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Frommer's EasyGuide to Colorado 2014

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Selling for a lower price than any similar guidebook, and deliberately limited to a short 256 pages, this EasyGuide is an exercise in creating easily-absorbed travel information. It emphasizes the authentic experiences in each destination:the most important attractions, the classic method of approaching a particular destination; the best choices for accommodations and meals; the best ways to maximize the enjoyment of your stay. Because it is "quick to read, light to carry", it is called an "EasyGuide", and reflects Arthur Frommer's lifetime of experience in presenting clear and concise travel advice.

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1. WHAT’S GREAT ABOUT COLORADO

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WHAT’S GREAT ABOUT COLORADO

The old and the new, the rustic and the sophisticated, the wild and the refined—all of these experiences exist practically side by side in Colorado, amid what is arguably the most breathtaking mountain scenery in America.

Colorado’s booming cities—Boulder, Colorado Springs, and Denver—and its admittedly somewhat glitzy resorts—especially Vail and Aspen—offer much of the comfort and culture of New York or Los Angeles but at a more relaxed pace. Throughout the state, you’ll also find testaments to another time, when life was simpler but rougher and only the strong survived: Victorian mansions, working steam trains, thousand-year-old adobe villages, and authentic Old West towns.

Enos Mills, an early-20th-century environmentalist and one of the driving forces behind the creation of Rocky Mountain National Park, said that knowledge of nature is the basis of wisdom. So climb on a horse or mountain bike, take a hike or a raft trip—or simply sit back and gaze at the mountains. Whatever you do, though, don’t stay indoors.

 

2. SUGGESTED COLORADO ITINERARIES

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SUGGESTED COLORADO ITINERARIES

At the risk of oversimplifying, let me suggest that there are essentially three activities for visitors to Colorado—viewing the scenery, visiting historic and cultural sites, and participating in outdoor sports. While there are some visitors whose only goal is to explore prehistoric American Indian sites or historic mining towns, and perhaps hard-core skiers or hikers who are interested solely in pursuing their preferred form of recreation, the vast majority of Colorado visitors want a smorgasbord of experiences. This might include a scenic drive over a mountain pass, a visit to a small-town museum in a Victorian mansion, and a hike to a picturesque lake.

My suggested itineraries assume that you’re looking for a mix of experiences. I’ll look at the most efficient routes and the must-see destinations.

These are almost all driving tours and, in fact, a motor vehicle is almost mandatory for anyone who wants to explore Colorado. Visitors to Denver don’t need a car, and if you’re heading to a major resort to ski for a week you can be car-less, but many of the best destinations here require that you drive.

 

3. COLORADO IN CONTEXT

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COLORADO IN CONTEXT

The Rocky Mountains are the backbone of North America, and with more than 50 peaks that soar above 14,000 feet—more mountains of such a magnitude than are present in the rest of the lower 48 states combined—Colorado is their heart. This dazzling constellation of high points, with its evergreen and aspen forests, racing streams and rivers, and wealth of wildlife, is perfect for recreation year-round—from summer hiking, mountain biking, and rafting to superlative winter skiing and snowboarding through deep and dry powder snow.

But Colorado isn’t just mountains. It’s also the wheat and cornfields of the vast eastern prairies, the high plateau country of the western slope, the numerous historic towns and American Indian communities, and the increasingly sophisticated cities of the Front Range.

THE HISTORY OF COLORADO

Early Inhabitants

The earliest people in Colorado are believed to have been nomadic hunters, who arrived some 12,000 to 20,000 years ago following the tracks of the now-extinct woolly mammoth and bison. Then, about 2,000 years ago, the ancestors of today’s Pueblo people arrived, living in shallow caves in the Four Corners area, where the borders of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico meet.

 

4. DENVER

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DENVER

It’s no accident that Denver is called “the Mile High City”: When you climb up to the state capitol, you’re precisely 5,280 feet above sea level when you reach the 13th step. Denver’s location at this altitude was purely coincidental; Denver is one of the few cities not built on an ocean, a lake, a navigable river, or even (at the time) an existing road or railroad.

