Geography and Landforms:

Colorado is located in the center of the western half of the continental United States and is the eighth largest state. Its average elevation of 6,800 feet is the highest of any state in the nation.

The Colorado Plateau covers most of the western portion of the state. It is a region of high plateaus and deep canyons carved by the Colorado, Gunnison, and other rivers.

The central portion of the state is covered by the Rocky Mountains. Because of the presence of the high peaks in this range, Colorado has been given the nickname "Roof of the World." The state has 51 out of the 80 peaks in North America over 14,000 feet. Colorado's highest point, Mount Elbert (14,431 feet) is found here. The headwaters of 6 major rivers originate in the mountains of this region - the Colorado, the North Platte, the South Platte, the Arkansas, the Republican, and the Rio Grande.

The Continental Divide runs through the Colorado Rockies. Rivers east of the Divide flow toward the Mississippi River; those to the west flow toward the Pacific Ocean.

To the east, Colorado has high plains and rolling prairies that rise westward to the Rockies. Livestock production and the farming of both irrigated and dry land takes place in this Great Plains region.


Spanish explorers were the first Europeans to enter the region that is now Colorado. In the 16th century they came to the area to search for the wealthy Seven Cities of Cibola. After failing to find the legendary gold, they left without establishing any settlements.

In 1682, the explorer Robert Cavalier, Sieur de la Salle, claimed a portion of eastern Colorado for France as part of the Louisiana Territory. Spain subsequently claimed the region in 1706.

As a result of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the United States acquired eastern and central Colorado. Over the next 20 years, American military expeditions were sent into the new territory following routes opened years earlier by trappers and traders. Zebulon Pike, an army officer came to the territory in 1806, exploring and writing about the mountain that bears his name today - Pikes Peak.

In 1821, Mexico achieved its independence from Spain and took control of Colorado. Trouble gradually developed between Mexico and the United States as American colonists moved further into the southwest. The Mexican War began in 1846.

A permanent settlement was made at Bent's Fort - near present day La Junta - in 1833. It was founded by the Bent and St. Vrain Fur Company, and became one of the best-known trading posts in the West. But additional settlements were not formed in the area until the end of the Mexican War (1848) when the United States acquired the remainder of present-day Colorado in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

While many Americans traveled through Colorado territory on their way to the more fertile lands of California, Oregon, and Washington, few actually settled there. But in 1858, gold was discovered at Cherry Creek - near present-day Denver - and large numbers of prospectors began coming to the region.

Soon conflicts arose between the miners and the Native Americans, who claimed ownership of the land as a result of various treaties. The miners ignored these claims and established an illegal Jefferson Territory that was not officially recognized by Congress. In an effort to put an end to these conflicts and establish control of this rapidly growing area, the U.S. government created the Colorado Territory in 1861. William Gilpin was appointed first territorial governor.

Several significant battles between Native Americans and white settlers occurred in Colorado during the 1860s and 1870s. In 1864, the Colorado militia attacked a Cheyenne village, killing hundreds of Native American men, women, and children. It became known as the "Sand Creek Massacre" and was severely criticized by the U.S. government, which compensated the Indians for their losses.

Three years later, Native Americans attacked a small group of army scouts in eastern Colorado on the Arikaree River. The fighting went on for several days, until the scouts were saved by other troops.

The Meeker Massacre of 1879 was the last major conflict. Nathan Meeker, a reservation agent, was brutally killed by the Ute Indians. After the battle, Ouray, a respected Ute chief, was instrumental in helping to smooth relations between the Indian warriors and the white settlers.

In 1870, a railroad linking Denver to the Union Pacific in Cheyenne, Wyoming, helped revive the territory's economy after the decline in gold mining. While many early settlements became ghost towns, new cattle ranches and farms were established and within a decade, the population increased five-fold.

Colorado was admitted to the union as the 38th state in 1876 and John Routt was elected governor. During this time, silver ore was discovered at Leadville and a lagging mining industry was revived. But the prosperity was short-lived. In 1893, the U.S. government stopped buying silver from Colorado in response to a business slump across the nation. The government hoped to restore confidence in America's currency, which had been on a gold standard since 1873. As a result, silver prices dropped, mines closed, and many miners were out of work.

