Bent’s Old Fort had an important secondary role as the only permanent settlement on the Santa Fe Trail, and it was a godsend for travelers and soldiers who could stop for repairs, replenish their supplies, and enjoy good food, water, and company. Disaster and disease closed the fort in 1849; reconstruction began in 1876, and guided tours of the fort are a must for families and history buffs.
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Bishop Castle is an incredible feat of one man’s desire to singlehandedly build a fortress in the midst of the San Ysabel National Forest. Jim Bishop purchased the land in 1959 and began building his castle after he got married in 1967. He wanted to build a simple stone cabin for himself and his bride, but he never stopped building, and now the castle is a huge masterwork of turrets, crenellations, arches, and an enormous steam-producing dragon built from stainless steel plates.
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Visit any of the 5 visitors centers in the park; one is registered on the National Registry of Historic Places and was designed by the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. There is a variety of landscapes to explore, from mountains to mountain tundra, and a wide array of wildlife. Whether you come for a day and do a short hike, or stay and camp out to go on longer treks, the scenery will impress you. Don’t miss the Arapaho National Forest or Indian Peaks Wilderness.
In twenty-five acres of Colorado, more gold has been mined than in all of Alaska and California combined. The Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine was at the heart of Colorado’s gold mining industry, and this tour takes visitors into mine shafts and tunnels that have been worked since 1889. An elevator ferries visitors 1,000 feet below the earth, and it is not for the claustrophobic.
The forty-five mile trip takes four and a half hours to ride, as it is still coal-fired, and winds along narrow mountain paths and in and out of canyons. Historic narration is available on the trains for interested tourists. Both the Silverton and Durango ends of the line have railroad museums; the Durango Museum contains artifacts pertaining to the history of railroading, and the Silverton Museum displays a Baldwin Locomotive from 1902 in the original 1882 Depot.
Take a tour of the Argo Gold Mine and Mill to learn about its history, including its tunnel, which processed more than $100m worth of gold ore after its completion in 1893. This Idaho Springs attraction also provides insight into the history of the gold rush in Colorado. You and your family will not only get to tour the mine and museum, but you can also try your hand at panning for gold.
Cross the peaks of the Rocky Mountains and see the many lakes, creeks and mountain ranges – there are 8 ranges in total. Climb Coney Summit, it’s 13,334 feet above sea level. Take a load off your feet and take a horseback ride, or grab a mountain bike. Explore the old mining towns and ancient Indian trails, and you can even treat yourself to a night or two at a ski resort while you’re there.
Mesa Verde National Park, near Cortez, is perhaps the greatest archaeological wonder in the United States and a Unesco World Heritage site. Learn about the lives and history of the Ancestral Pueblo people as you visit Cliff Palace, Balcony House and Long House, incredible cliff dwellings and mesa-top villages built between 600 and 1300. There are also a few hiking trails available within the park, including one to a petroglyph panel.
Mesa Verde has been inhabited since 7500 BC by nomadic tribes, and the experts estimate that the first pueblos were built in 650 AD. The impressive cliff dwellings that still bring visitors to the park were built in 1200 AD. See the Cliff Palace and spend some time learning about these native americans at the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum. Don’t forget to explore the Mesa Top Loop Road for some excellent viewpoints and canyon overlooks.