Despite a tragic summer, Colorado is still the real sunshine state

Also read: Fifty latest reasons Colorado is the best state in the country

Despite a tragic summer, Colorado is still the real sunshine state
Illustration by Shaw Nielsen

From purple mountains majesty to amber waves of beer to 300 days of sunshine per year, there's a lot to love about Colorado...even this summer, the most trying in recent memory.

No sooner had we recovered from killer cantaloupes than the state faced crippling droughts. Then came the fires, which destroyed homes, businesses and lives in cities as large as Colorado Springs and as small as Last Chance. The smoke had hardly cleared when Denver police officer Celena Hollis was shot to death at City Park. And there was so much more senseless mayhem to come: seventy people shot, twelve of them fatally, at Aurora's Century 16 just after midnight on July 20.

Twelve days later, on August 1, Colorado marked the 136th anniversary of becoming a state. And on Colorado Day, Westword reporters set out to take the pulse of Colorado, to rediscover some of our favorite places, experience some of the most historic spots and, most important, remember why we live in this state, which stays beautiful even with its scars.           

There have been many gods that called Colorado Springs home.
chalmers butterfield
There have been many gods that called Colorado Springs home.
Lee Reitz's dish held the day at the cantaloupe cook-off.
Lee Reitz's dish held the day at the cantaloupe cook-off.

Some of the stories that follow talk about renewal, some talk about change, and some simply remind us of what is special about Colorado. — Jonathan Shikes

Also read: Fifty latest reasons Colorado is the best state in the country

The Olympic Training Center, Colorado Springs

In 1893, Katharine Lee Bates, an English professor summering in Colorado Springs, wrote a flowery poem inspired by a trip up Pikes Peak. With a few tweaks, the poem was set to music and became the patriotic anthem "America the Beautiful" — a celebration of freedom and heroic striving, rugged natural beauty and fruited (originally "enameled") plains.

The mountains remain majestic, the skies spacious, but there's not much purple to be seen in the region's landscape these days. In this drought-cursed season, Pikes Peak is a sun-baked rock without a trace of snowcap; below it, the scorched flanks of the city's western foothills resemble a scenic postcard smudged with charcoal — a reminder of the Waldo Canyon blaze that claimed more than 300 homes, the most destructive fire in state history.

The wounds from that conflagration will take years to heal. Yet Colorado Springs remains a place of unexpected gifts, both natural and manmade. Not all of its surprises have been well-received; this is, after all, the town that gave us Amendment 2, Douglas Bruce and Ted Haggard. Yet it also has a terrific fine-arts center and many of the top tourist draws, from the cheesy to the magnificent — the Broadmoor, the Air Force Academy, the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, museums of ghost towns and wax presidents — that have helped define Colorado and its charms for generations.

One of the most well-known is the Garden of the Gods. With its Tolkien-esque red-rock spires and castles and ship's prows, drive-through scenery not quite tame or wild, this sprawling wonderland is a dramatic example of what's now called the wild-urban interface. If the fire is evidence of the risk people take, the price they sometimes pay for living close to the natural world, the Garden of the Gods shows why people want to be there.

In 1879, at the urging of Springs founder William Jackson Palmer, railroad baron Charles Perkins snapped up hundreds of breathtaking acres in the area. But Perkins never developed the land. In an act of generosity and vision, he left the "garden" in its natural state for the enjoyment of the general public, an arrangement later formalized by his children, who donated the land to the city for a free park.

A few miles away is a garden of other, more human-looking gods: the U.S. Olympic Complex, the flagship training center for the athletic deities the country exhibits on a global stage every four years. (Winter Olympic hopefuls train primarily in Lake Placid, New York; a third center in California hosts volleyball, diving and other sports in which high-altitude training can actually throw off your timing.)

This, too, is a work of canny generosity and foresightedness: When the Ent Air Force Base closed in the 1970s, the city fathers wooed the U.S. Olympic Committee here by offering the prime 37-acre site for a dollar.

The result is a swimming pool that holds more than 900,000 gallons of water and takes several days to fill using fire hoses; the largest indoor shooting range in the hemisphere; a thriving paralympic program; some of the most sophisticated sports medicine and training gear on the planet, including high-def cameras and playback screens that allow athletes to review their own performance from various angles; millions pumped into the local economy; and a sleek system, financed largely through corporate sponsorship and not a single tax dollar, for preparing a stream of world-class performers and living inspirations, right down to the latest model, Colorado's own super-achieving Missy Franklin. The swimming superstar, who goes to Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, first met fellow gold-medal winner Michael Phelps at the training center four years ago; she's likely to return to Colorado Springs to train for the 2016 games.

The Waldo Canyon fire was contained after seventeen days. But there's another fire in Colorado Springs, the one in the replica Olympic torch on top of the visitor's center at the complex. It never goes out.

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Come to beautiful Colorado to vacation.

Return home w/ a record and on probation.....


It's too bad our police forces,

and individuals such as Carole Chambers,

ruin what once was one of the best best

places to live in the nation......


from dave eberhardt, baltimore, md-to the sunshine state



Rain fell in Aurora, Colorado today,

 It fell for the Victims and Executioner as well

. It smiled at the dawn references That news reporters made re the name,

 Although none of them made any;

 It smiled at the Lack of reporting On Colorado gun laws... 

It forgave and forgave.

 If you listened closely you Might have heard how it said: 

Forgive and forgive.

 Seek no vengeance, work for peace. It said,

I washed the blood off Forever battlefields and I can wash this off

. Press on,

it said but it said it like this: 

Ssssh, ssssh...




   From:     Hogan, Steve <>To:     '' <>  Odd, but that's the same message an opponent of stronger laws sent me.  Someday maybe your side and their side will grow up, and get past calling each other names. Colorado law does not allow cities to overrule the state legislature, even if they want to.  Since I couldn't do anything one way or the other without a vote of another elected body, where does that put me, other than in the same place as you, and the person on the other side of the issue? Next time, and there will be a next time unless all types of weapons are outlawed, you might really think first about those actually killed or wounded, instead of your political agenda. Steve HoganMayorCity of Aurora