State of the western central USA in the heart of the ‘Mountain States’, bordered to the west by Utah, to the north by Nebraska and Wyoming, to the east by Kansas and Nebraska, to the southeast by Oklahoma, to the south by New Mexico, and meeting Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico at the ‘Four Corners’ to the southwest; area 268,628 sq km/103,718 sq mi; population (2010) 5,029,196; capital and largest city Denver. The economy is led by the service sector, and tourism is important in the central and western parts of the states; information technology and engineering are also significant industries. Other major cities in Colorado include Colorado Springs, Aurora, Lakewood, Fort Collins, Greeley, Pueblo, Boulder, and Arvada. The state's expansion from World War II onwards has been closely associated with the USA's military-industrial surge. More than one third of Colorado is owned by the US federal government; the US Air Force has its academy close to Colorado Springs, and has defence headquarters in Cheyenne Mountain, with its finance centre based in Denver. Colorado joined the Union in 1876, the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, as the 38th US state.
Physical Colorado has four main land areas: the Colorado Plateau, the Intermontane Basin, the Rocky Mountains, and the Great Plains.
The Colorado Plateau's flat-topped steep hills, known as mesas, cover one-fifth of the entire state, along the Utah border. The Intermontane Basin, a small upland grassland area lies north of the plateau region. The Rocky Mountains dominate central Colorado and include Front Range, itself comprised of the Park Range, Sawatch Range, and Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Mount Elbert in the Sawatch range rises to 4,402 m/14,433 ft, the highest point in the state; Pikes Peak, 4,300 m/14,110 ft high, is a historical landmark. The San Juan Mountains stretch southwest with lush valleys and multiple peaks of over 3,500 m/10,000 ft. The treeless areas surrounding Colorado's mountains are known as parks, the largest being North Park, Middle Park, South Park, and the San Luis Valley. The remaining two-fifths of Colorado is the rolling Great Plains region, stretching east to west towards the Rocky Mountains.
Colorado is the source state for many of the USA's most important rivers, including the Colorado, South Platte, Arkansas, and Gunnison rivers, and provides water for many other states. Rising from around 1,022 m/3,350 ft along the Arkansas River in the east, Colorado has the highest mean elevation (around 2,100 m/6,800 ft) of any US state, and includes within its borders two-thirds of all peaks over 4,267 m/14,000 ft on the continent. Its thin, dry mountain air warms quickly, giving the state a comfortable year-round climate, though there is snowfall in mountain areas in winter. Precipitation levels vary according to altitude and are highest on western-lying slopes. Colorado is at least one-third forested and game animals, including deer, elk, beavers, foxes, and marmots, and game birds thrive in all parts of the state. Common trees include ash, pine, fir, maple, and spruce.
Canyons and deep gorges with cascading waterfalls are among Colorado's most striking features. There are many lakes; Grand Lake and Summit Lake are the largest, with freshwater fish, including bass, perch, and trout. Colorado has a wide variety of grasses and wild flowers, which include buttercups, columbine, violets, and wild irises; cacti and sagebrush are found in dry areas, particularly in the San Luis Valley in the south.
Features Colorado is one of the most scenic states in the USA with four national parks: Rocky Mountain, Mesa Verde, Great Sand Dunes, and Black Canyon. Mesa Verde National Park, near Cortez, has American Indian Anasazi cliff dwellings dating from AD 1000. Other national monuments include the Colorado National Monument, Dinosaur National Monument, Florissant Fossil Beds, Great Sand Dunes, Hovenweep National Monument, and Curecanti National Recreation Area. The 13 national forests are Arapaho, Comanche, Grand Mesa, Gunnison, Pawnee, Pike, Rio Grande, Roosevelt, Routt, San Isabel, San Juan, Uncompahgre, and White River. The Garden of the Gods, near Colorado Springs, is a striking red sandstone rock formation. Pikes Peak, also near Colorado Springs, is one of the most visited mountains in the Rockies; the US explorer Zebulon Pike mapped it in 1806. Pikes Peak Cog Railway, built in 1891, is still in operation and provides one means of access to the summit. Royal Gorge, near Canon City, eroded by the course of the Arkansas River, has the world's highest suspension bridge. Bent's Old Fort, near La Junta, marks the site of the first permanent US settlement in Colorado in 1833.
Colorado has many unusual railway systems, including a narrow-gauge railway, which runs between Durango and Silverton, and is the last passenger railway of its kind in the country; and the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, which uses steam trains and runs between Antonito, Osier, and Chama, New Mexico, traversing such historic areas as Cumbres Pass, the Toltec Gorge, Tanglefoot Curve, and the Los Pinos River Valley. The grave of the frontier entertainer William ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody is located on top of Lookout Mountain near Golden and there is a museum here about his life.
