25 Lofty Facts About Colorado

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron / Chloe Effron

Even if you’ve never visited, you might know a few things about Colorado: maybe that it was the 38th territory to gain statehood, that it inspired the timeless John Denver tune “Rocky Mountain High” (now one of two official state songs), or that it’s widely accepted as our nation’s reigning pot capital.

There’s a lot more to the Centennial State than its high peaks, though. As the nation’s eighth-largest state (despite being only the 22nd most populous), Colorado represents a huge slice of U.S. and North American history—one that’s brimming with dino discoveries, rock 'n’ roll debuts, renowned Native heritage, and even a headless chicken.

1. The mile-high metropolitan center of Colorado isn’t just putting on high-altitude airs with its nickname. Stand on the 13th step leading up to the state capital building in Denver and you’ll know what being exactly one mile above sea level feels like.

2. While you're feeling high-up at the state capital building, check out the building's interior, much of which is decked out in beautiful Colorado Rose Onyx—actually, in all of it that exists, as far as we know.

3. Colorado’s achievements for height don’t begin and end in Denver—not by a mile. The state also boasts the U.S.’s highest sand dunes, its highest paved road, the contiguous United States' highest mountain peaks (with several dozen clearing the 14,000-foot mark), its highest alligator park, and its highest auto tunnel, among many other things. The long list isn’t too surprising, perhaps, given that Colorado sports 75% of all U.S. terrain that’s 10,000 feet above sea level or higher.

4. But it also holds a record for depth. As Guinness World Records reported, the “mother spring” in the spa community of Pagosa Springs—just one of many in a vast developed network—is a lovely but unassuming pool “35 feet across with an average depth of 20-30 ft [with] a hole in the bottom of two feet in diameter.”

After Guinness reps sent a 1002-foot plumb line down that hole, however, they “watched and waited in anticipation as the line went down … and down … and down,” until, maybe ten minutes later, “the line ran out without hitting any obstacles, and a new Guinness World Records achievement was verified.” For all we know, then, that mother spring is bottomless.

5. Famous for their resourcefulness and determination, Coloradans have secured a healthy number of world records for their state, including one for a 124-dB bark that took a total of 76 canine volunteers. Residents have also achieved recognition for the highest-ever score in the game “Oil Tycoon” (by an enormous margin), the largest assembled group of persons in gorilla costumes, the world’s most environmentally friendly bomb-detector, and more.

6. In 1970, the International Olympics Committee awarded Denver the honor and undertaking of hosting the 1976 Winter Olympics, something that the state had lobbied hard for alongside other domestic and international locations. Come 1972, though, state residents had the opportunity to vote on whether or not they’d allow the state to take on this very costly and possibly environmentally damaging task; almost 60% of voters decided the venture wasn’t worth it, making Colorado the only state to ever turn down the opportunity.

7. The separate indigenous groups that constitute the nomadic Ute tribe are famous for the sophisticated horsemanship they developed hundreds of years ago. In Colorado’s rich, vast, and valley-filled terrain, this allowed a significant advantage for both hunting and fighting; they were accomplished riders before many of their original and European-émigré neighbors.

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8. As European settlers encroached increasingly on Ute territory in Colorado, the tribe's different groups attempted to discourage the new agriculture developments (which displaced grazing lands for their horses) and government surveyors however they could; sometimes, the struggles ended in violence.

After the U.S. government finally suppressed the so-called Ute uprising with a larger presence of soldiers, Chief Ouray and his second wife, Chipeta, traveled to Washington D.C., where he spoke before Congress on behalf of his people and to explain the situation in his homeland. Ouray signed a treaty with government officials before returning home, but, very sadly, it did not allow Ute tribe-members to remain in Colorado as they wanted; instead, they were displaced to Utah reservations en masse.

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9. As Matthew McConaughey once observed, the "man who invented the hamburger was smart," but the "man who invented the cheeseburger was a genius." Several persons from various states have claimed the latter honor, but one of the top contenders of record is Louis Ballast of Denver, who began selling them in 1935 "at the Humpty Dumpty Drive-In near Federal and Speer boulevards" in a restaurant often "referred to as The Barrel because it looked like one." Ballast reportedly "first tried Hershey bars and peanut butter as burger toppings, but neither impressed the customers," according to the Denver Post.

10. Infamous horror actor Lon Chaney, Sr., a.k.a. the "Man With a Thousand Faces," was born in Colorado Springs in 1883; just 70 years later, comedian Tim Allen came into the world in Denver. Which career best reflects the spirit of the Centennial State? Hard to say.

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11. M. P. Felch discovered the first known remains of a Stegosaurus hidden in Colorado's mountainous terrain in 1876, and the state also gave us the most complete Stegosaurus skeleton even found—nicknamed "Spike"—in 1992.

