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Colorado (pronounced or, ) is a U.S. state that encompasses most of the Southern Rocky Mountains as well as the northeastern portion of the Colorado Plateau and the western edge of the Great Plains. Colorado is part of the Western United States, the Mountain States, and the Southwestern United States.
The state was named for the Colorado River, which early Spanish explorers named the Rio Colorado for the red colored (Spanish: Colorado) silt the river carried from the mountains. In 1861, Jefferson Territorial officials decided that "Colorado" would be a fitting name for a new territory. Colorado is nicknamed the "Centennial State" because it was admitted to the Union as the 38th state in 1876, the centennial year of the United States Declaration of Independence.
Colorado is bordered by the northwest state of Wyoming to the north, the midwest states of Nebraska and Kansas to the northeast and east, on the south by New Mexico and a small portion of the southern state of Oklahoma, and on the west by Utah. The four states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah meet at one common point known as the Four Corners, which is known as the heart of the American Southwest. Colorado is one of only three U.S. states with no natural borders, the others being neighboring Wyoming and Utah.
Colorado is noted for its vivid landscape of mountains, plains, mesas, canyons, plateaus, rivers, and desert lands. The United States Census 2010 tallied the state population at 5,029,196 as of April 1, 2010, an increase of +16.92% since the United States Census 2000. Denver is the capital and the most populous city of Colorado. Residents of the state are properly known as "Coloradans", although the archaic term "Coloradoan" is still used.
The borders of Colorado were originally defined to be lines of latitude and longitude, making its shape a latitude-longitude quadrangle which stretches from 37°N to 41°N latitude and from 102°03'W to 109°03'W longitude (25°W to 32°W from the Washington Meridian). Colorado, Wyoming and Utah are the only states which have boundaries defined solely by lines of latitude and longitude. When placing the border markers for the Territory of Colorado, minor surveying errors resulted in several nearly imperceptible kinks, most notably along the border with the Territory of Utah. Once agreed upon by the Federal, state, and territorial governments, those surveyors' benchmarks, became the legal boundaries for the Colorado Territory, kinks and all.
The summit of Mount Elbert at in elevation in Lake County is the highest point of Colorado and the Rocky Mountains. Colorado is the only U.S. state that lies entirely above elevation. The point where the Arikaree River flows out of Yuma County, Colorado, and into Cheyenne County, Kansas, is the lowest point in Colorado at elevation. This point holds the distinction of being the highest low elevation point of any state.
Nearly one third of the area of Colorado is flat and rolling land. East of the Rocky Mountains are the Colorado Eastern Plains of the High Plains, the section of the Great Plains within Colorado at elevations ranging from roughly . The plains states of Kansas and Nebraska border Colorado to the east and northeast. The Colorado plains are usually thought of as prairies, but actually they have patches of deciduous forests, buttes, and canyons. Eastern Colorado is presently mainly covered in farmland, along with small farming villages and towns. Precipitation is fair, averaging from annually. The summers in the plains are normally hot and dry, while the winters are often quite cold, snowy, and icy. Corn, wheat, hay, soybeans, and oats are all typical crops, and most of the villages and towns in this region boast both a water tower and a grain elevator. As well as the farming of crops, Eastern Colorado has a good deal of livestock raising, such as at cattle ranches and hog farms. In eastern Colorado, a good deal of irrigation water is available from the South Platte, the Arkansas River, and a few other streams, and also from subterranean sources, including artesian wells. However, heavy use of ground water from wells for irrigation has caused underground water reserves to decline.
Most of Colorado's population resides along the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains in the Front Range Urban Corridor between Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Pueblo, Colorado. This region is partially protected from prevailing storms that blow in from the Pacific Ocean region by the high Rockies in the middle of Colorado. The only other significant population centers are at Grand Junction and Durango in far western Colorado.
To the west of Great Plains of Colorado rises the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains. Notable peaks of the Rocky Mountains include Longs Peak, Mount Evans, Pikes Peak, and the Spanish Peaks near Walsenburg, Colorado, in southern Colorado. This area drains to the east and the southeast, ultimately either via the Mississippi River or the Rio Grande into the Gulf of Mexico.
The Continental Divide extends along the crest of the Rocky Mountains. The area of Colorado to the west of the Continental Divide is called the Western Slope of Colorado. Drainage water west of the Continental Divide flows to the southwest via the Green River and the Colorado River into the Gulf of California.
Within the interior of the Rocky Mountains are several large so-called "parks" or high broad basins. In the north, on the east side of the Continental Divide is the North Park of Colorado. The North Park is drained by the North Platte River, which flows north into Wyoming and Nebraska. Just to the south of North Park, but on the western side of the Continental Divide, is the Middle Park of Colorado, which is drained by the Colorado River. The South Park of Colorado is the region of the headwaters of the South Platte River.
In southmost Colorado is the large San Luis Valley, where the headwaters of the Rio Grande are located. The Rio Grande drains due south into New Mexico, Mexico, and Texas. Across the Sangre de Cristo Range to the east of the San Luis Valley lies the Wet Mountain Valley. These basins, particularly the San Luis Valley, lie along the Rio Grande Rift, a major geological formation of the Rocky Mountains, and its branches.
