Colorado (kŏlərăd´ə, –răd´ō, –rä´dō), state, W central United States, one of the Rocky Mt. states. It is bordered by Wyoming (N), Nebraska (N, E), Kansas (E), Oklahoma and New Mexico (S), and Utah (W).
Facts and Figures
Area, 104,247 sq mi (270,000 sq km). Pop. (2000) 4,301,261, a 30.6% increase since the 1990 census. Capital and largest city, Denver. Statehood, Aug. 1, 1876 (38th state). Highest pt., Mt. Elbert, 14,433 ft (4,402 m); lowest pt., Arkansas River, 3,350 ft (1,022 m). Nickname, Centennial State. Motto,Nil Sine Numine [Nothing without Providence]. State bird, lark bunting. State flower, Rocky Mountain columbine. State tree, Colorado blue spruce. Abbr., Colo., CO
Colorado's eastern expanses are part of the High Plains section of the Great Plains. On their western edge the plains give way to the Rocky Mountains, which run north-south through central Colorado. The mountains are divided into several ranges that make up two generally parallel belts, with the Front Range and a portion of the Sangre de Cristo Mts. on the east and the Park Range, Sawatch Mts., and San Juan Mts. on the west. Mt. Elbert (14,433 ft/4,399 m) is the highest peak in the U.S. Rocky Mts. The mountain ranges are separated by high valleys and basins called parks. These include North Park, Middle Park, South Park, Estes Park, and San Luis Park. The Continental Divide runs north-south along the Rocky Mts. in Colorado.
One of the most scenic states in the country, Colorado has recreational parks including Rocky Mountain National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park with its narrow gorge cut by the Gunnison River, Dinosaur National Monument in NW Colorado, and Great Sand Dunes National Monument and Preserve in S central Colorado. Mesa Verde National Park and Canyons of the Ancients and Chimney Rock national monuments, once home to Ancestral Pueblo peoples (see cliff dwellers), are in the southwestern corner of the state, a beautiful but formidable area of mesas and canyons.
Most of W Colorado is occupied by the Colorado Plateau, where deep canyons have been formed by the action of the Colorado, Gunnison, and other rivers. Colorado has a mean elevation of c.6,800 ft (2,070 m) and has 51 of the 80 peaks in North America over 14,000 ft (4,267 m) high, thus laying claim to the name
"top of the world."
A broad timber belt, largely coniferous and mostly within national forest reserves, covers large sections of the mountains. The mighty Colorado River originates in Rocky Mountain National Park, and the headwaters of the North Platte, South Platte, Arkansas, and Rio Grande also gather in Colorado's mountains. The average annual rainfall in Colorado is only 16.6 in. (42.2 cm), but the state has been able to develop otherwise unusable land and ranks high among the states in irrigated acres. The Colorado–Big Thompson project and the Fryingpan-Arkansas project are two major water-diversion systems that carry water by tunnel across the Continental Divide to farms on the plains of E Colorado.
Most of the population lives in cities among the Front Range foothills, principally in Denver, the capital, largest city, and regional metropolis. Other major cities are Colorado Springs, Aurora, Lakewood, and Pueblo.
Agriculture, especially the raising of cattle and sheep and production of dairy goods, is economically important in the state. Crops include wheat, hay, corn, and sugar beets. Since the 1950s manufacturing has been the major source of income in the state. Food processing is a major industry; others include the manufacture of computer equipment, aerospace products, transportation equipment, and electrical equipment; printing and publishing; and the production of fabricated metals, chemicals, and lumber. Federal facilities including army and air force bases, prisons, and the Denver Mint, as well as regional offices, contribute greatly to the economy. A new $4 billion international airport opened near Denver in Feb., 1995.
Tourism plays a vital role in Colorado's economy. The state's climate, scenery, historical sites, and extensive recreational facilities bring millions of visitors annually. Numerous resorts in towns such as Vail and Aspen attract visitors year-round as well as during ski season. Besides fine hunting, fishing, and skiing there are many special events held in the state, including arts festivals, rodeos, and fairs.
Gold, the lure to exploration and settlement of Colorado, was the first of many valuable minerals (notably silver and lead) discovered here. Leading minerals today are petroleum, coal, molybdenum, sand and gravel, and uranium. Gold is no longer mined extensively. There are also large coal and oil deposits.
Government, Politics, and Higher Education
Colorado's state government is based on the constitution drawn up in 1876 and since amended. The governor serves for a term of four years. The legislature is made up of a senate with 35 members and a house of representatives with 65 members. Colorado is represented in the U.S. Congress by two senators and six representatives and has eight votes in the electoral college. Democrat Roy Romer, elected governor in 1986 and reelected in 1990 and 1994, was succeeded by Republican Bill Owens, elected in 1998 and reelected in 2002. In 2006 a Democrat, Bill Ritter, won the governorship; John Hickenlooper, also a Democrat, was elected to succeed him in 2010.
Among Colorado's institutions of higher learning are the Univ. of Colorado, at Boulder; the Univ. of Denver, at Denver; Colorado State Univ., at Fort Collins; and the United States Air Force Academy, at Colorado Springs.
Early Inhabitants, European Exploration, and U.S. Conquest
Colorado's earliest inhabitants were the Basket Makers, Native Americans who settled in the mesa country before the beginning of the Christian era. Later people known as cliff dwellers inhabited the area, building their pueblos in canyon walls.