But the state continued to grow and progress despite its difficulties. A major deposit of gold was discovered at Cripple Creek, farmers began to experiment with new crops, and irrigation systems were expanded. By the early years of the 20th century, construction began on a railroad over the continental divide and the U.S. Mint in Denver produced its first coin.


Historically, mining was the primary economic activity within the state of Colorado. Gold was first discovered here in 1858. Later, deposits of lead and silver were found. While gold is no longer extensively mined, oil, molybdenum (a mineral that makes steel hard and tough), and coal are important products to the state's economy.

Colorado's scenic, historic, and recreational areas make it a popular vacation destination. Resorts like those at Vail and Aspen attract visitors year-round. Tourism and related service industries provide valuable income for the state.

Agriculture also plays a significant role in Colorado's economy. Important crops include sugar beets, barley, beans, corn, hay, potatoes, and sorghum.

Fruits and vegetable are also important crops. Livestock and livestock products include beef, pork, sheep, and turkeys.

Manufacturing continues to be a major source of income. Processed foods, computer equipment, transportation equipment, aerospace products, and fabricated metals are produced.

First Inhabitants:

The earliest inhabitants of Colorado were known as the Basket Makers. They arrived in the region around 1500 BC and were primarily nomadic hunters. The Basket Makers developed a sophisticated practice of basket making, and they created waterproof containers by covering baskets with clay and baking them.

Gradually, the Basket Makers developed farming practices and raised corn and squash. By 500 BC, other Native Americans, ancestors of the Pueblo, entered the area and most probably intermingled with the Basket Makers. Later inhabitants included the cliff dwellers who built multi-storied stone houses in the alcoves of canyon walls.

When Spanish explorers came to the area in the 16th century, they found many different tribes of Native Americans. The Ute inhabited the mountain valleys, while the Comanche, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Kiowa lived in the Great Plains region. Warfare between these groups of early inhabitants was continuous. Eventually, the Plains Indians combined forces in an attempt to stop the invasion of their homelands by white settlers.

Today, most of the state's Native American population is found on the Southern Ute reservation in the Denver area.

Books Related To Colorado

The Secret School - NA Avi
(978-0152046996) , Fiction
Interest level: 2-6, Lexile: 540, ESL level: 2 - 3
Ida must become her rural school's teacher at the age of 14 in order to complete her own education and provide schooling for the small community.

The Twelve Days of Christmas in Colorado - Linda Ashman
(978-1402774638) , Fiction
Interest level: 0-2, ESL level: 2 - 3
Sophie views all the marvelous things about the state of Colorado, using the format of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Bear Dancer: The Story of a Ute Girl - Thelma Hatch Wyss
(978-1442421561) , Fiction
Interest level: 4-7, ESL level: 3
This fascinating fictionalized account tells the story of Ute chief Ouray's sister Elk Dress girl and the time she is both captured and returned by her tribe's enemies.

Beardance - Will Hobbs
(978-0780746046) , Fiction
Interest level: 6-12, Lexile: 890, ESL level: 4
Cloyd runs across two motherless grizzly bear cubs while on a mission with an older man and hopes to save them as well as complete his spiritual quest.

C is for Centennial: A Colorado Alphabet - Louise Doak Whitney
(978-1585360581) , Non-fiction
Interest level: 0-2, ESL level: 1 - 2
This book features all the things that are special about the state of Colorado.

Finding My Place - Traci Jones
(978-0374335731) , Fiction
Interest level: 6-12, Lexile: 750, ESL level: 3 - 4
African American teen Tiphanie's loneliness is abated when she befriends another student who exists outside the normal social realm.

The Good Dog - Avi
(978-0689838255) , Fiction
Interest level: 2-5, Lexile: 480, ESL level: 2 - 3
Told from the dog's perspective, this book shows the conflict between a Malmute pack leader who tries to keep the dogs focused on their tasks and the appeal of running with a wolf who hovers on the edges of the story.

