COLORADO, the Centennial State

What to see

Cortez Route 666
Four Corners Four Corners Monument
Glenwood Springs Hot Springs
Ski Resorts Aspen - Snowmass - Copper Mountain - Frisco - Breckenridge - Vail
Colorado Springs Pikes Peak - 1960 Boy Scout Jamboree
Royal Gorge Park, Gorge and Bridge
Pueblo Rosemount Museum
Article 1960 Boy Scout Jamboree
Other pages other states | articles

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This is an extract of what to see in this state, with small photos. You will find the full description, history and full-sized photos, in my e-book View America: West Mountain - Part 3

In the travel series View America, West Mountain - Part 3 covers Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico. It is not a traditional travelogue, but a non-commercial and more or less objective chronicle of an in-depth exploration of these states. Each state is described with its own brief historical background and its main sights, tourist attractions and points of interest.

My book does not describe lodgings, restaurants or entertainment, except where these may interact with the narrative. It is illustrated with more than 150 full-sized photos.

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COLORADO is also known as the Centennial State because it joined the U.S. on the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. The name Colorado comes from Spanish, and it means tinted or colored, which was how Spanish explorers named the Colorado River. In 1876 Colorado joined the U.S. as the 38th state. The capital and largest city is Denver.

Colorado has 4.3 million inhabitants, with a density of 16 per km2. However, 80% of the population lives in a narrow band of 185 miles (300 km) around Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo. By 1900 most Indians had been removed and sent to other states, since they were in the way of the prospectors. But by 2000 their numbers had increased again to 45,000, most of which are Ute, Sioux and Navajo.

The most visible natural features of Colorado are obviously the Rocky Mountains, that cover two thirds of the state and present the most outstanding panoramas. The lowest point is some 3,280 feet (1,000 m) above sea level, and the highest peaks rise up to an elevation of 14,100 feet (4,300 m), but their average altitude is an incredible 6,790 feet (2,070 m)! Though these mountains are a great source of various minerals, they have nevertheless been a serious obstacle for further development.

In 1858 there was a Gold Rush to Cherry Creek near Denver (hence the saying: Pikes Peak or Bust!), and mining towns literally erupted everywhere. But three years later the Gold rush was over and people left the mountains. Afterwards the cattle industry and mining of natural gas developed. After 1950 tourism stared developing, and the ski resorts Vail, Aspen and Steamboat Springs came into being.

In Boulder, the University of Colorado Museum depicts the state's history, and the Buffalo Bill Museum near Golden documents the life of the famous Buffalo Bill Cody. The well-known Pikes Peak towers in Pike National Forest, and Denver's United States Mint produces more than five billion coins per year!

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Cortez : Route 666...

Route 666...

Special about Cortez is that Route 666 used to run through it. It ran through Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, and was called the Devil's Highway. That was the unfortunate consequence of the absence of an odd highway number to join highway 66.

Unfortunate, because the biblical number 666 is called the Number of the Beast, a reference to the devil. This number seemed to give offense, so in 2003 this heretic highway number was simultaneously changed in several states, and it became Highway 491...

the Four Corners monument

The Four Corners monument is the exact location where four states share a common border point (New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona). But the monument also marks the boundary between two semi-autonomous Native American governments, the Navajo Nation, which maintains the monument as a tourist attraction, and the Mountain Ute Tribe Reservation.

At this junction of four state lines a monument was built, consisting of a special tourist stand with four footprints. These allow a couple to have a most remarkable photograph taken, with each one of the four feet standing in a different state! Around the monument, local Navajo and Ute artisans sell souvenirs and food. Despite its remote and isolated location the monument is a popular tourist attraction.

the Four Corners monument 1 the Four Corners monument 2

Popular ski resorts


Colorado's prestigious ski paradise Aspen is located at 7,875 feet (2,400 m) and about 37 miles from Glenwood Springs. If you want to be part of the Jet Set, it is definitely the place to be. The highway leading to Aspen has four lanes, and it was probably built with the same Jet Set in mind, because once past Aspen it shrinks to a two-lane road...

