By Marcot, Molly
American Heritage , Vol. 60, No. 1
Sharp snow-covered peaks, wide grassy plains, deep canyons, and cool mountain streams define the spectacular landscape of the Centennial State, which has enjoyed a rich history beginning with the Ute Indians who hunted the area's vast bison herds centuries before the arrival of Europeans. With its stunning cliff dwelling communities, Mesa Verde National Park embodies the rich, diverse, and complex heritage of the Puebloan and Navajo cultures.
In the 1850s, news of rich gold strikes brought Easterners here in droves. Boomtowns sprung up around mines, some growing into towns such as Denver and Aspen, while others languished and turned into ghost towns. Many of the latter are preserved and open to visitors, haunting reminders of the harsh working conditions that early miners and settlers faced. Living history museums, such as the Four Mile Historic Park, recount the days where traveling men and women stopped for rest on their arduous journeys west.
Late-19th-century Colorado is filled with the colorful stories of Buffalo Bill, the Pony Express, homesteading, nomadic cultures of the plains Indians, and the increasing role of the railroad. Families today can glimpse this past on rides on the Georgetown Loop Railroad as it winds along Devil's Gate Bridge or at the Overland Trail Museum.
We've selected the very best history sites in Colorado for you, places where you can see the Old West in all its true color, set amidst breathtaking scenery. We've broken the state into seven geographic regions to help you plan your trip.
Remember to call ahead and check web sites for seasonal hours and events; some outdoor locations remain open only during the spring and summer months due to the heavy accumulation of snow during the fall and winter.
For more information on these places and others in Colorado and around the country, visit us at www.heritagesites.com. Travel safely!
ANASAZI HERITAGE CENTER
The 10,000-square-foot museum features the Pueblo, Navajo, and Ute cultures with interpretive exhibits, such as a hands-on discovery area where visitors can weave cloth and grind corn on a mano and metate or explore the 12th-century Anasazi ruins 200 yards away. (970) 882-5600 or www.blm.gov/co/st/en/fo/ahc.html
CANYONS OF THE ANCIENTS NATIONAL MONUMENT
This 64,000-acre monument park boasts more than 6,000 recorded archeological sites, making it the richest outdoor museum in North America. Visitors can park near and walk among the ruined sandstone walls, towers, and kivas, (ceremonial rooms), of the Ancestral Puebloan Sand Canyon, Painted Hand, and Lowry Pueblos. (970) 882-5600 or www.blm.gov/co/st/en/nm/canm.html
DURANGO AND SILVERTON NARROW GAUGE RAILROAD AND MUSEUM
The Denver & Rio Grande Railway completed the narrow, three-foot gauge rail line in 1882 to transport gold and silver from Durango, up 3,000 feet through the rugged San Juan Mountains to Silverton. Today visitors can enjoy a 45-minute ride in Victorian-era steam locomotives or open-aired contemporary cars. (970) 247-2733 or www.durangotrain.com
GUNNISON PIONEER MUSEUM
This five-acre site contains 62 antique cars and 11 buildings, including a dairy barn, schoolhouse, and post office. The museum's narrow gauge train is a Denver & Rio Grande Engine #268, complete with flanger, gondola, boxcar, livestock car, and caboose. (970) 641-4530 or www.pioneertrainmuseum.org
MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK
Ancestral Puebloans, who rived in Mesa Verde between 600 and 1300 C.E., built the most extensive network of cliff dwellings in North America, including the 150-room Cliff Palace complex, which is nestled into the 324-foot wide, 89-foot deep natural cave along the Cliff Canyon wall. The onsite Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum features timelines, prehistoric artifacts, and dioramas on Ancestral Puebloan culture. …