In the summer of 1858, eager prospectors discovered a few flecks of gold where Cherry Creek empties into the shallow South Platte River, and a tent camp quickly sprang up on the site. (The first permanent structure was a saloon.) When militia General William H. Larimer arrived in 1859, he claim-jumped the land on the east side of the Platte, laid out a city, and, hoping to curry political favors, named it after James Denver, governor of the Kansas Territory, which included this area. The plan didn’t exactly work: Larimer was not aware that Denver had recently resigned.

 

5. COLORADO SPRINGS

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COLORADO SPRINGS

Magnificent scenic beauty, a favorable climate, and dreams of gold have lured visitors to Colorado Springs and neighboring Pikes Peak Country for well over 100 years. And, while the gold mining has nearly disappeared, the beauty and weather remain prime lures to this day.

In 1806, army Lt. Zebulon Pike led a company of soldiers on a trek around the base of an enormous mountain. He called it “Grand Peak,” declared it unconquerable, and moved on. Today, the 14,110-foot mountain we know as Pikes Peak has been conquered so often that an auto highway and a cog railway take visitors to the top.

Unlike many Colorado towns, neither mineral wealth nor ranching was the cornerstone of Colorado Springs’ economy during the 19th century—tourism was. In fact, Colorado Springs, founded in 1871, was the first genuine resort community west of Chicago. Gen. William J. Palmer, builder of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, established the resort on his rail line, at an elevation of 6,035 feet. The state’s growing reputation as a health center, with its high mountains and mineral springs, convinced him to build at the foot of Pikes Peak. In an attempt to lure affluent easterners, he named the resort Colorado Springs, because most fashionable eastern resorts were called “springs.”

 

6. BOULDER

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BOULDER

Although Boulder is known primarily as a college town (the University of Colorado is here), it would be inaccurate to begin and end the description there. Sophisticated and artsy, Boulder is home to numerous high-tech companies and research concerns; it also attracts countless outdoor sports enthusiasts with its delightful climate, vast open spaces, and proximity to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Set at the foot of the Flatirons of the Rocky Mountains, just 30 miles northwest of downtown Denver and only 74 feet higher than the Mile High City, Boulder was settled by hopeful miners in 1858 and named for the large rocks in the area. Welcomed by Chief Niwot and the resident southern Arapaho, the miners struck gold in the nearby hills the following year. By the 1870s, Boulder had become a regional rail and trade center for mining and farming. The university, founded in 1877, became the economic mainstay of the community after mining collapsed around the beginning of the 20th century.

 

7. NORTHERN ROCKIES

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THE NORTHERN ROCKIES

Literally and figuratively, this is the mother lode. It’s where scrappy silver and gold miners struck it rich time and time again in the late 19th century, yet it’s also where Colorado’s rugged beauty is shown off to its fullest effect.

The Northern Rockies begin just outside of Denver and extend on either side of the meandering Continental Divide down saw-toothed ridgelines, through precipitous river canyons, and across broad alpine plains. Here snowfall is measured in feet, not inches; it’s where you’ll find Colorado’s hottest ski resorts—including Aspen, Vail, Breckenridge, and Steamboat—as well as several smaller resorts.

When spring’s sun finally melts away the walls of white, a whole new world opens up amid the brilliantly colored alpine wildflowers. You can head to any of the area’s ski resorts to shop their stores and hike or cycle their trails. Also here is one of the West’s premier mountain vacation spots—Rocky Mountain National Park. Here you can enjoy some of the most spectacular high-elevation scenery in America, as well as outdoor activities from hiking to wildlife viewing to cross-country skiing.

