By Lydia Hooper
Enjoying springtime in Colorado is just as likely to be about snow activities as hikes to see wildflowers. If you’re seeking a break that will transport you not only to new places but also to Colorado’s past, here are a few places to consider.
Great Sand Dunes
Spring is a great time to explore another incredible Colorado national park. Rivers of snowmelt create a “beach” experience next to the towering sand dunes, which can get quite hot once summer arrives. Camp overnight for the chance to see a brilliant star-filled night sky. This place has been cherished over the ages by American Indians, explorers, pioneers, homesteaders, miners, and even Buffalo Soldiers. Archaeological studies continue with support from the State Historical Fund. Stop by the Fort Garland Museum & Cultural Center nearby to learn more.
When Enos Mills made his first ascent of Longs Peak at age 15 he had no idea that he’d become the central figure in the creation of one of America’s most beloved national parks. Hike, snowshoe, and climb through the mountains that the Ute and Arapaho people called home for centuries. Spring temperatures in the park can get quite chilly, so for a cozy and memorable experience stay at the historic Stanley Hotel, the first in the nation to exclusively use electricity for heat, light, and cooking. From 1909 to 1926, guests arrived here via the Stanley Steamer cars also named after famed inventor and manufacturer F. O. Stanley.
Ancestral Puebloans lived in this area as early as A.D. 500 but it took a rediscovery by the Wetherill brothers in 1888 and national protection in 1906 before archaeologist Jesse Walter Fewkes could begin to repair and excavate the remarkable cliff dwellings. Special tours (and crowds) don’t take off until May, but you can still hike or snowshoe a number of trails that wind across gorgeous landscapes. If you plan to visit in May, check out the Annual Ute Mountain Mesa Verde Birding Festival in nearby Cortez. Mesa Verde is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Follow the lead of expeditioner John Wesley Powell and travel down the Colorado River through the Colorado Plateau to two unforgettable destinations: Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. A spring visit will mean less crowds and the possibility of seeing beautiful white snow on red rock landscapes. Be sure to check out the petroglyphs and pictographs showing humankind’s longtime relationship with this iconic place.
Northern New Mexico
Ancestral Puebloans once roamed this landscape as well and their influence is still felt today in abundant pottery and adobe structures. You can take a walking tour of 200-year-old Taos and stay the night at one of the oldest natural health resorts in the U.S., Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa. Visit Pecos National Historical Park outside Santa Fe to witness the site of the Battle of Glorieta Pass that called soldiers from Colorado Territory to play their part in the Civil War in 1862.
Lydia Hooper is the digital content manager at History Colorado.
AAA Travel and History Colorado have teamed up to offer specially crafted vacations called Curated Adventures.