The Highest, Lowest, Deepest, Darkest and Quietest Places in Colorado

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You’ve probably heard the phrase “Colorado First”. This is because we were the highest state long before cannabis was legalized.

And while we’re not the coldest state, we’re the coolest, aren’t we?

While thinking about how high and how cool we are, we thought it would be fun to compile a list of Colorado’s extremes – tallest, deepest, darkest, coldest, you get the idea.

We have to start with the fact that Colorado has the highest average elevation in the United States at 6,860 feet above sea level. Neighboring states round out the top four with Wyoming at 6,396 feet, Utah at 6,011 and New Mexico at 5,771.

Here are some other extremes worth pondering. Some are even worth a detour.

Patrick Richardson watches the view as he climbs just above the treeline at approximately 12,000 feet on his way to the summit of Mt. Elbert, Colorado’s highest 14er on July 30, 2016. Mt. Elbert is the highest point in Colorado and the second highest mountain in the lower 48 states.

The highest

The summit of Mount Elbert, 10 miles southwest of Leadville in the Sawatch Range, stands 14,440 feet above sea level. It is the second highest peak in the lower 48 contiguous states, just 65 feet below the Mount Whitney in California (14,505 feet). Elbert is typically climbed via its northeast ridge, east ridge, or southeast ridge with ascents of 4,700 to 4,900 feet. The summit stands 5,300 feet above the Arkansas River, which meanders seven miles to the east. The views from the summit – particularly of Mount Massive immediately to the north and La Plata Peak immediately to the south, both of which are fourteen – are befitting the tallest of all the Rocky Mountains. In fact, climbers are likely to conclude that both are far more scenic than Elbert.

The lowest

The point in Yuma County where the The Arikaree River empties into Kansas is 3,317 feet above sea level. We’ll do the math for you. It is 11,123 feet (2.1 miles) lower than the summit of Elbert. We haven’t been there and don’t plan to go. If so, let us know what we are missing.

The view from Gunnison Point...
The view from the Gunnison Point Overlook at Gunnison National Park’s Black Canyon on Christmas Day 2021. The park was named for its cliffs which are often darkened by shadows because they are so steep, making the walls look black , according to the US Geological Survey.

The deepest

According to a National Park Service fact sheet, the Gunnison Black Canyon is the deepest canyon in Colorado and the third deepest in the United States at 2,722 feet. The deepest is Hells Canyon in Idaho and Oregon (8,043 feet), and the second deepest is the Grand Canyon (6,000). While Arkansas’ Royal Gorge near Cañon City doesn’t quite rank among the rest in terms of depth (1,053 feet), it is a tourist attraction that can be experienced by raft or train (the Royal Gorge Route Railroad). It can also be seen from above via the Royal Gorge Bridge, a suspension bridge which is the tallest in the United States at 956 feet.

A park visitor hikes one of the ...
A park visitor walks through one of the many dunes in the early morning at the Great Sand Dunes National Park on June 20, 2019 in Mosca.

The quietest

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in south-central Colorado and Dinosaur National Monument in the northwest corner of the state are about as quiet as it gets. “When you talk about sound, we tend to talk about natural sound and human-generated sound,” said George Wittemyer, a professor in the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology at Colorado State University. , which studies a field called sensory ecology. . “I believe Great Sand Dunes is the quietest place in Colorado because it’s quite isolated, so little human activity, but it’s also quite biologically quiet.” Dinosaur National Monument is home to the confluence of the Green and Yampa rivers, Wittemyer noted, so “there is a bit more (natural) noise than the Great Sand Dunes. It is still an extremely quiet place.

Nightfall at the Black Canyon of...
Dusk at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park on October 20, 2017. The Black Canyon has a designation of being a Dark Sky Park.

The darkest

Colorado is home to 10 places designated as International Dark Sky Parks by the International Dark-Sky Association, based in Tucson, Arizona. Among them are three of the state’s national parks (big sand dunes, Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Mesa Verde), Dinosaur National Monument, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument and Jackson Lake State Park near Fort Morgan. Because they are so remote, Great Sand Dunes and Dinosaur are probably the best for dark sky stargazing. “I think those are the two quietest and darkest places in the state,” Wittemyer said. Kurt Fristrup, another CSU researcher and former National Park Service scientist, had more to offer. “I support George’s choice of Dinosaur National Monument, although the nearby Irish Canyon might be a bit darker,” Fristrup said. “Across the state, the southern portions of the Comanche National Grassland near the Oklahoma-Texas border feature equally dark skies.”

A view of a landscape
The West Creek Ranch near Gateway on the Colorado West Slope.

The hottest

Measured by average annual temperature, the community of Gateway in western Colorado is the hottest place in Colorado with an annual average of 56.1 degrees. Gateway is located 55 miles southwest of Grand Junction and four miles east of the Utah border. The hottest temperature ever recorded in Colorado occurred at the John Martin Dam on the Arkansas River, which creates a reservoir in southeastern Colorado. On July 20, 2019, the temperature there reached 115 degrees.

LEADVILLE, CO - The Climax Molybdenum Mine on ...
The Climax Molybdenum Mine atop Fremont Pass can be seen in this 2011 file photo.

The coldest

You may never have a reason to visit Gateway, but chances are you’ve been to the place with the coldest average annual temperature in the state. It’s Climax at the top of Fremont Pass (11,320 feet) on the Continental Divide, which has an annual average of 32.2 degrees. Fremont Pass is on the road between Copper Mountain and Leadville, and Climax was once a mining village serving the Climax molybdenum mine at the pass. It’s a ghost town now, but the town produced an Olympic skier, Dave Gorsuch, which competed in the 1960 Winter Games. The coldest temperature on record in Colorado occurred in Maybell, a town in northwestern Colorado on US 40 between Craig and Dinosaur. On February 1, 1985, the temperature there reached 61 degrees below zero.

Skiers and riders revel in the powder...
Skiers and snowboarders reveled in the powder at Wolf Creek after a 25-inch dump fell in 2019.

The snowiest

Since it’s July, which is Colorado’s hottest month, we thought it would be cool to include the ski areas that get the most snow. Topping the list of average annual snowfall is wolf creek at 430 inches per year – that’s 35 feet, by the way – followed by Loveland (422) and Silverton (400). The heaviest snowfall in Colorado’s history occurred at Silver Lake, in the mountains between Boulder and Fraser. On April 14 and 15, 1921, 75.8 inches fell in 24 hours.

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