Colorado (U.S. state)

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This article is about Colorado (U.S. state). For other uses of the term Colorado, please see Colorado (disambiguation).

Colorado is a high-elevation, land-locked state in the western central part of the United States of America. Colorado has the highest average altitude of any state, and its centrally located capital, Denver, is sometimes called the "mile high city" because it's situated almost exactly one mile above sea level. The continental divide bisects the state (north to south). In 2020, Colorado's population was 5,773,714, up 15% from 2010. The state is highly developed and relatively wealthy, and it ranks third in the nation in percentage of people with a bachelor's degree. The state economy includes government and defense, mining, agriculture, skiing and tourism, and manufacturing.

Colorado became a state in 1876 and is known as the "Centennial State" because 1876 was a hundred years after the nation's founding. It was the 38th state to be added. Residents of the state are known as "Coloradoans", and they enjoy proximity to mountains, forests, high plains, mesas, canyons, plateaus, rivers, and deserts.

Colorado's agriculture, forestry, and tourism economies are expected to be heavily affected by climate change as temperatures increase and water becomes more scarce in the already-arid region.

As of 2023, the governor of Colorado is Jared Polis.

European settlement

The first Europeans to visit the region were Spanish conquistadors. Colorado became part of the Spanish province of Santa Fe de Nuevo México as part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain. The Spaniards traded with Native Americans of the area and established the Comercio Comanchero (Comanche Trade) among the Spanish settlements and the Native Americans.

In 1803, the United States acquired a territorial claim to the eastern flank of the Rocky Mountains by the Louisiana Purchase from France. However, the claim conflicted with Spain's claim to sovereignty over the territory. Captain Zebulon Pike, for whom Pikes Peak was later named, led a U.S. Army reconnaissance expedition into the disputed region in 1806.

Mexico won its independence with the Treaty of Córdoba signed on August 24, 1821, and assumed the territorial claims of Spain. During the period 1832 to 1856, traders, trappers, and settlers established trading posts and small settlements along the Arkansas River and South Platte Rivers near the Front Range. Prominent among these were Bent's Fort and Fort Pueblo on the Arkansas and Fort Saint Vrain on the South Platte. The main item of trade offered by the Indians was buffalo robes. In 1846, the United States went to war with Mexico. Mexico's defeat in 1848 forced the nation to relinquish its northern territories by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. This opened the southern Rocky Mountains to American settlement, including what is now the southern and western portions of Colorado. The Ute Treaty of 1868, which included agreements with seven different Ute Indian tribes, created a huge Ute reservation in western Colorado and also accelerated white settlement and gave the opportunity to exploit mineral resources. By the early 20th century, the size of the Ute reservation would be greatly reduced, due to encroachment and broken treaties by the settlers.

On April 9, 1851, Hispanic settlers from Taos, New Mexico, settled the village of San Luis, then in the New Mexico Territory, but now Colorado's first permanent European settlement.

20th and 21st century

Poor labor conditions and discontent among miners resulted in several major clashes between strikers and the Colorado National Guard, including the 1903–1904 Western Federation of Miners Strike and Colorado Coalfield War, the latter of which included the Ludlow massacre that killed a dozen women and children. Both the 1913–1914 Coalfield War and the Denver streetcar strike of 1920 resulted in federal troops intervening to end the violence.[xx] In 1927, the Columbine Mine massacre resulted in six dead strikers following a confrontation with Colorado Rangers. More than 5,000 Colorado miners—many immigrants—are estimated to have died in accidents since records were first formally collected following an 1884 accident in Crested Butte that killed 59.

In 1924, the Ku Klux Klan Colorado Realm achieved dominance in Colorado politics. With peak membership levels, the Second Klan levied significant control over both the local and state Democrat and Republican parties, particularly in the governor's office and city governments of Denver, Cañon City, and Durango. A particularly strong element of the Klan controlled the Denver Police.[30] Cross burnings became semi-regular occurrences in cities such as Florence and Pueblo. The Klan targeted African-Americans, Catholics, Eastern European immigrants, and other non-White Protestant groups.[31] Efforts by non-Klan lawmen and lawyers including Philip Van Cise lead to a rapid decline in the organization's power, with membership waning significantly by the end of the 1920s.