12. While all dinos do not get equal press, former residents of Colorado (based on fossil finds) include species such as Allosaurus, Amphicoelias, Apatosaurus, Brachiosaurus, Camarasaurus,  Ceratosaurus, Cionodon, Denversaurus, Diplodocus, Dryosaurus, Epanterias, Haplocanthosaurus, Marshosaurus, Nanosaurus, Ornithomimus, Othnielia, Polyonax, Supersaurus, Torvosaurus, Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus rex, and Ultrasauros.

13. Led Zeppelin made their American debut in front of Colorado rock fans. According to promoter Barry Fey, organizers weren't sure how this British band—then relatively unknown in the U.S.—would play to crowds at Auditorium Arena in Denver on December 26, 1968. Nevertheless, it went off without a hitch; Fey recalled that, after the band's intro of, “Ladies and gentleman, please welcome, direct from England for their North America debut, Led Zeppelin!”:

There was a smattering of polite applause. Then, Robert Plant let it rip and everybody in the audience was stunned. Frankly, I don’t know how [the next band, Spirit] went on after that. You didn’t have to be a genius to know Zeppelin was going to be a smash. Oh, my God. People were going crazy!

14. Setting aside the Great Diamond Hoax of 1872, Colorado has produced plenty of real, gem-quality and industrial-quality diamonds in its day, many near "Diamond Peak."

15. It was also the site of a huge silver boom. After the precious metal was discovered near Leadville in 1879, prospectors rushed the region hoping to find their own fortunes. Many did, too: by the time the price of silver collapsed in the early 1890s, over $80 million worth of silver had been dug up.

16. As a result of these booms, Colorado has almost as many "dead" towns as live ones. In addition to the discovery of silver and diamonds, Colorado also drew waves of settlers and fortune-seekers throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Settlements and trading posts sprang up to support gold miners, fur trappers, and various other entrepreneurial types; by the time the dust had mostly settled in the mid-20th century, however, Coloradans found themselves left with as many as 500 ghost settlements

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17. According to some, access to the massive amount of oil shale under Colorado and Utah's Rocky Mountains could make the U.S. one of the top two oil-producers in the world. Understandably, though, Coloradans and environmentalists around the country still have some concerns.

18. Marijuana was legalized there in 2014, but if pot's not your thing, the state is also a beer-drinker's paradise. At last count, the state housed 289 different breweries, the third-highest number in the country. It also hosts the annual Great American Beer Festival, a three-day event in which hundreds of beer experts and thousands of fans flock to Denver from around the world in shared appreciation of real liquid gold: beer. 

19. Daveco Liquors in Thornton, Colorado, prides itself on being the "World's Largest Liquor Store." The shop covers an area of 100,073.1 square feet (almost 2.3 acres). So, if you're the indecisive type, maybe skip a visit to Daveco before your next Colorado barbeque.

20. Mike the Headless Wonder Chicken was born in the state … and lost his head there, too. Also known as Miracle Mike, this special chicken met his end in 1945 when Fruita, CO farmer Lloyd Olsen set out to kill the bird for his and his wife's evening meal. When Olsen chopped off Mike's head, though (which he later saved as proof), he missed Mike's jugular vein and left one ear and most of Mike's brain stem intact. From then on, the chicken was (mostly) able to function as his kind usually do.

Over the next 18 months, Miracle Mike—who was fed through the throat with a dropper by the Olsens and his manager—toured the nation, earning a quarter per viewer for his owners and even putting on several pounds post-decapitation. Sadly, Mike finally choked to death in a hotel room one night, but he otherwise spent the last, fame-filled period of his life as a "robust chicken—a fine specimen of a chicken except for not having a head," according to Olsen. 

21. Wellesley professor Katharine Lee Bates was inspired to write “America the Beautiful,” a poem that would evolve into the famous tune, while “[celebrating] the close of the session by a merry expedition to the top of Pike’s Peak” in 1893. They made the ascent by prairie wagon. Moved by “the sea-like expanse of fertile country ... under those ample skies,” she said, “the opening lines of the hymn floated into [her] mind.” 

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22. San Francisco's Lombard Street may be extra-twisty, but it's small potatoes (curly fries?) compared to the 26.5-mile stretch of Denver's Colfax Avenue, the longest continuous street in America

23. With its rich history of horsemanship, it's no surprise that Colorado held the first-ever rodeo on record in Deer Trail on the Fourth of July, 1869, or that the state continues to host the most rodeo events per year in the country.

24. Would-be cowboys better be sober. In this state, riding a horse while intoxicated is considered a traffic offense (not to mention dangerous, and pretty rude to the horse).

25. Coloradans take the treatment of the environment seriously too. In Colorado, it is reportedly unlawful for any person to "willfully mar, mutilate, deface, disfigure, or injure beyond normal use any rocks, trees, shrubbery, wild flowers, or other features of the natural environment in recreation areas of the state." All things considered, it seems like a pretty reasonable request (as does the bylaw that restricts llamas from being grazed in public areas).