 

8. WESTERN SLOPE

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THE WESTERN SLOPE

Separated from Colorado’s major cities by the mighty Rocky Mountains, the communities along the state’s western edge are not only miles but also years away from the hustle and bustle of Denver and the California-style sophistication of Boulder. Even Grand Junction, the region’s largest city, is an overgrown Western town, and the rugged canyons and stark rocky terrain make you feel like you’ve stepped into a John Ford movie.

The lifeblood of this semidesert land is its rivers: The Colorado, Gunnison, and Yampa have not only brought water to the region, but over tens of thousands of years, their ceaseless energy has also gouged out stunning canyons that lure visitors from around the world. Colorado National Monument, west of Grand Junction, is remarkable for its landforms and prehistoric petroglyphs; Dinosaur National Monument, in the state’s northwestern corner, preserves a wealth of dinosaur remains; and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, a dark, narrow, and almost impenetrable chasm east of Montrose, challenges adventurous rock climbers and rafters.

 

9. SOUTHWESTERN COLORADO

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SOUTHWESTERN COLORADO

A land apart from the rest of the state, southwestern Colorado is set off by the spectacularly rugged wall of the San Juan Mountains. The Ancestral Puebloans (also known as the Anasazi) who once lived here created cliff dwellings that withstood the tests of time and weather, and remain in excellent condition today, a thousand years or more after their making. The ancient cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park are a case in point, and there are similar but less well-known sites throughout the area, primarily around Cortez.

Durango is the area’s major city. Its vintage downtown and narrow-gauge railroad harks back to the Old West days of the late 1800s, when it boomed as a hub for the region’s mining industry. Telluride, at the end of a box canyon surrounded by 14,000-foot peaks, has capitalized on its still-evident mining heritage in its evolution into an increasingly posh ski and summer resort. And those who drive the Million Dollar Highway—down U.S. 550 from Ouray, over 11,008-foot Red Mountain Pass through Silverton, and on to Durango—can’t miss the remains of turn-of-the-20th-century mines scattered over the mountainsides.

 

10. SOUTHERN ROCKIES

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THE SOUTHERN ROCKIES

If Colorado is the rooftop of America, then the Southern Rockies are the peak of that roof. Some 30 of Colorado’s fourteeners—14,000-plus-foot peaks—ring the area, and from Monarch Pass, at 11,312 feet, rivers flow in three directions.

Isolated from the rest of Colorado by the fourteeners and rugged canyons, this region has historically bred proud, independent-minded people. In the 18th century, settlers came from Taos, New Mexico, and built some of the region’s striking Spanish architecture.

Today these mountain and river towns are renowned as recreational capitals: Crested Butte for skiing and mountain biking, Gunnison for fishing and hunting, and Salida and Buena Vista for white-water rafting. Alamosa is within easy reach of numerous attractions, including the remarkable Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. In the foothills of the San Juan Range are the historic mining towns of Creede and Lake City, and in the tiny community of Antonito you can hop a narrow-gauge steam train for a trip back to a simpler (though smokier) time. This is rugged and sparsely populated land, with numerous opportunities for seeing the wilds of mountain America at their best.

 

11. PLANNING YOUR TRIP TO COLORADO

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PLANNING YOUR TRIP TO COLORADO

The beauty of a Colorado vacation is that there’s truly something for everyone. Depending on where you choose to go, you can have an affordable and fun time, or you can spend a bit more and have a truly world-class experience. The more expensive resorts—Vail, Aspen, Steamboat, and Telluride—tend to fill up quickly, especially during ski season (and even more so the holiday week of Dec 25–Jan 1, when ski-in/ski-out room rates hit their zenith); you’ll want to book as far in advance as possible. The same is true for the state’s most popular attractions, such as the national parks—which are especially busy over school summer vacations. This chapter gives you the information you need to get started.

Getting There

BY PLANE

Those flying to Colorado will probably land at Denver International Airport or Colorado Springs Airport. Each airport is on the fringe of its respective city, so, depending on your itinerary, it can be a tossup as to which is best. Denver certainly has the better average airfares. Both offer car rentals and shuttle services to hotels.

 

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