Hunters tracked bison and now-extinct mammoths and mastodons through what is now Colorado 15,000 years ago.The first long-term settlements appeared in the southwest part of the state thousands of years ago; their ancestors built the ruins at Mesa Verde National Park. Many other Native American cultures later lived in this area, including the Ute, Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes.
Spanish conquistadors arrived in Colorado in the 1500s, the first European visitors to the area. In 1858, the discovery of gold in Cherry Creek (present-day Denver) attracted the first U.S. settlers to the area, and in 1876 Colorado officially became a state.
WHY’S IT CALLED THAT?
Spanish explorers named the river that ran through the area Colorado, meaning "colored red," for its muddy, red hue. It eventually became the name of the territory.
Colorado is nicknamed the Centennial State because it became a state the same year that the United States turned a hundred years old.
GEOGRAPHY AND LANDFORMS
Colorado is bordered by Utah to the west, New Mexico and Oklahoma to the south, Kansas and Nebraska to the east, and Wyoming to the north. The state’s southwest corner intersects with Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico at a single point known as the Four Corners—the only place in the country where you can stand in four states at the same time!
The Rocky Mountains cover most of the western part of the state. This mountain range stretches from New Mexico into Canada, but Colorado is home to the tallest peak—Mount Elbert, 14,440 feet above sea level. Journey east and you'll hit the Great Plains. This massive grassland covers over a million square miles of North America’s interior and is used to raise cattle and grow corn and wheat.
The mountains are home to Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep (the Colorado state mammal), mountain goats, black bears, mountain lions, and beavers, the endangered boreal toad, golden eagles, and great horned owls.
There are dozens of trees native to Colorado; many of them—including ponderosa pine—are conifers. That means they’re evergreen trees with needles and cones. If you smell the bark of the ponderosa pine, you might catch a whiff of vanilla or butterscotch.
Oil, coal, and natural gas are all mined here. But Colorado also generates solar and wind energy. Wind accounts for about 13 percent of the total electricity produced in Colorado.
Gold, uranium, and molybdenum (a mineral used to harden steel) are found in Colorado. The world's largest molybdenum mine is in the state.
Cattle, wheat, and timber are also important parts of Colorado’s economy.
—Colorado has the highest average elevation of any U.S. state. Its capital, Denver, is nicknamed the “Mile-High City” because it sits at 5,280 feet above sea level—exactly one mile.
—During World War II, a special unit of the army trained in Colorado to prepare for combat in high, snowy altitudes. Many of these soldiers later returned and founded famous ski resorts like Aspen and Vail.
—The Continental Divide, a natural boundary that separates North America’s river systems, is in Colorado. Water that falls west of the divide flows to the Pacific Ocean; water that falls to the east heads to the Atlantic Ocean.
—William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, who starred in cowboy-themed shows around the world, was buried on Colorado’s Lookout Mountain in 1917.