Hard Gold: The Colorado Gold Rush of 1859 - NA Avi
(142-3105192) , Fiction
Interest level: 4-8, Lexile: 740, ESL level: 3 - 4
Early Wittcomb follows his uncle to the fields of gold in Colorado hoping to help save his family's farm, but he encounters many challenges on the way.

Thanks to Nicki - Ann Howard Creel
(978-1593692902) , Fiction
Interest level: 3-7, Lexile: 740, ESL level: 3
While her mother is expecting twins, Nicki is training a guide dog for eventual placement away from her.

Whistler in the Dark - Kathleen Ernst
(978-1607544326) , Fiction
Interest level: 3-7, Lexile: 680, ESL level: 2 -3
When Emma's mother tries to make a new start by creating a newspaper in their adopted Colorado town, at first they receive rejection and scary threats from the community.

The White Gates - Bonnie Ramthun
(375-845542) , Fiction
Interest level: 4-9, Lexile: 790, ESL level: 3 - 4
Preteen Tor does not accept the town's belief in a curse from a Ute woman to explain the many mishappenings in the town where his mother starts to work as a doctor.

Famous Citizens:

Leonidas Frank "Lon" Chaney
Lon Chaney was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the son of deaf-mute parents. At an early age he learned to communicate using pantomime and facial expressions. Chaney became one of Hollywood's most popular actors during the silent film era and is best known for his portrayal of grotesque characters such the Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera. Chaney appeared in 157 films between 1913 and 1930.

Ralph Edwards
Ralph Edwards, TV and radio producer, was born in Merino, Colorado. In 1940, he created the popular Truth or Consequences program, which quickly became radio's top-ranked audience participation show. He also created and hosted This is Your Life, which aired from 1948 to 1950 on radio. Both programs later became popular television shows. In 1995, Edwards was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame.

Ruth Handler
Ruth Handler was born in Denver, Colorado. In 1945, she and her husband Elliot established a small business enterprise, calling it Mattel Creations. In 1959, she created the Barbie Doll, naming it after her daughter. It was an instant success. More than 1 billion Barbies have been sold since 1959, making it the best-selling toy in history. Today, Mattel is one of the world's largest toy manufacturers.

Erick Hawkins
Erick Hawkins, dancer and choreographer, was born in Trinidad, Colorado. He trained with the School of American Ballet and became the first male dancer in the Martha Graham Company in 1938, and later was married to Graham. In the 1950s, he formed his own dance company. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Clinton just before his death in 1994.

Paul Whiteman
Paul Whiteman, jazz bandleader, was born in Denver, Colorado. He started his musical career as a classical violinist and violist, before establishing his own orchestra. The Paul Whiteman Orchestra was the most popular orchestra in the country during the 1920s, toured extensively, and made numerous recordings. Whiteman commissioned George Gershwin to write "Rhapsody in Blue" and directed the premiere performance in 1924, with the composer at the piano.

Capital: Denver
Entered Union: August 1, 1876
Population: 5,355,866
Area 104,094
Bird Lark Bunting
Flower Rocky Mountain Columbine
Nickname: Centennial State, Colorful Colorado
Governor John Hickenlooper

Places to Visit in Colorado: (Click the links to learn more.)

Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and Museum - Durango
Ride a coal-fired, steam-powered locomotive on tracks traveled by cowboys and settlers more than a century ago. A variety of scenic and educational excursions are offered year-round.

Cave of the Winds - near Manitou Springs
The cave has been an attraction in the Pikes Peak region of Colorado since 1880. Three separate tour options offer unique perspectives on the geology and history of the site.

Mesa Verde National Park - near Cortez and Mancos
Mesa Verde represents more than 700 years of human history. From 600 AD to 1300 AD, Native Americans lived here and built elaborate communities in the canyon walls. The park contains more than 4,000 separate historical ruins and is the only national park that preserves man-made structures, as opposed to natural features.

St. Elmo Ghost Town - near Buena Vista
Built in 1878, St. Elmo is one of Colorado's best-preserved ghost towns. It consists of twenty-four original buildings, including a mercantile, a saloon, a jail/courthouse and many private homes.