The color in Colorado

Cycling in Colorado, Denver & horse riding at Great Sand Dunes National Park
Cycling image - Colorado Tourist Board, Denver image - Visit Denver, Horse riding at Great Sand Dunes National Park image - Catherine Mack
Colorado does color. And yes, they may leave the ‘u’ out of the word, but they never leave ‘u’ out of the picture. Because although this mid-western state is dominated by dramatic landscapes of the Rocky Mountains, glacial rivers and spectacular canyons, it’s ‘Coloradan cool’ that people talk about all over the USA. Coloradans are renowned for it. Not chic, high achieving sort of cool. But outdoorsy, hiking, biking, rafing, kayaking, skiing, living life to the full sort of cool.

Maybe there’s something in the water, and given that the magnificent Colorado River, one of the longest in the USA, has its headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park, just one of several gushing giants that create canyons and natural playgrounds here, there certainly is a lot of it on tap to feed this joie de vivre. Or maybe it’s something in the air, which wouldn’t be surprising as Colorado is actually one of the USA’s most elevated states. Indeed the capital city, Denver, is nicknamed Mile High City because it is exactly that. And from that point, the state just keeps climbing.

The Rocky Mountain National Park is under two hours’ drive from Denver, with seventy high peaks and 600 walking trails catering for all those Coloradans craving a high on life. This is only one of Colorado’s national parks, however. To capture some of Colorado’s other colours, the Great Sand Dunes National Park will surprise and delight. A place where you can sandboard down the golden dunes, the highest in the USA, yet miles from any coast, thanks to a phenomenon whereby sand was picked up millennia ago from the Rio Grande River. Climb to the top of these dunes, enveloped by the snow capped Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and you feel like a cross between Lawrence of Arabia and John Wayne.

Rocky Mountains National Park
Rocky Mountains National Park by Steven Bratman
Sun turns to shadow in the depths of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, however, where two great rims with 600m sheer drops proffer the most magnificent hiking trails, with views down to the dark blue Gunnison River way down below. Trails that also become cross country skiing tracks in winter, while the Park closes to traffic and little can be heard except eagles soaring overhead. There is no shortage of sunshine at Mesa Verde National Park, however, or indeed people, as this is the only US National Park so designated because of ‘the works of man’, thanks to six hundred cliff dwellings of the ancient Pueblo people, carved in between canyons and overhangs. These arid landscapes stretch over 200km2, so you need some time to actually take it all in and get to grips with how people survived here, farming on the Mesa table top fields, creating homes and places of worship in the cliff walls, and hunting in the canyons far below. Lifestyles that were inherited by the indigenous Ute and Navajo Indians, who still have lands in the neighbouring Ute Indian Mountain Tribal Park, where tribal members will guide you on an exhilarating journey into their remote and otherwise un-navigable reservation.

Aspen, in contrast, has very different shades on its palette, although green is definitely its primary colour and has been for a long time, having been revived from mining to mindful town in the 1940’s, when industrialist Walter Paepcke started a movement to create a place that ‘nurtures mind, body and spirit’. This ‘Aspen Idea’ is still at its core. As is skiing, with Aspen now considered a world leader in ski sustainability. It is a hub of Slow Food and arts festivals, and it is also stunningly beautiful. The Maroon Bells peaks in Aspens’ Elk Mountains are a colour fest in themselves, so called because of their pinkish mudstone hue that becomes particularly vibrant at sunset, the blue sky and snow covered peaks reflected perfectly in the still waters of Maroon Lake at their base. Nothing will nurture your mind, body and spirit, and instil this Coloradan passion for life quite as much as white water rafting, however, and the Arkansas River is one of the best places to float your boat. To leave Colorado with the sound of gushing waters and guffawing water lovers echoing through your head is a great way to leave. If you can leave that is. You might just keep wanting one more hit.

Find out more about Colorado in our Colorado travel guide >
Written by Catherine Mack
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