The Rocky Mountains within Colorado contain about 54 peaks that are or higher in elevation above sea level, known as fourteeners. These mountains are largely covered with trees such as conifers and aspens up to the tree line, at an elevation of about in southern Colorado to about in northern Colorado. Above this only alpine vegetation grows. Only small parts of the Colorado Rockies are snow-covered year round. Much of the alpine snow melts by mid-August with the exception of a few snowcapped peaks and a few small glaciers. The Colorado Mineral Belt, stretching from the San Juan Mountains in the southwest to Boulder and Central City on the front range, contains most of the historic gold- and silver-mining districts of Colorado.
The 30 highest major summits of the Rocky Mountains of North America all lie within the state. Colorado is home to four national parks, six national monuments, two national recreation areas, two national historic sites, three national historic trails, a national scenic trail, 11 national forests, two national grasslands, 41 national wilderness areas, two national conservation areas, eight national wildlife refuges, 44 state parks, a state forest, 323 state wildlife areas, and numerous other scenic, historic, and recreational attractions.
The Western Slope of Colorado is drained by the Colorado River and its tributaries (primarily the Green River and the San Juan River), or by evaporation in its arid areas. Prominent in the southwestern area of the Western Slope are the high San Juan Mountains, a rugged mountain range, and to the west of the San Juan Mountains, the Colorado Plateau, a high arid region that borders Southern Utah. The city of Grand Junction, Colorado, is the largest city on the Western Slope, Grand Junction and Durango are the only major centers of radio and television broadcasting, newspapers, and higher education on the Western Slope. The Mesa State College in Grand Junction, Western State College in Gunnison, and Fort Lewis College in Durango are the only four-year colleges in Colorado west of the Continental Divide.
Grand Junction is located along Interstate 70, the only major highway of Western Colorado. Grand Junction is also along the major railroad of the Western Slope, the Union Pacific, which also provides the tracks for Amtrak's California Zephyr passenger train, which crosses the Rocky Mountains between Denver and Grand Junction via a route on which there are no continuous highways.
To the southeast of Grand Junction is the Grand Mesa, said to be the world's largest flat-topped mountain. Other towns of the Western Slope include Glenwood Springs with its resort hot springs, and the ski resorts of Aspen, Breckenridge, Vail, Crested Butte, Steamboat Springs, and Telluride.
The northwestern corner of Colorado is a sparsely-populated region, and it contains part of the noted Dinosaur National Monument, which is not only a paleontological area, but is also a scenic area of high, rocky hills, canyons, and streambeads. Here, the Green River briefly crosses over into Colorado.
From west to east, the land of Colorado consists of semi-desert-like basins, turning into plateaus, then alpine mountains, National Forests, and then the relatively-flat grasslands and scattered forests of the Great Plains. The famous Pikes Peak is located just west of Colorado Springs. Its isolated peak is visible from nearly the Kansas border on clear days, and also far to the north and the south.
Colorado is one of four states in the United States that share a common geographic point the Four Corners, together with Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. At this intersection, it is possible to stand in four states at once.
The climate of Colorado is quite complex compared to most of the United States. Unlike in other states, southern Colorado is not necessarily warmer than northern Colorado. Most of Colorado is made up of mountains, foothills, high plains, and desert lands. Mountains and surrounding valleys greatly affect local climate. As a general rule, with an increase in elevation comes a decrease in temperature and an increase in precipitation. A main climatic division in Colorado occurs between the Rocky Mountains on the west and the plains on the east with the foothills forming a transitional zone between the two. It does snow in Colorado, but the snow often melts very quickly. Northeast, east, and southeast Colorado are mostly the high plains, while Northern Colorado is a mix of high plains, foothills, and mountains. Northwest and west Colorado are predominantly mountainous, with some very arid/desert lands mixed in. Southwest and southern Colorado are a complex mixture of desert and mountain areas.
The climate of the Eastern Plains is semi-arid (Köppen climate classification BSk) with low humidity and moderate precipitation, usually from annually. The area is known for its abundant sunshine and cool clear nights, which give this area a great average diurnal temperature range. In summer, this area can have many days above and sometimes , although is the maximum in the front range cities above . In the plains, the winter extremes can be from 0 °F (-18 °C) to and . The all time low in the area was . About 75% of the precipitation falls within the growing season, from April to September, but this area is very prone to droughts. Most of the precipitation comes from thunderstorms, which are often severe, and from major snowstorms that occur most often in the early spring, late autumn, and sometimes winter. Otherwise, winters tend to be mostly dry and cold. In much of the region, March and April are the snowiest months. April and May are normally the rainiest months, while April is the wettest month overall. The Front Range cities closer to the mountains tend to be warmer in the winter due to chinook winds which warm the area, sometimes bringing temperatures of or higher in the winter. The average July temperature is in the morning and in the afternoon. The average January temperature is in the morning and in the afternoon, although variation between consecutive days can be 40 °F (22 °C).