Turn your eyes in any direction while in southwest Colorado, and you’ll likely notice two things — hazy mountains and/or canyon walls lining the edge of your sightline, and the natural beauty of your surroundings. Quick note- if you find yourself in one of the adorable small town and city centers that punctuate the forests and ranch lands, you’ll also likely notice the abundance of beards. Apparently, they’re a big deal out here.
Here, as with most beautiful places, there is far more than meets the eye once you scratch the surface. I’m not talking about small-town drama, or lucrative (yet federally illegal) Colorado crops- I’m talking about history. It’s as prolific out here as pine trees, wild sunflowers and mud-covered mountain bikes.
The history of this region stretches back millions of years, and makes my east coast, New-Englander’s concept of “historical significance” look more like current events than ancient history.
With civilizations dating back at least 2000 years, and rock formations dating back close to 2 billion, the “Four Corners” region of the southwestern United States is one of the most geologically diverse and historically important places in the world.
If you’re among the handful of Americans still convinced that our planet is about 10,000 years old, I’d encourage you to spend an hour chatting with a geologist from this region. I’d bet a few bucks you’ll change your mind.
The small, railroad town of Dolores, Colorado, is rife with history dating back before the turn of the century. This includes the McPhee Reservoir, at the bottom of which, lies the remnants of the ghost town of McPhee, which lost it’s battle with the dammed waters of the upper Dolores River during World War Two.
There’s something about knowing the remnants of a ghost town lie beneath the glimmering surface of a lake that transforms a beautiful space into something slightly more disturbing, yet delightfully creepy.
Of an estimated 7 million people who visit this part of the United States each year, plenty pass through without ever seeing or experiencing these places on anything more than an aesthetic level.
I arrived in Colorado determined not to be one of these people who’s primary mission involved a selfie stick and a new profile picture. Sure, there would be selfies and new profile pictures, I am a millennial after all, but I was hell-bent on learning something in the process.
Here’s a quick look at some of the most fascinating factoids about the area I thought might be worth sharing:
- Colorado was the second state in the country to offer full civil rights to women. Wyoming was the first.
- The Cliff Dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park features an elaborate four-story city carved in the cliffs by the Ancestral Pueblo people between 600 and 1300 A.D. The mystery surrounding this ancient cultural landmark is the sudden disappearance of the thousands of inhabitants who created the more than 4,000 identified structures.
- Dove Creek, Colorado is the “Pinto Bean” capital of the world
- Archeologists in this area have found petroglyph engravings, pottery, looms and hunting and cooking tools made by the Ancestral Puebloans who lived there as far back as 1 A.D.
- Little known fact: Nearly a third of the pioneers who helped settle Colorado in the late 1800s were black. These miners, ranchers, teachers, blacksmiths and lawmen were a major part of the community that ushered civilized life to the Wild West.
- Colorado has more microbreweries per capita than any other state.
- Telluride, famous for it’s skiing and high population of millionaires, exists inside a isolated box canyon. This means there are mountains on all sides of the picturesque city. There is only one road in and out of Telluride, the only other means of getting into town is a free, ski lift gondola that takes riders up and over a mountain at heights of nearly 11,000 and into Mountain Village. Another interesting factoid- there are no streetlights in Telluride.
- Durango, Colorado has around 300 days of clear-sky sunshine per year. This is more than twice as much as Florida’s “sunniest” city, Apalachicola.