Colorado became the first western state to host a major political convention when the Democratic Party met in Denver in 1908. By the U.S. census in 1930, the population of Colorado first exceeded 1 million residents. Colorado suffered greatly through the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, but a major wave of immigration following World War II boosted Colorado's fortune. Tourism became a mainstay of the state economy, and high technology and aerospace manufacturing became an important economic engine.

On September 11, 1957, a plutonium fire occurred at the Rocky Flats Plant, which resulted in the significant plutonium contamination of surrounding populated areas.

From the 1940s and 1970s, many protest movements gained momentum in Colorado, predominantly in Denver. This included the Chicano Movement, a civil rights, and social movement of Mexican Americans emphasizing a Chicano identity that is widely considered to have begun in Denver.[x] The National Chicano Liberation Youth Conference was held in Colorado in March 1969.[x] In 1967, Colorado was the first state to loosen restrictions on abortion when governor John Love signed a law allowing abortions in cases of rape, incest, or threats to the woman's mental or physical health. Many states followed Colorado's lead in loosening abortion laws in the 1960s and 1970s.[x]

Since the late 1990s, Colorado has been the site of multiple major mass shootings, including the infamous Columbine High School massacre in 1999, which made international news, where Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and one teacher, before committing suicide. On July 20, 2012, a gunman killed 12 people in a movie theater in Aurora. The state responded with tighter restrictions on firearms, including introducing a limit on magazine capacity. On March 22, 2021, a gunman killed 10 people, including a police officer, in a King Soopers supermarket in Boulder.

Four warships of the U.S. Navy have been named the USS Colorado. The first USS Colorado was named for the Colorado River and served in the Civil War and later the Asiatic Squadron, where it was attacked during the 1871 Korean Expedition. The later three ships were named in honor of the state, including an armored cruiser and the battleship USS Colorado, the latter of which was the lead ship of her class and served in World War II in the Pacific beginning in 1941. At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, this battleship USS Colorado was located at the naval base in San Diego, California, and thus went unscathed. The most recent vessel to bear the name USS Colorado is Virginia-class submarine USS Colorado (SSN-788), which was commissioned in 2018.

Political and social aspects

Colorado historically, and presently, has exhibited complex aspects of political conservatism intertwined with progressive activism. There is often a rural-urban divide that determines local political persuasion.

The state was the first to make abortion legal in certain cases[1], and also one of the first to give suffrage to women.[2]


Physiography (land forms)

USGS shaded relief map of Colorado. CREDIT: U.S. government work, public domain

NOTE: Much of this material was sourced from the "Colorado" entry from the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911 edition.

Colorado is between 41° and 37° N. lat. and 102° and 109° W. long., bounded on the north by Wyoming and Nebraska, on the east by Nebraska and Kansas, on the south by Oklahoma and New Mexico, and one the west by Utah. It also touches Arizona to the southwest at the Four Corners.

The state's area is 104,094 square miles (of which about 400 are water surface), making its physical size the seventh largest state in the U.S.

Colorado contains a variety of plains, mountains, and plateaus. It lies at the junction of the Great Plains, which in their upward slant to the westward attain an average elevation of about 4000 ft. along the east boundary of the state—with the Rocky Mountains, to the west of which is a portion of the Colorado Plateau. These are the three physiographic provinces of the state. The last-named includes a number of lofty plateaus, e.g., the Roan or Bookcliffs, and Uncompahgre, which form the eastern continuation of the high plateaus of Utah—and covers the western quarter of the state.

Its eastern third consists of rich, unbroken plains. On their west edge lies an abrupt, massive, and strangely uniform chain of mountains, known in the locale of Colorado Springs as the Rampart Range, and in the extreme north as the Front Range, and often denominated as a whole by the latter name. The upturning of the rocks of the Great Plains at the foot of the Front Range develops an interesting type of topography, the harder layers weathering into grotesquely curious forms, as seen in the famous Garden of the Gods at the foot of Pike’s Peak.

