Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
719
COLORADO

Royal Gorge; and the superb Black Canyon (15 m.) of the Gunnison and the Cimarron. But there are scores of others which, though less grand, are hardly less beautiful. The exquisite colour contrasts of the Cheyenne canyons near Colorado Springs, Boulder Canyon near the city of the same name, Red Cliff and Eagle River Canyons near Red Cliff, Clear Creek Canyon near Denver—with walls at places 1000 ft. in height—the Granite Canyon (11 m.) of the South Platte west of Florissant, and the fine gorge of the Rio de las Animas (1500 ft.), would be considered wonderful in any state less rich in still more marvellous scenery. One peculiar feature of the mountain landscapes are the mines. In districts like that of Cripple Creek their enormous ore “dumps” dot the mountain flanks like scores of vast ant-hills; and in Eagle River canyon their mouths, like dormer windows into the granite mountain roof, may be seen 2000 ft. above the railway.

Many parts of the railways among the mountains are remarkable for altitude, construction or scenery. More than a dozen mountain passes lie above 10,000 ft. Argentine Pass (13,000 ft.), near Gray’s Peak, is one of the highest wagon roads of the world; just east of Silverton is Rio Grande Pass, about 12,400 ft. above sea-level, and in the Elk Mountains between Gunnison and Pitkin counties is Pearl Pass (12,715 ft.). Many passes are traversed by the railways, especially the splendid scenic route of the Denver and Rio Grande. Among the higher passes are Hoosier Pass (10,309 ft.) in the Park Range, and Hayden Divide (10,780) and Veta Pass (9390); both of these across the Sangre de Cristo range; the crossing of the San Miguel chain at Lizard Head Pass (10,250) near Rico; of the Uncompahgre at Dallas Divide (8977) near Ouray; of the Elk and Sawatch ranges at Fremont (11,320), Tennessee (10,229), and Breckenridge (11,470) passes, and the Busk Tunnel, all near Leadville; and Marshall Pass (10,846) above Salida. Perhaps finer than these for their wide-horizoned outlooks and grand surroundings are the Alpine Tunnel under the continental divide of the Lower Sawatch chain, the scenery of the tortuous line along the southern boundary in the Conejos and San Juan mountains, which are crossed at Cumbres (10,003 ft.), and the magnificent scenery about Ouray and on the Silverton railway over the shoulder of Red Mountain (attaining 11,235 ft.). Notable, too, is the road in Clear Creek Canyon—where the railway track coils six times upon itself above Georgetown at an altitude of 10,000 ft.

Climate.—The climate of Colorado is exceptional for regularity and salubrity. The mean annual temperature for the state is about 46°. The mean yearly isothermals crossing the state are ordinarily 35° to 50° or 55° F. Their course, owing to the complex orography of the state, is necessarily extremely irregular, and few climatic generalizations can be made. It can be said, however, that the south-east is the warmest portion of the state, lying as it does without the mountains; that the north-central region is usually coldest; that the normal yearly rainfall for the entire state is about 15.5 in., with great local variations (rarely above 27 in.). Winds are constant and rather high (5 to 10 m.), and for many persons are the most trying feature of the climate. Very intense cold prevails of course in winter in the mountains, and intense heat (110° F. or more in the shade) is often experienced in summer, temperatures above 90° being very common. The locality of least annual thermometric range is Lake Moraine (10,268 ft. above the sea)—normally 91° F.; at other localities the range may be as great as 140°, and for the whole state of course even greater (155° or slightly more). The lowest monthly mean in 16 years (1887-1903) was 17.30. Nevertheless, the climate of Colorado is not to be judged severe, and that of the plains region is in many ways ideal. In the lowlands the snow is always slight and it disappears almost immediately, even in the very foothills of the mountains, as at Denver or Colorado Springs. However hot the summer day, its night is always cool and dewless. Between July and October there is little rain, day after day bringing a bright and cloudless sky. Humidity is moderate (annual averages for Grand Junction, Pueblo, Denver and Cheyenne, Wyo., for 6 A.M. about 50 to 66; for 6 P.M. 33 to 50); it is supposed to be increasing with the increasing settlement of the country. Sunshine is almost continuous, and splendidly intense. The maximum number of “rainy” days (with a rainfall of more than 0.01 in.) rarely approaches 100 at the most unfortunate locality; for the whole state the average of perfectly “clear” days is normally above 50%, of “partly cloudy” above 30, of “cloudy” under 20, of “rainy” still less. At Denver, through 11 years, the actual sunlight was 70% of the possible; many other points are even more favoured; very many enjoy on a third to a half of the days of the year above 90% of possible sunshine. All through the year the atmosphere is so dry and light that meat can be preserved by the simplest process of desiccation. “An air more delicious to breathe,” wrote Bayard Taylor, “cannot anywhere be found; it is neither too sedative nor too exciting, but has that pure, sweet, flexible quality which seems to support all one’s happiest and healthiest moods.” For asthmatic and consumptive troubles its restorative influence is indisputable. Along with New Mexico and Arizona, Colorado has become more and more a sanitarium for the other portions of the Union. Among the secondary hygienic advantages are the numerous mineral wells.

Flora and Fauna.—The life zones of Colorado are simple in arrangement. The boreal embraces the highest mountain altitudes; the transition belts it on both sides of the continental divide; the upper Sonoran takes in about the eastern half of the plains region east of the mountains, and is represented further by two small valley penetrations from Utah. Timber is confined almost wholly to the high mountain sides, the mountain valleys and the parks being for the most part bare. Nowhere is the timber large or dense. The timber-line on the mountains is at about 10,000 ft., and the snow line at about 11,000. It is supposed that the forests were much richer before the settlement of the state, which was followed by reckless consumption and waste, and the more terrible ravages of fire. In 1872-1876 the wooded area was estimated at 32% of the state’s area. It is certainly much less now. The principal trees, after the yellow and lodgepole pines, are the red-fir, so-called hemlock and cedar, the Engelmann spruce, the cottonwood and the aspen (Populus tremuloides). In 1899 Federal forest reserves had been created, aggregating 4849 sq. m. in extent, and by 1910 this had been increased to 24,528 sq. m. The reserves cover altitudes of 7000 to 14,000 ft. The rainfall is ample for their needs, but no other reserves in the country showed in 1900 such waste by fire and pillage. The minor flora of the country is exceedingly rich. In the plains the abundance of flowers, from spring to autumn, is amazing.

Large game is still very abundant west of the continental divide. The great parks are a favourite range and shelter. Deer and elk frequent especially the mountains of the north-west, in Routt and Rio Blanco counties, adjoining the reservations of the Uncompahgre (White River Ute) and Uintah-Ute Indians—from whose depredations, owing to the negligence of Federal officials, the game of the state has suffered enormous losses. The bison have been exterminated. Considerable bands of antelope live in the parks and even descend to the eastern plains, and the mule-deer, the most common of large game, is abundant all through the mountains of the west. Grizzly or silver-tip, brown and black bears are also abundant in the same region. Rarest of all is the magnificent mountain sheep. Game is protected zealously, if not successfully, by the state, and it was officially estimated in 1898 that there were then probably 7000 elk, as many mountain sheep, 25,000 antelope and 100,000 deer within its borders (by far the greatest part in Routt and Rio Blanco counties). Fish are not naturally very abundant, but the mountain brooks are the finest home for trout, and these as well as bass, cat-fish and some other varieties have been used to stock the streams.

Soil.—The soils of the lowlands are prevailing sandy loams, with a covering of rich mould. The acreage of improved lands in 1900 was returned by the federal census as 2,273,968, three times as much being unimproved; the land improved constituted