In 1806, Zebulon Pike journeyed west to explore the vast territory the U.S. had bought from France in the Louisiana Purchase. Crossing the Great Plains into present-day Colorado, he reached the spectacular Rocky Mountains and the snow-covered mountain that now bears his name, Pikes Peak.
More than 50 years later, gold was discovered nearby. Thousands of propectors set out for the region, determined to reach “Pikes Peak or bust.” Loggers, ranchers, and farmers followed the miners to Colorado, which became a territory in 1861 and achieved statehood in 1876.
Today, 80 percent of Colorado’s residents live in the central part of the state, in a band of rolling hills along the edge of the Rockies. Denver, the capital and largest city, is there. The area boasts comfortable summers and cold, unusually sunny winters, periodically broken by the famous “Chinook” wind. A hot dry Chinook, gusting down from the mountains, can raise temperatures 30 to 40 degrees in an hour. Many of Colorado’s old gold-and silver-mining towns are now ghost towns, but mining remains important in the economy as do ranching, farming, and manufacturing. So is tourism.
Colorado is famous for its dramatic scenery, splendid national parks and forests and glamorous ski resorts such as Vail and Aspen.
Colorado, the highest state, has an average elevation of 6,800 feet.