The panorama presents several mountains, including two "toppers" of 13,780 feet (4,200 m). The ski slopes are very long and cover a large area. At the time of our visit the city of Aspen, though it is a very famous ski resort, didn't really exude the warm winter sport charm that can be felt in Austrian or Tirol ski resorts. The relaxed après-ski atmosphere was completely absent and Aspen seemed cold, impersonal and above all very commercial...

Buildings are randomly scattered all over the place, without any common architectural style and unfortunately lacking some basic maintenance. According to the enthusiastic local brochures many facades had been built in Victorian style, but I strongly suspect that Victoria must have gone shopping during the construction...

ski resort : Aspen 1

Most of the local businesses are real estate agencies. We saw some examples of winter homes, priced at 2, 6, and even 18.5 million dollars! There are but few shops and they are either the hyper-expensive "Louis Vuiton" type, or else Pizza-places...

It didn't surprise us to discover that Aspen had actually been a ghost town and the remains of an ancient silver-mining town, dating from 1890.

When the silver ran out, the town simply died. But in 1946 an investment company fished it up, dusted it off, and set it up for winter sports. All it took was some effort, a great deal of money, very good connections and an extraordinary Public Relations team...

(Note : compare with Sun Valley in Idaho).

ski resort : Aspen 2 ski resort : Aspen 3


Vail, the most famous and very fashionable ski resort, was established in 1962. The average elevation is 8,150 feet (2,484 m). It provides long and beautiful ski slopes, and simply everything is axed upon mountain ski and Nordic ski!

The center of the city is modern, car-free and immaculate, and it exudes a charming atmosphere. Any ski-enthusiast will feel completely at ease in this resort, except perhaps for one minor inconvenience; even the smallest inn charges a small fortune per night...

ski resort : Vail 1 ski resort : Vail 2
ski resort : Vail 3 ski resort : Vail 4

Colorado Springs

Pikes Peak

Pikes Peak is Colorado's most famous mountain, and its 14,110 feet (4,233 m) high summit grants a majestic view all the way to New Mexico! The panorama is simply incredible and you'll find magnificent views over the entire valley.

The original Spanish settlers called it "El Capitán", but the mountain was renamed Pike's Peak after Zebulon Pike, Jr., who explored southern Colorado in 1806.

The Pikes Peak Highway, a 19 mile (31 km) road, drives all the way to the summit, conditions permitting. During the summer, traffic is so dense that cars drive bumper to bumper, but out of season there are practically no visitors. Next to this the Pikes Peak Railway is a cog railroad operating from Manitou Springs to the summit year-round.

At the altitude of 9,050 feet (2,760 m) the Crystal Reservoir Gift Shop provides an nice rest area.

Colorado Springs : Pikes Peak 1 Colorado Springs : Pikes Peak 2

The 1960 Boy Scout Jamboree

Between 22 and 28 July 1960, Colorado Springs was the scene of the Fifth National Boy Scout Jamboree. The Boy Scouts movement was founded in England in 1907 by Lord Robert Baden-Powell, and on 08 February 1910 the Boy Scouts of America were founded in Washington, DC. By 1960 there were more than five million American Boy Scouts, and by today more than thirty million Americans have been members of the Scout movement.

Given this fifty-year jubilee, the organization planned a large festivity, which Lord Baden Powell, the son of the founder, would personally attend. Delegations of Boy Scouts were invited from all over the world.
This Jamboree was to be the largest Boy Camp ever held in de United States, and the entire event was therefore simply one series of superlatives! The organization was enormous, every detail was checked and rechecked, and nothing was left to chance.

A suitable campsite was found some eight miles north of Colorado Springs, next to the 14,100 ft high Pikes Peak. The enormous surface of some four square miles was obligingly made available by the Reverse J Diamond Ranch.

