Rocky Mountain Region: Colorado: USA
Colorado is, overall, the highest state in the United States. It has more than one thousand mountains that soar ten thousand feet or higher in the air! Because of its mountains, Colorado is famous for its ski resorts. Boulder, Colorado, is the only city in the U.S. that owns its very Glacier. Boulder purchased the glacier for water. When the weather gets warm, the glacier melts and the city uses the water.
Trail Ridge Road Travel the highest continuous paved road in the nation for stunning vistas and wildlife spotting. With more than eight miles lying above 11,000 feet and a maximum elevation of 12,183 feet, this scenic route, which crosses the U.S. Continental Divide, is the highest continuous paved road in the nation. Cutting through Rocky Mountain National Park, it provides a spectacular view of majestic mountain peaks, deep gorges, and rocky cliffs. In spring and summer fields of alpine wildflowers appear on the tundra above the timber line; vibrant fall colors contrast with pine trees bordering rocky outcroppings and dark-shadowed lakes. Wildlife abounds throughout the year. There is always a chance sighting of moose or bighorn sheep, or spotting smaller denizens of the forests in river valleys near the highway. Clean air and quiet stillness are bonus attractions, along with the park’s excellent recreational facilities.
Rifle Gap and Rifle Falls Discover this remote mountain region featuring two state parks. This remote mountain area has two state parks, and—surprisingly in this dry region—the most notable feature of each is water. The reservoir in Rifle Gap is a 350-acre lake created by the damming of East and Middle Rifle creeks in 1965. The other part is Rifle Falls, where East Rifle Creek takes a spectacular plunge. Filled with mountain runoff, the reservoir has clear turquoise water that makes it an inviting place to swim, boat, sail, and water-ski. Anglers are likely to catch walleyes, bass, pike, perch, and trout. The trout come from a hatchery that is open to visitors. About four miles north of the reservoir, Rifle Falls State Park not only has an impressive trio of 90-foot cascades side by side, but its limestone cliff has a number of small caves, the largest about 90 feet long and 25 feet high. The caves’ walls and ceilings are covered with an amazing pattern of small crisscrossing stalactites.
Sylvan Lake State Park Experience Colorado’s natural beauty at this scenic state park. For anyone craving an authentic taste of Colorado’s rugged natural beauty, this incredibly scenic park is the perfect stop. Not only is it nestled in the heart of the Rocky Mountains at an elevation of 8,500 feet, it’s also surrounded by the White River National Forest. This unspoiled alpine retreat boasts miles of fir, spruce, aspen, and juniper amid giant formations of glacial rock and sandstone. Migratory and resident birds include the raven, golden eagle, and mountain bluebird. Ideal for hiking, picnicking, or simply relaxing, the park also contains a shimmering 40-acre lake. Anglers will revel in the bounty of trout. And for winter enthusiasts there’s ice fishing as well as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling.
Colorado National Monument Overlook acres of canyons and mesas of this Great Valley. The wild vastness and beauty of this series of canyons and mesas have been preserved, thanks to local Grand Valley residents led by John Otto, a turn-of-the-century maverick who campaigned tirelessly for a national park. Sculpted by flash floods, freezing and thawing, rainwater and wind over millions of years, the magnificent formations of orange, yellow, and red sandstone can be enjoyed not only by campers and backpackers but also by day visitors. The 23-mile Rim Rock. Drive that snakes through the park can be covered on a short outing. The historic road offers excellent vantage points for motorists and bicyclists. Forty-three miles of long and shorter trails proceed across mesas and zigzag up and down the canyon walls. Golden eagles, turkey vultures, and several hawk species are among the birds that swoop overhead. Spring and fall are the best times for hiking. In the summer heat a hat and a supply of water are essential. Overnight backpackers are required to register at the visitors center.
Mesa Verde National Park Discover Native American Puebloans’ culture, dwelling and heritage. Mesa Verde Country has been home to Native American Puebloans for thousands of years. Come marvel at the lasting marks of their heritage, the dwellings of their ancestors, who for more than 700 years made the canyons, cliffs, and mesa tops of Mesa Verde their thriving and populous home until they moved away in the early 14th century. With more than 4,800 known archaeological sites and 600 of the best-preserved, multistoried cliff dwellings in the United States, the park is an archaeologist’s treasure trove. Cliff Palace, a 150-room living space that once housed about 100 people, awaits visitors to scale up the cliff walls and enter it. Hike along self-guiding tours, climb ladders to go in and out of cliff dwellings, drive by, or take a bus tour through this marvel.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve The “Great” in the name of this fascinating natural phenomenon is more than appropriate. Not only are these ever-changing dunes ranked as the tallest in North America, but the dune field stretches over 30 square miles of high mountain-valley floor. The vast expanse of sand was formed over thousands of years as sand blew off a prehistoric lake bed on the valley floor and piled up against the Sangre de Cristo mountains. The park also includes six peaks more than 13,000 feet high, alpine tundra, forests, grasslands, and wetlands. Most popular is the natural mountain beach created by Medano Creek, which flows across the sand in waves in spring and early summer and attracts many swimmers. Not surprisingly, this unusual park appeals to sand skiers as well as to hikers, backpackers, and campers, who stay in a campground in an area of junipers and pines at the dunes’ edge. Some visitors venture onto the dunes at night with flashlights in hopes of spotting kangaroo rats and giant sand-treader camel crickets that manage to survive in this arid environment. The best weather is generally spring and fall. In summer, even though the air temperature is moderate, the sand can get uncomfortably hot.