The first European to enter the region was probably the Spanish conquistador Francisco Vásquez de Coronado in the 16th cent. Spain subsequently claimed (1706) the territory, although no Spanish settlements were established there. Part of the area was also claimed for France as part of the Louisiana Territory. At the end of the French and Indian Wars (1763), France secretly ceded the Louisiana Territory, including much of Colorado, to Spain. The French regained the whole area in 1800 by the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso concluded with Spain (see San Ildefonso, Treaty of).
The United States bought the area N of the Arkansas River and E of the Rocky Mts. in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. The federal government sent expeditions to Colorado which generated some public interest in the new territory, and they explored routes opened earlier by the famous mountain men, trappers, and fur traders who included William H. Ashley, James Bridger, Jedediah S. Smith, Kit Carson, and the Bent brothers. Bent's Fort, in Colorado, was one of the best-known Western trading posts. Settlement in the area did not begin, however, until the United States acquired the remainder of present-day Colorado from Mexico by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848.
Gold, Settlement, and Statehood
In the early 1800s a small farming settlement had been established in the San Luis valley, but most settlers pushing westward across the Great Plains continued on to the more fertile lands of Oregon, Washington, and California. It was the discovery of gold that first brought large numbers of settlers to Colorado. Prospectors led by Green Russell discovered gold in 1858 at Cherry Creek, where part of the city of Denver now stands, and after another strike the following year, the mining boom began.
At the time of the gold rush the area in which the gold fields were located was part of the U.S. Kansas Territory. A group of miners organized the gold fields as Arapahoe co. of Kansas Territory. The region was divided into districts, and miners' and people's courts were set up to provide quick justice. The miners sought separate territorial status in 1859 and formed the illegal Territory of Jefferson, which operated until the bill for territorial status was passed by Congress in 1861. William Gilpin, the first territorial governor, chose the name Colorado [Span.,=red or colored]. Measures proposing statehood for Colorado were introduced in the U.S. Congress in 1864, and again in 1866 and 1867 when they were vetoed by Andrew Johnson. A bill granting Colorado's statehood was finally passed by Congress in 1876.
When the first settlers came to Colorado, the Ute lived in the mountain areas, while the Comanche, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Kiowa inhabited the Great Plains. Warfare between plains and mountain ethnic groups was continuous. The tribes of the plains combined their forces in 1840 to halt the invasion of their homelands and hunting grounds by settlers, and violence ensued. The warfare finally culminated in the Native Americans' defeat after the Indian Wars (1861–69) and the Buffalo War (1873–74). Colorado's Native Americans now live mainly on the Southern Ute reservation and in the Denver area.
Decline and Diversification
While Colorado was seeking to establish a government and engaged in conflict with Native Americans, the state's mining boom was in sharp decline. The surface gold had been extracted in the middle 1860s, and mining areas became, and in many cases remain, studded with ghost towns—machinery abandoned and shacks deserted. Other towns, such as Central City with its famous opera house dating from the city's days of opulence, managed to stay alive.
The completion (1870) of a railroad link from Denver to the Union Pacific in Cheyenne, Wyo., and later railroad construction helped to stimulate the extension of farming and the growth of huge cattle ranches as well as to encourage an influx of settlers. Between 1870 and 1880 population increased almost fivefold. Denver briefly became the largest receiving market for sheep, and a smelting industry was established.
In the 1870s the discovery of silver-bearing lead carbonite ore at Leadville started a new mining boom. Prosperity was short-lived, however, for in the 1890s, despite a rich silver strike at Creede and the discovery of the state's richest gold field at Cripple Creek, Colorado suffered a depression. In 1893 the U.S. government stopped buying silver in order to restore confidence in the nation's currency, which had been placed on the gold standard in 1873. The silver market subsequently collapsed, dealing a severe blow to Colorado's economy.
Labor conflicts, disputes over railway franchises, and warfare between sheep and cattle interests also plagued the state at the turn of the century. Many of labor's battles in this period were fought in the mines of Colorado, and the lawlessness and ruthlessness that prevailed among both employers and miners were reminiscent of the early days of the mining camps. When the silver market broke, Colorado turned politically to fusion Populist-Democratic leaders advocating a return to bimetallism. The free-silver movement, however, was unsuccessful, and by 1910, with the improvement of national economic conditions, Colorado settled down to a predominantly agricultural economy.
The Twentieth Century
Large national parks, established in the early 1900s, have provided a continuing source of revenue; tourism has grown steadily. During World War I the price of silver soared again and the economy prospered. The stock-market crash of 1929 and the droughts of 1935 and 1937 brought hardships, but the economy recovered again during World War II, when the state's foods, minerals, and metal products were important to the war effort.
In the mid-1960s Colorado experienced a large influx of new residents and rapid urban growth and development, especially along a strip (c.150 mi/240 km long) centered on Denver and stretching from Fort Collins and Greeley in the north to Pueblo in the south. This growth, combined with the area's high altitude, caused pollution problems, most notably smog. The discovery and exploitation of oil created a boom in the 1970s, which collapsed in the early 1980s. Diversifying industry, swelling in-migration and accompanying construction, and tourism and recreation have since enabled Colorado to rebound, and between 1990 and 2000 it had the third largest percentage of growth of any state in the union.
See P. Eberhart, Guide to the Colorado Ghost Towns and Mining Camps (1959); C. Bancroft, Colorful Colorado: Its Dramatic History (1959); P. F. Dorset, The New Eldorado: The Story of Colorado's Gold and Silver Rushes (1970); L. R. Hafen, Colorado: The Story of a Western Commonwealth (1970); C. Abbott, Colorado: A History of the Centennial State (1982); M. Griffiths and L. Rubright, Colorado: A Geography (1983); G. Lawson, Colorado (1990).