It took two years of preparation with hundreds of volunteers to transform this vast area into a tent city called Jamboree City, that actually temporarily became the temporary fourth largest city in Colorado! There was a large arena, roads, water mains, electrical cables, a postal service, a bank, a newspaper (90.000 papers per day!), a 60-acre field hospital, and several stores called Trading Posts.

Extensive contacts were made with suppliers, the railroads, the U.S. Army and Navy, and legions of volunteers. The huge project attracted many donations from generous benefactors. The entire Jamboree ended up being financed entirely through donations and a contribution of fifty dollars from every participating Boy scout!

Seventy-two thousand people were present at the opening ceremony, including 650 scouts from 26 other countries. Next to the 56,377 participating Boy Scouts, there were more than 200.000 visitors. During the ceremony the Navy's Flight Demonstration Team, the Blue Angels, flew over the entire campsite and gave a 20-minute demonstration with four Jet airplanes.

Jamboree city 1960 Colorado Springs : Jamboree 1960 plaque

It took incredible logistics to feed all these Boy Scouts. The volume of food and accessories that was brought in per train was awesome: 2,800 tons or 97 train wagons! Every day 21,000 loaves of bread and 2,183 gallons of milk were distributed, and 16,380 open charcoal fires were burning at the same time. More than 1,278,000 meals were prepared during the event, and in one week more than 9.5 million paper plates, cups and other objects were used...

During the Jamboree there was no lack of things to do. There was a full-fledged rodeo by the local Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo crew, with bull riding, bull dogging, saddle bronco riding, calf roping and bareback riding. There were three large Skill-O-Rama areas, where the scouts could exhibit their talents as cook or rope maker, and there were all kinds of folklore.

Many foreign Boy Scouts also showed their talents, and there was Fire Making and several local and Indian dances. The scouts exchanged all kinds of objects such as badges, neckerchiefs and sliders, knives, woodwork, beadwork, leather objects, ceramics and swords.

A few amusing anecdotes managed to escape the mists of time. I remember spending the first night sleeping on a table, as our tents and beds hadn't arrived yet... Smoking was of course prohibited, but there was one special circumstance where a cigarette was allowed: when you got bitten by a tick!
This bothersome insect nestles itself under the skin and is nearly impossible to dislodge. The American solution is most practical; light a cigarette and burn the insect right through the skin! After that you were allowed to smoke the rest of the cigarette, to soothe your nerves...

President "Ike" Eisenhower honored the event with his presence and drove through the entire camp, widely acclaimed by all. It was estimated that more than 100.000 pictures were taken!

In Colorado Springs, a somewhat hard to locate plaque commemorates this extraordinary event. Today, fifty years later, the entire site of Jamboree City is located IN the city, and the plaque can be found at the intersection of Voyager and Briargate parkways.

Royal Gorge : park, gorge and bridge

The Royal Gorge Park lies at an elevation of 5,900 feet (1,800 m). It presents several attractions, such as the highest suspension bridge in the world, a 1000 feet-deep canyon (300 m), a cable car over the gorge, a cable railway with a dreadful 45-degree descent to the bottom of the gorge, a train that runs along the bottom of the canyon, and several other smaller attractions. The train and the smaller attractions are closed until the beginning of the season on May 1.

The cable car ride to the other side of the gorge yields gorgeous views. Since the void is very deep, the guide offered us some consolation by cheerfully telling us that if the cable broke, it would take us about ten seconds to reach the bottom... The viewpoint Point Sublime offers a magnificent vista over the entire area.

The suspension bridge allows you to walk back to your starting point, and it presents even more exciting features than what is mentioned in the documentation, at least for people that are prone to fear of heights. The bridge deck is made of thick wooden boards, but unfortunately these are spaced rather widely, so that when you look down you can see the bottom of the chasm, some 1,000 feet lower. But don't let such a little detail stop you from visiting Royal Gorge, it is a real treat!

Royal Gorge : park, gorge and bridge 1 Royal Gorge : park, gorge and bridge 2
Royal Gorge : park, gorge and bridge 3 Royal Gorge : park, gorge and bridge 4