Dr. Colorado’s 10 best ways to get to know Colorado
Colorado became the 38th U.S. state in 1876. The state animal is the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, and the state bird is the Lark Bunting.
No matter how well-versed in state trivia or history one might be, it is always possible to learn more, said Tom Noel, a history professor and director of public history, preservation and Colorado studies at the University of Colorado, Denver.
More commonly known as “Dr. Colorado,” Noel has traveled the state extensively and has written nearly 40 books about its history.
In fact, “Dr. Colorado” will talk history during a 7 p.m. presentation Saturday, Oct. 1, at the Museum of the West, 462 Ute Ave. It will be followed by a downtown pub crawl.
As a college professor, Noel knows some people find history boring. He might change minds.
His upcoming Grand Junction presentation titled “Rio Grande: A Liquid History and Tavern Guide” is a guide to the state’s history through the eyes of old taverns.
It’s the same topic on which he wrote his dissertation.
If taverns seem like unexpected places to unlock Colorado history, Noel has some additional, and perhaps surprising, suggestions for ways to learn about Colorado’s history.
Here are his 10 best ways to get to know Colorado, because ...
“You know how people said ‘I’ve done it all,’ ” Noel said. “Nobody has ever done it all.”
1. VISIT OLD TAVERNS.
It should come as no surprise that the topic of “Dr. Colorado” Tom Noel’s upcoming Grand Junction presentation is one of his suggestions as to how people can learn more about this state. Old taverns “have a story,” Noel said.
For example, Quincy Bar, 609 Main St., features interesting architecture and art, he said. It is one of the stops Noel plans to make while in Grand Junction.
Bonus of old taverns: “You can get an eat or drink in them, too.”
With 16 main waterways that crisscross Colorado, not to mention numerous creeks and streams, Noel said people can learn more about the state by staying near or on the water.
“Cities are usually built along water, so often the oldest parts of a town are there.”
Noel has learned more about Grand Junction, Vail, Breckenridge and even Denver via those communities’ main waterways.
3. AVOID INTERSTATES.
It might take longer to use two-lane highways, byways or other roads, but it is worth it to stay off Interstates 70 and 25.
4. TRAVEL BY TRAIN.
Rail lines that once transported gold and silver now transport people. Colorado has 10 passenger train lines, taking people to various points throughout the state, mostly during the summer.
He suggested traveling by train because, “like waterways, you see the older parts of a town.” Colorado does not have harbors, so train stations were the gathering points of transportation.
“It’s slower” than traveling by car, Noel said. “But you don’t have to drive, and you don’t have to argue about where to stop.”
For information traveling Colorado by train, go to colorado.com/Train.aspx.
5. HOLLYWOOD, COLORADO.
Many a movie has been shot in Colorado, and Noel encourages people to visit sites of movies. People in this area may be familiar with the Kevin Costner movie “American Flyers,” released in 1985 and featuring location shots in Colorado National Monument.
But many other movies were filmed in Colorado, including “Around the World in Eighty Days,” “How the West Was Won,” “Sleeper” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”
Go see the places where those movies were made to learn more about the historical link between Hollywood and Colorado, Noel said.
6. NATIONAL PARKS.
Colorado’s four national parks are Mesa Verde National Park, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
Noel knows Colorado National Monument is not, technically, a national park, but he lumped the site in with the other four parks for the same reason: natural beauty.
Each park is distinctly different.
“You get to see the best of natural Colorado,” Noel said.
7. ANIMAL WATCHING.
Animal watching and visiting Colorado’s national parks may go hand-in-hand, Noel said, because it can be easier to catch wildlife in its natural surroundings within a park.
However, Colorado’s native animals aren’t the only animals Noel urges people to go see. The state’s large zoos, animal preserves or aquariums are worth visiting for no other reason than watching animals in person is more fun than watching them on TV, he said.
The two things Noel has never done, but still wants to do, are related to animals: See the wild horses that reside in the Little Bookcliffs Herd Management Area and visit all the dinosaur sites where bones have been found or are on display.
8. NATIVE AMERICAN SITES.
Fresh off a recent visit to the Southern Ute Cultural Center & Museum in Igancio, Noel said he was inspired by the beauty of the state-of-the-art place with its detailed exhibits about the Southern Ute Tribe.
The Denver Art Museum has a great American Indian Art collection featuring more than 18,000 objects representing the heritage of many different Native American tribes, including tribes in Colorado, Noel said. Montrose has the Ute Indian Museum, as well.
9. STAY AT GRAND HOTELS.
Some of the state’s oldest, independent hotels are some of the grandest, Noel said.
When touring the state, he often splurges on one night or multi-night stays at the old hotels because they often have “fabulous lobbies, bars and restaurants,” Noel said. “They are unique.”
Or, people can often just walk in and gawk at the old architecture or native materials such as marble or sandstone used to construct those buildings.
Among his favorites are Ouray’s Beaumont Hotel & Spa, Durango’s Strater Hotel and Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs.
“You just feel elevated when you go into a place like that and hang around,” Noel said. “They are palaces for the public.”
10. TOMBSTONE TOURS.
Before people get weirded out, Noel said there are good reasons to consider going to cemeteries to learn about Colorado. Tombstones can be made of native materials with interesting inscriptions. Some of the earliest settlers in Colorado were buried in the oldest places. Seek those old cemeteries out, such as the Orchard Mesa Cemetery in Grand Junction or Denver’s three older cemeteries: Mount Olivet Cemetery, Fairmount Cemetery and Riverside Cemetery.
“Even towns that are ghost towns have a cemetery,” Noel said.