BOBBY MAGILL

Journalist • Photographer

Bobby Magill is a senior science writer for Climate Central in New York and a journalist who has covered fracking and the environment in Colorado and New Mexico since 2001. 

Welcome to Colorful Colorado: 40 Views from the Border

I've just completed my photography project, "Welcome to Colorful Colorado: 40 Views from the Border," and I invite you to visit the project's website: www.welcometocolorfulcolorado.com.

A few years ago, stuffy Colorado state officials proposed replacing the classic "Welcome to Colorful Colorado" highway signs welcoming visitors to the Centennial State. In their stead were to be ugly metal signs saying little more than "Colorado" at the state line. Controversy and rancor ensued, and then-Governor Bill Owens and the Colorado Department of Transportation kept the old signs in place.

Though I'm a road geek, I wasn't really a fan of the signs when I first moved here. But as I traveled about the country and witnessed banal metal Big Green Signs and the like corrupted by trite tourism slogans, Colorado's signs grew on me because they were classic, uncommon and simple: Welcome to Colorful Colorado.

Witness, for example, what greets you as you enter Nebraska:

Nebraska: The Good Life? Home of Arbor Day? Ugh.

Then there's this atrocity:

North Dakota: "Welcome to the West Region." Yikes. That's even worse than my native South Carolina's tired slogan on its state line signs: "Smiling Faces, Beautiful Places."

Whatever. No other state's border sign quite captures the romance of the road and the Rockies quite the way Colorado's does. It's a great piece of highway nostalgia.

There's also something unexpected about the scenery when you cross into Colorado. Chances are, when you speed along the freeway or an obscure two-lane and pass into the Rocky Mountain State, you're going to see a lot of flatness and a lot of farmland or a lot of desert; views of the first high peaks of the Rockies are yet hours away. High peaks are only visible from a handful of border crossings.

So, because I'm a road geek and I get little obsessive-compulsive about Colorado's geography (I've visited every county in the state and probably 75 percent of its incorporated towns and cities), I set out a few years ago to photograph the landscape at each of the state's 40 border crossings where you see a "Welcome to Colorful Colorado" sign. The rule was simple: Each image had to be a celebration of the landscape or scene from the highway at the state line while also incorporating the welcome sign.

That wasn't an easy task considering the size of the state and the pancake-flatness that spreads across Colorado's eastern border. My first sign was along U.S. Highway 491 in Dolores County. Taken in 2007, I lived in Grand Junction at the time, and the state's far-flung corners were easily accessible. The final sign I photographed for the project was closest to home in Fort Collins: I-25 at the Wyoming line just 30 miles north of town. I had hit this sign a year or so earlier, but the light was crappy and it needed to be re-photographed.

So, I completed the project on June 12, 2011 after three and a half years of roaming the border. The photography was fun, but the best part about the project was slinking about the remote corners of the state well off the tourist track. Have you ever been to Brown's Park north of Dinosaur National Monument? Here's what you'll find there on the border with Utah:

In the opposite corner of the state, I hit U.S. 160's crossing into Colorado from Kansas at sunrise:

A study on contrasts, here's where U.S. 160 crosses (briefly) into New Mexico near the Four Corners monument 497.22 highway miles to the west:

So, check out the project website, and welcome to colorful Colorado.