Tim Van Schmidt
I went shopping — for cool Colorado experiences, that is.
On a recent walk through Running Deer Natural Area, a friend and I decided to also visit the Colorado Welcome Center at Fort Collins, which is located between Running Deer and I25, at 3745 E. Prospect Road.
Inside the Welcome Center — housed in an angular, eye-catching building — we found a treasure trove of information about our state.
First of all, there’s a huge wall-sized map inside that colorfully introduces the many different regions in Colorado: Denver & Cities of the Rockies, Rockies Playground, Pike’s Peak Wonders, Mystic San Luis Valley, Mountains & Mesas, and The Great West.
Then the rest of the space is devoted to racks and racks and racks of tourist information from all over the state: Fort Collins, Boulder, Denver, Steamboat Springs, Pueblo, Creede, Colorado Springs, and so many more. It’s like a supermarket of various kinds of thrills — and that’s where I went shopping.
Colorado tourist sites, parks, and recreation areas have plenty to offer. There’s natural history (dinosaurs), ancient history (Chimney Rock, Mesa Verde), and pioneer history (mining, rails, and trails).
There’s women’s history, Buffalo Bill’s grave, beer tours, wild animals, skiing, hiking, river rafting, and more. What about Tiny Town, ghost towns, Bent’s Old Fort, scenic and historic byways, the Santa Fe Trail, national heritage areas, South Park City, Baby Doe’s Cabin, the Poudre River, and the South Platte River Trail?
I walked away with a bag full of ideas that will serve me well for years to come.
And my visit to the Welcome Center paid off immediately.
One of the flyers I picked up in Fort Collins was for the Overland Trail Museum in Sterling.
As it happened to be on the way during a recent trek to Kearney, Nebraska, to experience the sandhill crane migration through that area, my companions and I stopped at the museum, thinking it would be just a quick visit and then we’d be on our way.
But it turned out to be a full project to take in everything this delightful museum had to offer. From old dioramas of prairie history to collections of minerals, buttons, musical instruments and so much more, there was a lot to look at.
But more, there were full-scale replicas of an old schoolhouse, a tannery, and a typical old-time home. Displays included a miniature beet factory as well as full-sized stage carriages. Kachinas, Victrolas, military uniforms, toys, figurines, fossils, a barbershop, a windmill, a dollhouse, and a big bison sculpture out front — the Overland Trail Museum was a pleasant surprise for sure.
I can easily recommend that you visit this museum in Sterling — it’s a captivating experience, really. But I wouldn’t have known about it if not for my visit to the Colorado Welcome Center in our town.
Although maybe I would have known about the Overland Trail Museum anyway — the rest area right across the highway from the museum in Sterling also had a Welcome Center, also full of information.
Outside the Colorado Welcome Center in Fort Collins, there’s a sculpture of a horse, reared up and wild-looking. Images of ranch life are painted on its sides and the whole thing gleams brightly in the sun.
Colorado is like that sculpture — a land painted with a rich history, a vibrant culture, natural beauty, and people who like to have fun. The Colorado Welcome Centers are here to let you know that “You’re welcome”, whether you’re a visitor or not.
Tim Van Schmidt is a writer and photographer based in Fort Collins. Explore his YouTube channel at “Time Capsules by Tim Van Schmidt”.