Colorado State Study

ColoradoIn the tops of the Rockies, skiing, and how ’bout them Broncos, it’s time for a Colorado State Study.


Colorado, first inhabited by the Apache, Pueblo, Arapaho, Cheyenne, Comanche, Ute, and Shoshone tribes, was explored early by the Spanish and claimed for Spain in 1706.  There were no Spanish settlements in the area though.

In 1821 Mexico won its independence from Spain and took over Spanish land claims, but there still were no Mexican settlements in Colorado.

In 1848 Mexico was defeated by the US in the Mexican-American war and America took Colorado by treaty.  Still no settlements.

In 1858 gold was discovered at Pike’s Peak and suddenly there were settlements all over the Colorado Rockies, boom towns.  The territory of Colorado was established in 1861 and in 1876 Colorado became a state.

These are the Front Range Peaks west of Denver. This is also the continental Divide. Photo by Hogs555, CC license, Wikimedia.

Fabulous Facts About Colorado

  • In 1976 Colorado turned down the Olympic games after it had already been awarded, the only venue to ever refuse.  The reason was that voters did not approve a tax in order to raise money for the games.
  • Colorado is Spanish and means colored red.
  • Colorado is one of the four corners states, the only place where four state boundaries touch at a square corner.
  • The motto of Colorado is Nil sine Numine: Nothing without Providence.
  • Colorado’s nickname is “the Centennial State” because it was made a state exactly 100 years after American Independence was declared.

This is the Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. Photo by Andreas F. Borchert, CC license, Wikimedia.

Map Exploration

Color an elevation map of Colorado using this Colorado Map and a student atlas.  Use two colors, one for mountains and one for the plains.  The Rocky Mountains take up the western 2/3 of the state, from Denver west.  And the Great Plains make up the eastern side.  Color and label the major rivers.  Label Pike’s Peak and the Continental divide.

Colorado web

 Additional Layers

  • Discuss the definition of a continental divide.  Look at a globe or world map that shows mountains.  Where else in the world are there continental divides?
  • When looking at an elevation map sometimes we can think that the colors represent vegetation.  In the map above that would make the mountains barren and brown and the plains green and lush.  It’s not really that way.  Actually the mountains are wet and green and covered with trees in some places, dryer and covered with smaller trees in other places, and have a high alpine climate in others.  There are also desert areas in the Colorado Rockies.  The plains on the other hand are pretty dry most of the year, that is why they support grasses, but not many trees.  Explain this to your kids and if it helps have them use wild colors for elevation like purple and bright pink.
  • Discuss the concept of boom towns.  What drew so many people so quickly to these places out in the middle of nowhere?  What problems do you think they had that they wouldn’t have had if they had grown more slowly?  Mining towns had a different aspect than farming communities, with different types of people.  Which do you think would be more wild?  Why?  Some boom towns in Colorado thrived and still exist, like Colorado Springs. Others disappeared forever.  Why would some stay and some disappear?  What makes a town permanent?
  • Having the Olympics is a big honor for a city and brings in tourism, but it also costs a ton.  Research some recent Olympic games.  Did the cities come out ahead in dollars or behind?  Do you think the Olympics are worth hosting?  Would you want the Olympics in your town?
  • Pick a Colorado tribe and learn more about them.  Where exactly did they live?  What kind of homes did they live in?  What did they eat?  Who were they friends with and who were their enemies?  Do they still exist as a tribe?

This is downtown Denver at sunset. Denver is the capital and the most populated city in Colorado with about 649,000 people. Photo by Larry Johnson, CC license, Wikimedia.

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