures decrease with altitude while precipitation increases. Snow and temperatures below zero are common in the Rocky Mountains and the extreme north in winter, while at the same time daytime temperatures can be over 20 °C in the south. But even here nights in summer can be below zero! Extremes range between 48 °C and -52 °C, a difference of exactly 100 °C. Generally, weather is best for travelling around between late May and early October.
The climate of the Eastern Plains is semi-arid with low humidity and moderate precipitation, usually from 380 to 630 mm annually. The area is known for its abundant sunshine and cool clear nights. West of the plains and foothills, the weather of Colorado is much less uniform. Even places a few miles apart can experience entirely different weather depending on the topography of the area. Most valleys have a semi-arid climate, which becomes an alpine climate at higher elevations. Humid microclimates also exist in some areas. Generally, the wettest season in western Colorado is winter while June is the driest month.
Denver International Airport (DEN) is located on the northeast side of the city and is one of the largest airports in the world by size! It is the main gateway to Colorado, apart from a few much smaller regional airports.
Around 20-25 airlines serve Denver and international destinations include Mexico City, Montreal, Toronto, London, Cancun, Cozumel and Vancouver. All other destinations are domestic ones, including flights to Alaska, Hawaii, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, Houston, Seattle, Detroit, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Boston, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Dallas.
Most of the domestic flights are operated by Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, Skywest Airlines and budget airline Frontier Airlines.
The California Zephyr travels between Denver and Chicago and Denver and Emeryville (San Francisco).
The main two Interstates that cross Colorado are the I-70 east to west (connecting to Kansas and Utah respectively) and the I-25 north to south (connecting to Wyoming and New Mexico respectively). They meet near Denver. The third Interstate is the I-76 which runs northeast from Denver towards Nebraska, meeting the I-80 there.
Check Greyhound for options.
There are some intrastate flights that can be of use.
Many international rental companies have a wide selection of rental cars and these include Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Thrifty, Enterprise, Budget and Alamo/National. Most companies will require you are at least 25 years of age, although younger people might be able to rent cars at slightly higher rates and with some insurance differences as well. A national driver's license is usually enough, but an additional international one is recommended. Also note that it usually costs more to include lots of other extra things. For example extra drivers, GPS, the first full tank, SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance), PAI (Personal Accident Insurance, usually covered already at home), road assistance/service plan, and drop-off costs for one-way rentals.
If you want to book a car, it is recommended that you book your car before arriving in the USA. This is almost always (much) cheaper compared to just showing up. Also, try and book with a so-called 'broker', which usually works together with a few or many car rental companies and can offer the best deal. Some examples include Holidayautos, Holidaycars and Sunny Cars. Some of the cheapest deals to book from Europe, includes Drive-USA, which also has a German version.
For more information and tips about renting cars and campers, additional costs, insurance, traffic rules, scenic routes and getting maps and fuel it is advised to check the USA Getting Around section.
Colorado has a number of National Scenic Byways which offer a great way to explore the state crossing beautiful landscapes. Mostly, there are lots of national parks, state parks or monuments along the way and it's generally a better alternative than the faster but boring Interstate Highways.
Colorado is filled with a large variety of restaurants with different cuisines. You can find almost everything you would ever want to eat or drink. But what, exactly, is Colorado cuisine? There are several indigenous foods worth trying, sought out for their associations with this Rocky Mountain state.
First, there is the cliché Denver Omelette, an egg dish prepared with cheddar cheese, diced ham, onions, and green bell peppers. It probably originated on Western cattle drives, cooked up by cowboys, and most likely was not invented by a French gastronome as a "dénuer omelette," or a tasteless American omelette deprived of all class. Contrary to popular belief, you can get a Denver Omelette in Denver, but it will simply be one egg item out of many on the menu. This omelette doesn't inspire the hometown pride of, say, a Philly cheesesteak in Philadelphia.
Along with Pasadena, California, and Louisville, Kentucky, Denver is one of three cities that claim to have invented that quintessential American food, the cheeseburger. Made with American cheese layered on top of a patty of ground beef, cooked on a griddle or grill, and placed on a bun with the usual sides of pickles, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, and condiments, the cheeseburger is a fast food classic. In 1935, Louis Ballast of the Humpty Dumpty Drive-In in Denver received a trademark on the term, "cheeseburger." So Denver was arguably not the first place of origin for the cheeseburger, but it's the official one.
Sometime during your stay, a giggling friend will attempt to get you to eat a plate of Rocky Mountain Oysters. When asked, even your waiter or waitress will be coy about giving a straight answer. Don't be fooled, however. There are no fresh water molluscs thriving at high altitude. These oysters are bull or sheep testicles, flour battered and pan fried.
Many chefs reference Colorado's pioneering past and work with fresh game. Quail, rabbit, elk, venison, moose and even rattlesnake are served, ranging from the kitchen tables of families that still hunt all the way to four star restaurants.
Three meats, however, have deep associations with Colorado: Buffalo, Colorado Rack of Lamb, and Fresh Water Trout.
