Colorado’s rough and rowdy days can be hard to recall in the mountain towns where they unraveled. Many of these places have opted for the glitz and glamour of resorts.
But all around are bases where that history is preserved. Here's a list of museums showcasing the state’s wild past:
1. Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site, La Junta
The National Park Service calls this the “Castle of the Plains.” It’s a reconstruction of the adobe trading post that rose in the 1830s to be a bustling place for Native Americans and travelers along Santa Fe Trail. Interpreters in uniform show several rooms and shops as they were seen decades before Colorado was a state.
2. Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave, Golden
Prior to his death in 1917, William “Buffalo Bill” Cody wished for the top of Lookout Mountain to be his final resting place. Evidently, he liked the view. You will too as you make your winding way up the road to this site celebrating the legendary bison hunter and showman.
Canyons of the Ancients Visitor Center & Museum, Dolores
This is the starting point for Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, a far-reaching landscape of stunning remains from the Ancestral Puebloans, who made home in this Four Corners region 1,400 years ago. A four-room pueblo sits in front of the museum. Inside, tools of bone and stone along with weapons and pottery are displayed.
Colorado Railroad Museum, Golden
“Lose track of time” is the motto here. One might do that inside a building fashioned in the likeness of a small-town depot from the 1880s. This space chronicles Colorado’s mighty, sometimes perilous, railroading era. But the real draws are the historic locomotives and cabooses. Kids and kids at heart will love the gentle rides on the rails.
Cokedale Museum, Cokedale
While history in Trinidad is as well-kept as the town’s red brick Main Street, lesser-known is the smaller coal camp to the west. It’s just off the Highway of Legends, across from the field where century-old coke ovens are in view. Cokedale calls itself “a model camp” and a model in conservation. The museum is in the former general store.
Gilpin History Museum, Central City
The museum is housed in an 1870s school that continues as a hub of education. Visitors learn about the daily life that once was in this former mining capital, everything from the socialites, to the prospectors, to the gunslingers, to the ladies of the night ... and a wooden submarine recovered from a high-mountain lake.
Museum of the West, Grand Junction
Amid the stores and eateries of downtown Grand Junction, there are several ways to transport to scenes of the Wild West. Use your imagination in a stagecoach or in a replicated saloon. Or in observing the guns of outlaws, art of the Ute or ancient artifacts of the Anasazi.
National Mining Hall of Fame & Museum, Leadville
It’s only appropriate this town is home to this ultimate showcase of the industry that birthed Colorado. Leadville has known many booms and busts, as you’ll learn across nearly 70 exhibits. The hall of fame counts about 260 men and women, all with stories that paint the picture of an era gone by.
Overland Trail Museum, Sterling
Stretching through the northeast prairie, Overland Trail tends to be forgotten despite its massive significance. It was said to be America’s most trafficked route in the 1860s, as many followed the South Platte River to shape Colorado as we know it. This impressive museum includes several early buildings from local settlements.
Quarry Exhibit Hall, Dinosaur National Monument
Now we’re going much further back than cowboys and Indians, long before any man or civilization. While the natural surroundings are extraordinary in their own right, the monument’s main attraction is this exhibit near Colorado’s northwest border with Utah. A wall encases about 1,500 bones of extinct beasts.