Colorado - Nature and Scientific Wonders


Dotted across the state’s 25 scenic and historic byways, Colorado’s natural beauty and range of scientific wonders—ranging from the world’s highest suspension bridge to the tallest sand dune in America—make it the ideal destination for those who long for a good old fashioned road trip.

Perhaps one of Colorado’s most impressive sights is Mesa Verde National Park, the largest archaeological preserve in the Unites Sates. It features more than 4,000 identified structures carved into the cliffs by the Ancestral Pueblo people sometime between A.D. 600 and 1300. Park rangers offer guided tours of the awe-inspiring cliff dwellings, which were mysteriously abandoned in approximately A.D. 1300.

Nearby, guided tours are available of the 125,000-acre Ute Mountain Tribal Park, which features wall paintings, ancient petroglyphs and cliff dwellings. Likewise, the Chimney Rock Archaeological Area is a preserved settlement of the Ancestral Puebloans. Guided hikes lead visitors to the 91 permanent structures located by archaeologists, including the Great Kiva, Ridge House and Great Pueblo.

Colorado has more nationally designated scenic byways than any other state. Tracing 25 timeless routes of historic and cultural significance, the byways include the Santa Fe Trail, which resonates with the storied past of this legendary route west. Stops along the way include Bent’s Old Fort in La Junta, a replica of the fort that flourished as a trading post in the 1880s and the Santa Fe Trail Museum in Trinidad. The highest paved road in America, the 49-mile Mount Evans Byway affords a glimpse into mining history, with stops including the Argo Gold Mill and Mining Museum and the Idaho Springs Heritage Museum in Idaho Springs.

Other wonders of Colorado include the world’s largest natural hot springs, a two-block long pool in Glenwood Springs that sits across the street from the historic Hotel Colorado, a favorite of President Teddy Roosevelt.

The Cave of the Winds in Manitou Springs affords a glimpse of a historic underground cavern featuring 20 chambers filled with stalagmites, stalactites and crystal. At Glenwood Caverns and Fairy Cave spelunkers have access to a range of wonderful cave formations.

Fans of fossils need look no farther than Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, a 6,000-acre site featuring fossils preserved in the rocks of the prehistoric Lake Florissant.

Amid the surrounding Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve features America’s tallest sand dunes, 750-foot-high wind-sculpted formations.

Birdwatchers won’t want to miss Alamosa, a town surrounded by two national wildlife refuges, the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge and Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge. It offers some of the state’s best bird watching and is an ideal starting point to Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic and Historic Byway.

Near Colorado Springs, the Garden of the Gods is an awe-inspiring geological site featuring red sandstone formations weathered over centuries.

Colorado boasts its fair share of scientific wonders, as well. The state’s historic railways capture Colorado’s early railroading past. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, which was originally constructed to haul gold and silver mine ores from the San Juan Mountains, traces a path through the wild Animas River Canyon. In Cañon City, the historic Royal Gorge Railroad travels the same route that set off the Royal Gorge War, a battle between two competing railroad companies. The railroad affords a postcard view of the Royal Gorge Bridge, the world’s highest suspension bridge.

In Nederland, the Bucyras 50-B Steam Shovel takes top honors as one of mining’s mechanical marvels. Built in 1923, it cut through the Panama Canal, then found its way to Colorado as a key component of a mining operation. The shovel is now the focal point of the Nederland Mining Museum.

Get the latest Travel & Culture stories in your inbox.