Behind this barrier the whole continent is elevated 2000 ft. or so above the level of the plains region. In its lowest portions just behind the front ranges are the natural “parks”—great plateaus basined by superb enclosing ranges; and to the west of these, and between them, and covering the remainder of the state east of the plateau region, is an entanglement of mountains, tier above tier, running from north to south, buttressed laterally with splendid spurs, dominated by scores of magnificent peaks, cut by river valleys, and divided by mesas and plateaus. These various chains are known by a multitude of local names.

Among the finest of the chains are the Rampart, Sangre de Cristo, San Juan, Sawatch (Saguache) and Elk ranges. The first, like the other ranges abutting from north to south upon the region of the prairie, rises abruptly from the plain and has a fine, bold outline. It contains a number of summits dominated by Pike’s Peak (14,108 ft.). Beautiful as a whole is the Sangre de Cristo range. At its southern end are Blanca Peak (14,390) and Old Baldy (14,176, Hayden). The mountains of the southwest are particularly abrupt and jagged. Sultan Mountain (13,366, Hayden), in San Juan County, and Mt. Eolus (14,079), in La Plata County, dominate the masses of the San Juan ranges; and Mt. Sneffels (14,150), Ouray County, and Uncompahgre Peak (14,289), Hinsdale County, the San Miguel and Uncompahgre ranges, which are actually parts of the San Juan.

Most magnificent of all the mountains of Colorado, however, are the Sawatch and adjoining ranges in the center of the state. The former (the name is used a little loosely) consists of almost a solid mass of granite, has an average elevation of probably 13,000 ft., presents a broad and massive outline, and has a mean breadth of 15–20 miles. Mt. Ouray (13,956 ft.) may be taken as the southern end, and in Eagle County, the iconic Mount of the Holy Cross (14,111)—so named from the figure of its snow-filled ravines—as the northern. Between them lie Mt. Shavano (14,239, Hayden), Mt. Princeton (14,204), Mt. Yale (14,200), Mt. Harvard (14,421), and La Plata Peak (14,342); in Pitkin County, Grizzly Peak (13,956, Hayden); and in Lake County, Mt. Elbert (14,440), the highest peak in the state; on the boundary between Summit and Park Counties, Mt. Lincoln (14,293); and, in Summit County, Mt. Fletcher (14,265). The Elk range is geologically interesting for the almost unexampled displacement of the strata of which it is composed, and the apparent confusion which has thence arisen. The summits of Mount Elbert, Massive, and Harvard are also the three highest in the entire Rocky Mountain range.

A few miles to the north and northeast of the Mount of the Holy Cross are Red Mountain (13,333, Wheeler), in Eagle County, Torreys Peak (14,267) and Gray’s Peak (14,278), in Summit County, Mount Blue Sky (14,267), in Clear Creek County, and Rosalie Peak (13,575), in Park County; farther north in Boulder County is Long’s Peak (14,229). Many fine mountains are scattered in the lesser ranges of the state. Altogether there are at least 180 summits exceeding 12,000 ft. in altitude, more than 110 above 13,000, and about 40 above 14,000.

Cirques, valley troughs, numberless beautiful cascades, sharpened alpine peaks and ridges, glacial lakes, and valley moraines offer everywhere abundant evidence of glacial action, which has modified profoundly practically all the ranges. The Park Range east of Leadville, and the Sawatch Range, are particularly good examples. Much of the grandest scenery is due to glaciation.

Mount Garfield in western Colorado, a promontory in the Book Cliff range exposed by deep erosional cutting of the Colorado River through the Grand Valley; high point is 6,640 feet above sea level. CREDIT: (CC 3.0) Photo: Jack Byrom.

Rivers and drainage, lakes

Major rivers include the Colorado River (U.S.) and its tributary, the Gunnison River. Other significant rivers include the Arkansas, Rio Grande, San Juan, South Platte, and Yampa.



Colorado has a wide variety of soils including fertile lands along rivers and on the plains of the eastern state.


Colorado has many plants. The variety varies widely with region and altitude. The state flower is the Columbine.

See also

U.S. States and Territories


  1. According to ABC News,"In 1967, Colorado became the first state to decriminalize abortion in cases of rape, incest, or in which pregnancy would lead to permanent physical disability of the woman." (June 24, 2022),
  2. "Which State Had Women’s Suffrage First?", History Colorado (July 25, 2019),