Coming from New Mexico or Wyoming, Interstate 25 travelers into Colorado are greeted by that familiar sign. “Welcome to Colorful Colorado.”
Travel the extent of that interstate running through the Front Range, and it’s easy to understand the moniker.
From Fishers Peak in Trinidad, to Greenhorn Mountain closer to Pueblo, to Castle Rock and the 14,000-foot likes of Pikes Peak and Longs Peak in between, the natural beauty catches the eye. As do curiosities closer to the pavement.
Whether you’re visitor or resident, you’ve likely wondered about some of these. We’re here with the answers.
We’ll start our drive south and work our way up:
Art Cartopia Museum
Just outside downtown Trinidad, you might spot the shed with colorful lettering and even more colorful contents. This is home to the strange, local breed of motorheads: those with a whimsical touch. They call themselves “cartists,” transforming vehicles into fantastical carriages — or full-on robots or dragons. More than 25 have been on display at the museum.
North of Trinidad, an exit marks a site of dark history. In the ghost town of Ludlow, a monument stands in remembrance of a massacre.
On April 20, 1914, the Colorado National Guard clashed with striking coal miners of a tent camp. It’s believed more than two dozen perished, including 11 children and two women. They died in an underground cellar, eerily preserved as part of the memorial.
Huerfano is Spanish for orphan. “So, Huerfano is an orphan that sits out here as the world goes by,” we heard a geologist say about this 300-foot mound of ancient rubble. Sitting on private property between Walsenburg and Colorado City, it looks like a miniature volcano. The cone came into shape over millions of years, rising through the ashes of an age of violent eruptions.
Gallery at 64
That’s what Ray Shaw has called his vibrant space, so named for the exit number that leads to the otherwise nondescript, block of a building. Inside once, we admired paintings by a man with a lifelong interest in art and wildlife.
Maybe you’ve seen the name on the exit near Colorado City and thought it must be mistaken. Surely, there’s no such gorge on those blank plains to the east. But indeed, where you least expect it on a country road, the earth breaks for rugged cliffs and the best view you’ve never heard about. Though on public land, Graneros Gorge has been largely neglected.
You can’t drive through the steel city without driving through the heart of the historic industry. Colorado Fuel and Iron Co. established the mill in the 1880s. Parts of the plant are operated now by Chicago-based EVRAZ North America, churning out rail, pipe and rod shipped beyond southern Colorado.
Pikes Peak International Raceway
The grandstands you see today have been reduced tens of thousands of seats over the years. The glory days of pros zipping around the oval are long gone. But the track south of Fountain has managed to survive since its late-’90s beginnings. The raceway operates year-round with amateurs testing their limits.
Al Kaly Shrine Mule Train
In Colorado Springs, not far from The Broadmoor World Arena, a much different venue turns heads on the other side of the interstate. An old dairy farm maintains its silo and barn, oddly topped by a mule statue.
Also, there’s a clubhouse with trophies and photos going back decades. This is where a local club keeps its 65-year history of riding mules in parades and performing in drills nationwide. The mule train is thought to be the last of its kind within Shriners International, the Masonic society found in 1870.
Traffic goes by fast, but this historic mule train refuses to fade in Colorado Springs
Greenland Open Space
Between Monument and Larkspur, between the buttes and mesas that go underappreciated in the traffic rush, a nostalgic spread appears frozen in time. A dirt road stretches to a trailhead, passing farm animals and old structures, including a schoolhouse. A picnic pavilion now honors the old general store in what was an important shipping center along the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad.
It’s all land and sky beyond, inspiring to a poet. Having ridden the train by, Helen Hunt Jackson is credited for the name Greenland.
Jellystone Park at Larkspur
Between Larkspur and Castle Rock, it’s been impossible to miss the expansion of what appears to be some combination of theme park and tiny home village on the west side of the highway. This is, in fact, one of those Yogi Bear-themed, family getaways. It calls itself an RV resort, complete also with an array of modern lodging, water playground, sports courts, a restaurant and more.
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Denver Waste Management building
You aren’t the first person to wonder what that tan, towering, arching building is near downtown Denver, close to the Sixth Avenue freeway, looming over the west side of the interstate. Perhaps some extravagant, religious base? A temple? “The Batman building?” That’s what someone called it on a Reddit thread, in which an answer emerged:
“I wish it was something more … exciting. But it’s the Denver Wastewater Management building. They manage poop.”
The Society of Architectural Historians refers to the bizarre headquarters as a “Neo-Art Deco daydream.” The group reports the designer drew it up “in the spirit of the 1930s Works Progress Administration.”
Here’s another head-turner to go with Mile High Stadium. Next door is this high, circular, multicolored, retro-looking structure that, yes, looks as if it could be some recording palace. It is instead a trendy, microapartment concept, as developers explained in 2014, when they reimagined the former Hotel VQ. Units range from 330-820 square feet across the 13 floors.
The Grizzly Rose
Nothing of note for passersby who see it tucked between an industrial strip (though, the red, old-school saloon exterior is intriguing). But for country music lovers, Grizzly Rose is a special haven — “truly one of the last great honky tonks in the world,” the website reads. Live music, line dancing and mechanical bull-riding have been tradition since the venue opened in 1989.
That’s the company name that catches the eye in the flyby locale of Dacono. This is the headquarters for something of a cult, a deep-pocketed community of road warriors around the country. Retired couples sell their homes and opt for an EarthRoamer, a beastly, sleek, luxurious, all-terrain traveler built from top-of-the-line Ford trucks.
This was a roadside attraction before there was the road that is I-25. You can see grainy pictures inside from the 1950s, those timeless, blocky letters hanging over an empty field. Farmers of Johnstown and Milliken still gather inside, as do weary truckers, for a hot meal and the famous cinnamon rolls.
From the interstate near Timnath, you can hardly spot the castle-like pillars of Bill Swets’ home under the Harmony Road bridge. His riverside property, though, is no secret. Swetsville Zoo is home to a bunch of quirky, iron creatures that Swets spent his life molding from farm and car parts. For years, they’ve been free for families to admire.
Budweiser Events Center
Everyone knows the Broncos, Nuggets and Avalanche. The pro squads. But fewer know the Eagles, Colorado’s American Hockey League team. They take to the ice in this sprawling, glassy arena — quite the complex for little Loveland. The Budweiser Events Center is situated on the Larimer County fairgrounds.
Bee Family Centennial Farm Museum
North of Fort Collins, in the farm fields east of the interstate, there’s a modest home and inconspicuous set of pens and corrals and sheds. Here, the unlikely story of one family’s efforts to cultivate the arid land is told. That is the Bee family, who started carving out a life here in 1882. The museum tour visits several animals and pieces of machinery, along with the old migrant worker house, wagon barn, and metal and wool shops.
National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center
It doesn’t look like much is happening around Carr, approaching the Wyoming border. But off the road, there’s an effort to restore one of North America’s rarest mammals. This is the government’s safe keep for black-footed ferrets, which in 1981 were rediscovered in the next state over. The furry, button-nosed, beady-eyed critters look cute, but they fiercely prey on the prairie dogs that also make home in this prairie.
Before exiting Colorado, there’s one last thing fitting for the state’s “colorful” motto. That’s this peculiar, low-lying arrangement of rock outcrops and spires that lives up to the local name. Unfortunately, the Natural Fort has been subject to unnatural phenomenons, such as spray paint and trash.