North America > USA > Colorado

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Archaeology and History Sites in Colorado

A reconstructed Bent's Old Fort in Colorado.

Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site

Bent’s Old Fort is an adobe-brick trading outpost built to facilitate exchange between European American and Native American communities along the Santa Fe Trail. Charles and William Bent’s company oversaw its construction, resulting in its current name. Constructed in 1833, it remained operational till 1849. It was then reconstructed in the 1970s, at which point it became a heritage attraction open to the public. Various reenactors in period costume now welcome visitors.

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

Covering 176,000 acres of federal land, the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument encompasses over 6000 known archaeological sites, representing the largest concentration of such sites within the U.S. Many of these features are associated with the Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) people and include houses, kivas, shrines, sweat lodges, petroglyphs, and dams. Significant artefact collections are on display at the Canyons of the Ancients Visitor Center and Museum.

Chimney Rock Archaeological Site

Another of the Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) sites to be found in Colorado is the Chimney Rock Archaeological Site, located within the broader Chimney Rock National Monument. Around 200 prehistoric structures are known at the site, which include a Great Kiva, a Pit House, and a Great House Pueblo, primarily constructed between the tenth and twelfth centuries. At this point the site appears to have been abandoned. The natural rock formations are also impressive.

Holzwarth Historical Site

The Holzwarth Historical Site introduces visitors to life for homesteaders in the Rocky Mountains. In 1917, two German migrants, John and Sophia Holzwarth, purchased land in the Kawuneeche Valley and established a homestead. Gradually they built up a business and built further buildings in the vicinity, including cabins and a barn. The national park authorities took possession of the homestead in the 1970s and it has since become a visitor’s attraction.

Hovenweep National Monument

The Hovenweep National Monument encompasses six prehistoric villages that were built during the 13th century. These were inhabited by the people archaeologists now call Ancestral Puebloans, although there is also evidence of older hunter-gatherer activity on the site. Particularly impressive are the multi-story towers perched atop the boulders overlooking the epic Colorado landscape. Some visitors choose to camp at the site, with some limited facilities available for this.

Last Chance Mine

Last Chance Mine near Creede was established amidst Colorado’s silver boom to tap into the Amethyst Vein beneath the surface. The prospector Theodore Renniger began the mining operation in the 1890s and the mine remained active until the 1970s. In 1995, mining enthusiast Jack Morris bought the abandoned mine and began renovation of its buildings. It now serves as a visitor attraction, popular among rock hounds looking to collect Amethyst Vein rocks.

Ludlow Tent Colony Site

One of the most famous locations in the history of the American workers’ movement, the Ludlow Tent Colony Site commemorates the 1914 Ludlow Massacre. After 1,200 coal miners and their families went on strike, the National Guard opened fire on their tent settlement with machine guns. Around twenty people, including children, died. The United Mine Workers of America now own the site and have erected a large granite monument to commemorate those killed.

The Puebloan ruins known as Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Mesa Verde National Park

In an area covering more than 200 square kilometres there are over 5,000 archaeological sites – including 600 cliff dwellings. Some of these are amongst the best preserved Pueblo ruins anywhere in the United States, and the most exceptional sites are open to the public throughout the year. Cliff Palace is thought to be the biggest cliff dwelling. The park welcomes day visitors, but there are also facilities for those who wish to spend a bit longer exploring the variety of accessible sites.

Picture Canyon

Picture Canyon in the Comanche National Grassland is home to a rich variety of pictographs produced by prehistoric communities. Various sites of archaeological importance can be found in the canyon. The pictographs feature a range of human and animal figures. It has been argued that those in Crack Cave are placed so as to be illuminated on the equinoxes. A hiking trail, replete with picnic tables, passes through the area.

Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Park

The Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Park is managed by members of the indigenous Ute Nation. Ute-led tours offer visitors the chance to explore reservation land and take in both the geological and the archaeological features of the landscape, which has been inhabited by many different groups, including the Ancestral Puebloans. Taking in features such as petroglyphs, the tour offers explanations as to the importance of this area’s heritage, particularly for the Ute Mountain people.