Historic towns in Colorado include former gold-mining towns, such as Breckenridge (now a popular ski resort), old railroad towns such as Durango, and the silver-mining towns of Leadville and Silverton. Present-day military bases in Colorado are concentrated in the Colorado Springs area. NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, occupies the core of Cheyenne Mountain. Federal scientific agencies include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Institute of Standards and Technology, both in Boulder.
Culture Colorado's outstanding natural scenery and excellent winter sports conditions make it a popular tourist destination. Residents of the state work mainly in the Great Plains area, however, or are employed by the US government in Colorado Springs or Denver. Colorado's climate makes it especially attractive as a location for conferences and festivals. The state hosts numerous music festivals, including the Aspen Music Festival, the Boulder Bach Festival, Central City Opera Festival, the Colorado Mahler Festival, the Colorado Music Festival, and the Rocky Mountain Ragtime Festival. Theatre and film are also important in Colorado; there are annual film festivals in Aspen and Telluride, and many arts organizations and performing arts companies are located in Denver, Boulder, Aspen, Aurora, and Fort Collins. The Colorado Shakespeare Festival takes place every summer in Boulder. Other annual arts festivals include the Denver Cherry Creek Arts Festival, and the Festival of the Arts in Crested Butte. Denver is home to the Denver Art Museum, which includes an important collection of American Indian art, and also has botanical gardens and a museum of natural history.
There are many state fairs and sporting events in Colorado, including the National Western Stock Show, the Olathe Sweet Corn Festival, the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo, and the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo. Folk festivals include the Festival of Mountain and Plain in Denver and Larimer Square Oktoberfest in Denver. Nearby Red Rocks Amphitheater is an open-air amphitheatre surrounded by natural red rock formations. It has a seating capacity of 9,450 and stages concerts and stage shows throughout the year. The University of Colorado, located at Boulder, holds diverse cultural events.
Skiing is one of Colorado's recreational specializations with internationally renowned resorts at Aspen, Arapahoe Basin, Breckinridge, Steamboat Springs, Telluride, Vail, and Winter Park. The world cup ski racing competitions are held in February and March in Vail and Aspen. Colorado Springs contains the US Olympic Center and the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame and Museum of the American Cowboy. Car and motorcycle racers from all over the world compete in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb every Fourth of July, and every August runners compete in the Pikes Peak Marathon. Exercise and outdoor pursuits define the recreational life of most people in Colorado.
GovernmentColorado's state constitution The constitution was adopted in 1876 and is still in place, though it has since been extensively amended. Colorado's bill of rights places particular emphasis on the people's power to legislate and participate in democratic state government.
Structure of state government The governor serves a four-year term with a maximum of two consecutive terms. Democrat John Hickenlooper took the governorship in January 2011. The legislature, known as the General Assembly, has a Senate with 35 members and a House of Representatives with 65 members. Colorado has nine electoral votes in presidential elections. It sends nine members to Congress: seven representatives and two senators. Senators serve four-year terms, and representatives serve two-year terms.
Colorado's highest court is the Supreme Court, led by a chief justice and six associate justices who serve ten-year terms. They are appointed by the governor, but initially nominated by a commission of private citizens. The court of appeals has 22 members serving eight-year terms. There are 22 judicial district courts. Each of the 64 counties in Colorado has a county court governed by either three or five commissioners who serve four-year terms. The city and county of Denver operate as a single government, with the same borders and the same officials.
Economy Colorado has a service industry-led economy, with a strong agricultural base in the east, and a major tourist industry in the scenic central and western parts of the state. Private health care, hotels, ski resorts, and legal services are all important service industry sectors. Information technology and engineering are significant sources of revenue and employment. Computing and electronics head Colorado's manufacturing industry, and Colorado brews more beer than any other state. Colorado also specializes in food processing, canning, meat-packing, and the production of scientific instruments, transport equipment, machinery, chemical products, and gold, oil, coal, uranium, iron, and steel. Agricultural produce includes cattle, wheat, dairy products, corn, and hay. The US federal government owns a third of the state and controls grazing, logging, and mining activities there. Federal military bases are concentrated at Colorado Springs and one of the four US mints is located in Denver.
HistoryEarly settlement Colorado was first inhabited around AD 1000 by the prehistoric Anasazi, who built pueblo (village) cliff-complexes in the Mesa Verde region. The sites were abandoned at the end of the 13th century, possibly as a result of a great drought or pressure from nomadic tribes. Later, the American Indian Ute moved into the Colorado Plateau region, where they remain as the oldest continuous inhabitants of Colorado. Other peoples moved onto the Great Plains to hunt buffalo, particularly after horses became available in the early 18th century. Known collectively as the Plains Indians, they included the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa, and Pawnee.
