Welcome to Colorful Colorado. That's the greeting you see upon crossing into Colorado on the highway, recalling the Wild West and a distant romantic era of roadtripping that seems to have gone the way of Route 66.Read More
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If you're curious about all the gateways into Colorado, Dale Sanderson over at USEnds.com emailed me today to let me know he has mapped all the "Welcome to Colorful Colorado" signs in the state, linking each point on the map to my project, "Welcome to Colorful Colorado: 41 Views from the Border."
Check it out here.
Dale's site along with Matthew Salek's Colorado Highways site are both excellent introductions to the highways and history of Colorado and Centennial State trivia. Be sure to check them both out.
On the way back to Colorado from Junction City, Kansas, yesterday, Jacob and I decided to drive the empty and mostly forgotten U.S. Highway 24 through western Kansas and eastern Colorado. The narrow two-lane blacktop passes through the dust-blown high plains and forms the main street of numerous forlorn time-worn towns, among which the greatest attraction is the world's largest ball of twine. It's a great drive and a less-harried alternative to Interstate 70 farther to the south.
U.S. 24 spills onto the freeway west of Colby, Kansas, and there's no indication that 24 exits the interstate until you get to Burlington, Colorado. Driving into town from the east, I noticed that the Colorado Department of Transportation directs east-bound U.S. 24 traffic onto the I-70 frontage road. Shit, I thought as we passed by the intersection, if 24 is routed onto the frontage road, that might mean there's another "Welcome to Colorful Colorado" sign I missed as part of my photography project, "Welcome to Colorful Colorado: 40 Views from the Border". My project may not be complete as I thought it had been.
Sure enough, after a ride on the Kit Carson County Carousel, we discovered a 41st "Colorful Colorado" sign. But that sign, according to CDOT data, isn't supposed to exist.
The Denver Post reported in 2006 that there are 41 "Welcome to Colorful Colorado" signs. In theory, they should be easy to find: Every CDOT-maintained highway (state highways, U.S. highways and interstate highways) reaching the state line should have one of the wooden welcome signs. I scoured state highway maps, Colorado highway enthusiast websites and the CDOT online highway database and came up with 40 highway crossings. Add to that the two signs saying "Leaving Colorful Colorado" on Interstate 70 at the Kansas and Utah borders, and the total is 42. The Denver Post, I thought, must have been incorrect in its count or the state had turned the 41st highway back to a county, reducing the sign total to 40, excluding the two "leaving" signs.
The CDOT highway database shows eastbound U.S. 24 leaving Burlington along the I-70 frontage road, but that designation, in this case CDOT Highway 024D, ends once the frontage road begins to parallel the freeway, according to the official CDOT highway route map. Here's the official description of that stretch of highway:
From U.S. 385C at 8th Street in Burlington East and Northeast to the I-70 Frontage Road
The official designation ends on the frontage road about 8 miles west of the state line. Once the highway crosses into Kansas, the 24 designation disappears altogether, shifting to the freeway. There should be no CDOT markers at all on the last eight miles before the Kansas line, but those markers do exist, and so does the 41st "Colorful Colorado" sign — right across the freeway from one of those two "leaving" signs.
Now, now my project is called, "leaving" signs notwithstanding, "Welcome to Colorful Colorado: 41 Views from the Border".
Before there were "Welcome to Colorful Colorado" signs at the state line, state borders were marked with concrete obelisks. I'd love to know how many still exist on long-abandoned highways on the fringes of the state. You'll find very few along modern border crossings, as you'll see if you visit my project, "Welcome to Colorful Colorado: 40 Views from the Border."
One of the most prominent state line obelisks is west of Grand Junction on the Utah line. Old U.S. Highway 6 & 50 splits away from Interstate 70 at Mack and runs roughly parallel, but a mile or two to the north of the freeway as a mostly unpaved county road. Before the interstate was constructed, this was the main highway route between Grand Junction and Salt Lake City.
Seen mainly by the few residents living nearby, ranchers and oil and gas well servicing trucks, the state line marker obelisk along Old US 6 & 50 marks Utah on one side and Colorado on the other. The marker has been defaced by bullets, graffiti and the ravages of time. It's anybody's guess how long the marker will remain there.
Here's more of what you might find along Old 6 & 50 west of Mack, Colorado:
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.