Yucca House National Monument

Located in Montezuma County, the Yucca House National Monument lies at the base of the Sleeping Ute Mountain. A settlement site inhabited during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, it was home to people whom archaeologists call the Ancestral Puebloans, but who were previously commonly known as the Anasazi. After the thirteenth century, the site was abandoned, although the precise reasons for this are not known. The settlement has yet to be excavated.

Museums in Colorado

Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum

The Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum focuses attention on the history of the Pikes Peak area during the 19th century. In doing so it explores both the European American and African American individuals who settled in the region during the period as well as their interactions with the varied Native American communities living here. This history is showcased through an array of artefacts and photographs, collected together in the old El Paso County Courthouse.

History Colorado Center

The History Colorado Center in Denver explores the heritage of this western state. Opened in 2012 as a successor to the Colorado History Museum, the Center houses a rich and diverse range of artefacts from clothing and weapons through to photographs. These cover a period of 12,000 years and include many archaeological finds from Mesa Verde. The Center also houses an extensive archive for those wishing to delve deeper into Colorado history.

Hotel de Paris Museum

Georgetown’s Hotel de Paris Museum was once a restaurant and hotel established by Louis Dupuy, a French migrant who had moved to the area in the midst of its silver mining boom. Fitted with many of the luxuries of the late 19th century, in the early 20th century it became a boarding house. In 1955 the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America took over, transforming it into a museum.

Molly Brown House Museum

As its name suggests, this Denver museum was the home of socialite and philanthropist Molly Brown, a woman who achieved notability as a survivor of the sinking of the Titanic. The house served multiple purposes during the 20th century although eventually fell into disrepair. In the 1970s, activists saved it from demolition and oversaw restoration. It is now a visitor’s attraction showcasing Brown’s life and displaying artefacts reflecting late 19th century Denver life.

Old Homestead House Museum

The Old Homestead House Museum in Cripple Creek was built in 1896 to serve as a brothel, being modelled on elite Parisian brothels of the day. In 1958 it opened as a museum and since then has told the story of the women who worked there and the men who visited them. The interior rooms remain decorated as they would have appeared during the 19th century, with many period furnishings.

Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site

At this living history museum in Colorado Springs, visitors can get a glimpse into life in this region at various points in history. Different buildings are presented to give snapshots of life as it would have been at distinct points between 1775 and 1907. These range from a base camp used by the Ute natives through to a blacksmith’s shop and on to an orchard house. Costumed reenactors help bring the past to life.

Rosemount Museum

One of the premier heritage attractions in Pueblo, this elegant mansion was finished in 1893 to serve as a family home for John A. Thatcher, a prominent local businessman. His family retained ownership until the 1960s. Now run as a museum, many of its rooms remain furnished as they would have appeared in Thatcher’s time. Other rooms display items from the collection of Thatcher’s friend, Andrew McClelland, most notably an Egyptian mummy.

South Park City

Opened in 1959, the open-air museum in South Park City, Fairplay, seeks to immerse visitors in the life and times of a late 19th century mining town on the American frontier. Around 35 buildings have been preserved from various parts of Colorado and reassembled here, in an awe-inspiring valley. These structures have been decorated with artefacts from the period. Alongside these buildings is an operational steam train and various other vehicles.

Temple Israel

The American West has long been home to a Jewish community, something you can learn more about at the Temple Israel museum in Leadville. Housed in a timber Carpenter Gothic-style synagogue built in 1884, the museum opened in 2012. It brings together a range of displays to tell the story of Jewish life on the frontier, of the synagogue itself, and of the mining town during the late 19th century.

Tread of Pioneers Museum

The Tread of Pioneers Museum in Steamboat Springs is housed in a Queen Anne-style house built in 1901. Alongside its changing range of temporary exhibitions, the museum’s permanent displays explore the heritage of both Native American communities and the European American pioneers who settled in the region during the 19th century. It also details the history of mining in the area and the story of how the town became a popular skiing destination.