Spanish explorers seeking gold were the first Europeans to visit the area. France claimed the area east of the Rocky Mountains in 1682 and Spain declared the remainder of present-day Colorado as Spanish territory in 1706. Eastern and central Colorado became part of the USA at the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The US government quickly set about exploring the region and army officer Zebulon Pike entered the Colorado area in 1806, with Major Stephen Long leading a second expedition in 1820. Bent's Fort near La Jute was the first permanent US settlement in 1833 and became an important fur trading post. The remainder of Colorado was ceded to the USA in 1845 and in 1848, after US victory in the Mexican War (1846–48). Denver was founded when gold was discovered near the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek in 1858, and thousands of prospectors poured into the Colorado region.
Indian wars The Colorado Territory was officially designated in 1861. The territory proved almost ungovernable, however, with conflicts over land rights continuously breaking out between the American Indians and white miners. Although much of the USA was fighting the Civil War, Colorado was entrenched in the long struggle of the Indian or Plains Wars. Major incidents included the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864, when troops of the Colorado militia attacked a Cheyenne and Arapaho village; an American Indian attack on 50 army scouts on the Arikaree River in eastern Colorado in 1868; and the Meeker Massacre of 1879, when the Ute killed their reservation agent Nathan C Meeker and ambushed a body of troops. There were many efforts to resolve tensions; notable American Indian diplomats during the period included the Ute chief Ouray and the Cheyenne chief Black Kettle.
Statehood Many people in the eastern USA fervently supported the opening up of the American West, and Colorado benefited from development plans, including those of New York newspaper editor Horace Greeley, who urged young people to move west and sponsored farming communities. Settlements took root along streams and rivers and the dry plain soils were crudely irrigated. The Great Plains were extensively settled in the 1870s as railroads extended to and along the base of the Front Range mountains, and on 1 August 1876 Colorado was admitted to the Union. Silver strikes in Colorado's mountain areas spurred a mining boom, attracting many more people to live and work in the state, and Leadville became the silver capital of the USA when silver ore was discovered there in 1877.
By the 1890s, however, silver prices had collapsed and Colorado entered a period of depression. Seeking to diversify its economy, Coloradans concentrated on the state's agricultural interests, and successfully cultivated sugar beets and potatoes, which were suited to its thin soils. The construction of sugar refineries and Colorado's role as a transport hub helped to make the state's economic survival possible.
Expansion After gold was discovered at Cripple Creek, a US mint opened in Denver in 1906. Colorado saw an increasing demand for its metals (especially molybdenum and tungsten) during World War I and steadily industrialized. Irrigated agriculture, ranching, tourism and outdoor sports, energy development, and the establishment of military bases fuelled rapid growth after World War II. The energy boom of the 1970s contributed to further growth and development.
Contemporary Colorado Today the Denver area is a centre of high-tech manufacturing and operations, especially telecommunications. It is also the metropolis of the Mountain States, the financial and business centre of a vast inland region and the second-largest federal operations base (after Washington, DC) in the USA.
Politically, Colorado is an independent state, with support oscillating between Democrats and Republicans in both state and national elections. Many Coloradans come to the state from elsewhere and Bill Ritter, who became governor in 2007, was the first native-born governor to be elected since 1958.
Colorado has professional teams for all major US sports. Its Denver Broncos American football team, one of the elite teams of the National Football League (NFL), won the Superbowl in 1997 and 1998. At the end of the 20th century the town of Columbine, near Denver, gained international attention when a school shooter killed 12 students and one teacher and injured 23 others before killing himself in 1999.
In January 2014 Colorado became the first US state to legalize the recreational possession and sale of cannabis following voter approval in a referendum in November 2012.
Famous peoplesport Jack Dempsey (1895–1983), boxer; John Elway, football player (1960– )
the arts Lon Chaney (1883–1930), silent-film actor; Douglas Fairbanks, Sr (1883–1939), actor; Tim Allen (1953– ), actor
science M Scott Carpenter (1925–2013), astronaut; Robert J Seiwald (1925– ), inventor of dyes for diagnosing infectious disease
politics and lawBlack Kettle (c. 1803–c. 1868), Cheyenne chief; Ouray (c. 1820–c. 1880), Ute chief; Homer Lea (1876–1912), soldier and political writer; Henry Teller (1830–1914), senator; Byron White (1917–2002), Supreme Court justice; Ben Nighthorse Campbell (1933– ), first American-Indian US senator.
Colorado – flag
cowboys lassoing cattle
Hoover Dam, Nevada