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Colorado’s 137th birthday

by Nancy Christofferson
COLORADO —Today, Thursday, Aug. 1, is Colorado Day. Our state is now 137 years old.
For those of you who may be newcomers, or maybe oldtimers who have forgotten the facts and figures you learned oh so many years ago in school about the great state of Colorado, here are some tidbits and oddments for your consideration.
Colorado is a Spanish word meaning red, or colored red, depending on which source you check. The state was named after the river, which in turn was named for the red mud it carries. The Colorado River is one of four major waterways flowing out of the state, the others being the Rio Grande (third longest river in the United States), the Arkansas (the sixth longest), and the South Platte. There are no major rivers flowing into the state.
The state contains 104,100 square miles, and measures 280 miles east and west, and 380 miles south and north. Only 371 square miles are covered by water. The geographic center is about 30 miles northwest of Pikes Peak, in Park County.
This state has the highest mean elevation of any of the 50, averaging about 6,800 feet in altitude, or almost the same elevation as Walsenburg. The highest point is Mount Elbert, at 14,433 feet. It is one of 54 peaks of more than 14,000 feet, and four of these are located in Huerfano County, all part of Sierra Blanca. There are more than 1,000 mountains higher than 10,000 feet, in 11 mountain ranges. All these tall mountains make Colorado the U.S. leader in deaths by avalanche each year.
The highest paved road leads to the summit of Mount Evans, which is 14,260 feet high. Grand Mesa is said to be the largest flat topped mountain in the world.
The lowest point in Colorado lies on the Kansas border, and is either along the Arkansas River in Prowers County at 3,350 feet, or on the Arikiree near Laird in Yuma County where the altitude is 3,315. Sources vary, so you decide. Low points are just not what Colorado likes to brag about.
Colorado is nicknamed the Centennial State because it achieved statehood during the centennial of the United States, in 1876. The state flag, adopted in June 1911, has but three colors, blue, red and gold. The blue represents the sky, the red, dirt, and the gold, sunshine. The state legislature did not standardize this design and color choice until 1964.
Speaking of flags, Colorado has flown at least six – those of Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the U.S. and state.
The name Colorado wasn’t formalized until the territory was formed on Feb. 28, 1861, three days before President Buchanan left office. The territory was consolidated from the State of Kansas (which had just became a state Jan. 29, 1861) and the territories of Nebraska, Utah and New Mexico. Colorado was the 38th state to enter the union when President U.S. Grant signed the bill granting statehood. The 37th state to enter was Nebraska in 1867 and the 39th was North Dakota in 1889.
While Colorado likes to be known for its climate and sunny days, the lowest temperature recorded was a whopping sixty-one degrees below zero back in 1985 in Maybell in Moffat County in the far northwest corner of the state. The highest goes to Sedgwick in Sedgwick County, which abuts Kansas and Nebraska, and where a temperature of 114 was set in 1954. That’s a lot of sunshine! Despite that though, Colorado is just the 18th most liveable state but ranked as the 28th healthiest in 2007.
Winner for the most snowfall in the least time was 95 inches in 1921 in about 36 hours. The blizzard of March 2003 in Denver is said to be the costliest at a cool $93 million.
Colorado was the second state to grant woman’s suffrage and is the only one to turn down the pleasure (?) of hosting the Olympics.
More than one third of Colorado is federally owned. Much of this is in national forests, though the state boasts four national parks, Mesa Verde, established in 1906, Rocky Mountain, 1915, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, 1933 and 1999, and the Great Sand Dunes, 2004.
The White River National Forest was Colorado’s first and the nation’s second to be set aside, back in 1891.
In terms of population, Colorado ranks 22nd in 2010, having gained 17% since 2000 when it was 24th. The highest population growth was counted between 1870 and 1880, when it leaped by 387.5% (39,864 to 194,864). It is the eighth in terms of size, following Nebraska at seventh and leading Wyoming at ninth.
Colorado has some trouble claiming famous residents. She lists folks like Molly Brown, the Tabors, John Denver (Colorado’s only official state poet laureate) and such, who actually hailed from somewhere else. She even claims Mamie Eisenhower, who was born in Iowa but did marry Ike at the Doud home in 1916 when the family was living in Denver. Another passing-through resident was Roseanne Barr, who was named Queen of Denver Comedy in 1983 where she was working as a waitress. Real life natives include Jack Dempsey, the Manassa Mauler (who has the dubious honor of having a fish named after him), Ken Kesey, the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, who was born in La Junta, actors Tim Allen, Debra Paget, Barbara Rush, Douglas Fairbanks, Lon Chaney and Jan-Michael Vincent, and Willard Libby. Willard Who?, you ask? Mr. Libby became Colorado’s only Nobel Prize winner when he won the honors for chemistry in 1960.
Then there was a really famous, though unnamed, Denver man who invented and trademarked the cheeseburger in 1935 . . .
No Colorado resident has been elected president, vice president, speaker or floor leader, though 10 have served as cabinet secretaries. The first to be chosen was Henry M. Teller, who became Secretary of the Interior in 1882. He was born in New York. Five others from Colorado served in the same post since, including the controversial James G. Watt (born in Wyoming) and Gale Norton (from Kansas). Only two of the 10 were actual Colorado natives, Charles F. Branson, named Secretary of Agriculture in 1948, and Kenneth Salazar, Secretary of the Interior from 2009 to April 2013. The most promising politician at this time is John Kerry, a native of Aurora.
Denver likes to call itself the Mile High City. It is – the 13th step of the Colorado Capitol building measures exactly 5,280 feet, or so they say. Imagine giving up the title of “Home of the Cheeseburger” just to be a Mile High City. Trinidad likes to say it is the city most often placed under martial law in the United States.
A.J. Flynn, an Alamosa school principal, wrote the state song, “Where the Columbines Grow”, in 1915, and in the same year it was officially adopted. “The Star Spangled Banner” was not adopted as national anthem until 1931.
Of course, the columbine is the official state flower, and the blue spruce the state tree, voted so by school children in 1892 on Arbor Day. Did you known the rhodochrosite is the state mineral? Or the stegosaurus the state dinosaur? Only 31 states have an official dance, and Colorado’s is the square dance, along with 24 other states.

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