Colorado has been a mecca for travelers for almost 150 years! Today as millions of Americans vacation in the Rocky Mountains, they unknowingly follow the footsteps of the Gilded Age pioneers. The Smithsonian recently highlighted our fascinating history.
America’s Swiss Vacations
The 1870s changed Colorado forever. As the United States’ railways finally reached the Western territory, East Coast residents were curious to explore. Our first marketing by journalists and painters created a tantalizing picture of Colorado. In 1869 Samuel Bowles’ guidebook to Colorado was called The Switzerland of America. Albert Bierstadt’s oil-painted landscapes showed our majestic mountains and pristine lakes as an American Eden.
Swiss-like resorts and hotels quickly began to pop up near the rail lines. Boulder became “the Athens of Colorado,” Pikes Peak was America’s Matterhorn and Longs Peak was our nation’s Mont Blanc. Manitou Springs and Glenwood Springs even built glamorous European spas near their natural pools.
The Wild West Experience
Keep in mind Colorado was not yet a state. Until 1876 this was still wild territory. So when vacationers ventured into towns like Denver, they found themselves surrounded by raucous saloons, rough gold miners, trappers and Ute Indians. It was common for sightseers out on a hike to come face-to-face with tough, grisly mountain men.
At this point explorers had only travelled a fraction of the Rockies. So a small group of wanderlust hikers, hunters, artists and poets spent months, even years in Colorado living out inspiring adventures. On a shoestring budget, they braved journeys for thousands of miles in stagecoaches. The cheap inns along their stops were as raunchy as you can imagine.
Once they reached Colorado, these travelers would take horseback camping trips. Led by crusty guides in buckskin jackets, they’d head into the backcountry with saddle pouches carrying merely sacks of flour and bacon. Their trip activities were hunting elk, being lowered by rope into Native American “vapor caves” and scrambling up dangerous summits in hobnailed boots and bustle dresses.
Talk about an interesting launch to Colorado’s tourism!