More aptly described as "bison," buffaloes once roamed the Great Plains of the U.S. in the millions. Nearly hunted to extinction for their hides, buffalo have been making a quiet comeback on ranches as a heart-healthy alternative to other meats. It is lower in cholesterol than either chicken or beef. Buffalo is a red meat best served medium rare--cooked too long and it will toughen. A plethora of restaurants serve bison as steaks, hamburgers and jerky, and in pot roast, meat loaf, even tacos and spaghetti. If you have access to a grill during your stay, buy some ground bison at the supermarket and make your own buffalo burgers. (Just be sure to mix the meat with oatmeal and egg as a binding agent, since bison is so lean, it tends to fall apart).
One hundred years ago, Greek immigrants settled in Western Colorado, bringing with them a millennia-old sheep raising tradition. Many of these high mountain ranches have morphed into the state's ski resorts, but a handful remain. In summer time, young lambs are still grilled in open charcoal pits in the Greek fashion, while Colorado lamb is a much sought-after gourmet ingredient. Be sure to ask for all-natural lamb raised in Colorado with no growth stimulants or added hormones.
Hiding in pools in mountain streams are wild brown, speckled and rainbow trout. The rainbow is a fresh water cousin of the salmon. Catching these skittish fish in the outback of the Rockies is half the challenge, since they are extremely sensitive to vibrations and hide when something approaches the stream. But once caught, trout meat is very flavorful and clean, if prone to tiny, throat-sticking bones.
During the late summer months, be sure to try some of Colorado's best produce. Melons from Rocky Ford, sweet corn from Olathe, peaches from Palisade, cherries from Paonia and chili peppers from Anaheim will enhance any Colorado vacation.
Colorado and drinking are often linked. It dates back to the grizzled fur trapping, mountain man days of the 1840s, when some of the state's pioneers would hole up in Bent's Fort and drink themselves blind with earthen jugs of "trade whiskey' - a dubious combination of "red eye" whiskey, hot chili peppers, plug tobacco and gunpowder. (A gourmet recreation of the drink can still be sampled at The Fort Restaurant, in Morrison, Colorado).
Colorado is only behind Vermont, Oregon and Montana in microbreweries per capita and considers itself the beer capital of the United States. (Denver is sometimes referred to as the, "Napa Valley of Microbreweries"). The magazine "Modern Drunkard" is headquartered in Denver. Brewpubs are open in almost every town.
One of the most popular adult tourist activities in Colorado is the Brewery Tour circuit. From the megabrewer Coors in Golden, to the refined tastes of New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, the Front Range of Colorado offers many opportunities to see beer being made.
Denver also hosts the Great American Beer Festival every Fall. This three day bacchanal celebrates micro, medium and mega brews from across the country with awards handed out to the judges picks for best brews.
There are also less celebrated, but equally worthy, meaderies and vineyards throughout the state. Colorado's nascent wine industry has exploded in the last 20 years. While there are now over 70 wineries in Colorado, ranging from the mountains to the plains, the communities of Grand Junction and Palisade on the Western Slope rightly label themselves as, Colorado's Wine Country. The high desert farming town of Palisade witnessed the birth of the state's modern vineyards in the '70s and early '80s. Even today, a majority of the state's wine grapes are grown in this tiny Victorian town in the federally-designated Grand Valley American Viticultural Area. (AVA). Palisade also hosts the Colorado Mountain Winefest every September at harvest time.
The earliest history of wine in Colorado, however, dates back to the nineteenth century. The first recorded wine production in Colorado was 1899. It was Colorado Governor George A. Crawford, the founder of Grand Junction in 1881, who first saw the Grand Valley’s potential for grape production. Crawford planted 60 acres of wine grapes and other fruit on Rapid Creek above Palisade.
Unfortunately, these early forays into viticulture ended with Prohibition in 1916. The General Assembly of Colorado enacted a statute and Colorado went "dry" four years before the passage of the 18th Amendment, which created national prohibition. Commercial winemaking ceased in Colorado and Palisade's grape vines were ripped out of the ground by authorities. It took over 70 years for the state's wine industry to reestablish itself.
Newer to the scene are Colorado's hard liquor and spirits distillers. A handful of artisan distillers such as Stranahan's in Denver and Peach Street Distillers in Palisade are creating bourbon, whiskey, gin and other flavored hard grained alcoholic beverages in limited batches.
There are dozens of hotel and motel chains, ranging from budget to top end. Allthough they are not the most charming accommodations, they usually have a very decent midrange service with good rooms and are generally good value. At least you know what to expect and in some cases they are either the only or the best option in the area. Some of them include:
We have a comprehensive list of accommodation in Colorado searchable right here on Travellerspoint. You can use our map to quickly compare budget, mid-range or top of the range accommodation in Colorado and areas nearby.
Ask rhislop a question about Colorado
I'm a Coloradoan, lived here for the majority of my life. I've lived in the Boulder/Denver area and now live on the western slope (18 miles from the Utah border). I believe that Colorado is one of the most beautiful states in all of America and will gladly provide information to travellers about our great state. We have National Parks, Monuments, Forests, wildlife, skiing, wineries, breweries, scenic-byways, fishing, hunting, and many other interesting sites and sounds for travellers to enjoy. Happy Trails to you, rhislop
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