Exploring The Roots Of Colorado’s Culture Capitals

Orchard of young peach trees in Palisade, Colorado
Young peach trees in Palisade, Colorado | Library of Congress

From “Peach Capital of Colorado” to “Celery Capital of the World,” Colorado towns have earned a number of unique nicknames over the years. Read on to learn about their cultural roots.

Crested Butte: Wildflower Capital of Colorado

Field of yellow wildflowers in Crested Butte, Colorado
Crested Butte Wildflowers | Ning Tranquiligold Jin

Crested Butte, situated in the picturesque Elk Mountains of Gunnison County, sees flocks of flower lovers arrive every summer to enjoy the abundance of wildflowers blanketing its high-altitude meadows.

 

Nature trails offering unforgettable wildflower experiences for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders abound in the “Wildflower Capital of Colorado.” Honeybees, hummingbirds, and humans alike delight in the profusion of brilliant blooms, which range from the iconic Rocky Mountain Columbine to the shy Monkey Flower.

 

The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL), located north of Crested Butte in the abandoned mining town Gothic, also goes wild for wildflowers. The history of RMBL dates back to July 1919, when college professor Dr. John Johnson visited Crested Butte. He was astonished by the wildflower phenomenon. Eleven years later RMBL was founded.

Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Crested Butte
Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic | Chad K

Over the decades RMBL has hosted thousands of scientists and students inspired by the unique ecology of Crested Butte. To this day it remains one of the largest, oldest, and most productive sites for field research in the country. (Some say on Earth.)

 

Crested Butte celebrates its wildflower blooms every July at the annual Crested Butte Wildflower Festival. Started by locals in 1986, the festival offers over 150 events. Highlights include wildflower photography workshops and wildflower hikes.

Arvada: Celery Capital of the World

Harvesting celery in Colorado field
Harvesting celery in Colorado (c. 1919-1923) | Denver Public Library

Arvada, located 11 miles northwest of Denver in Jefferson County, was a vibrant agricultural community and hub for celery farming in the early 1900s.

 

Two of the most productive celery farms were owned by the Lotito family and the Spano family. At the Lotito farm, up to seven acres were dedicated to celery, with around 30,000 celery plants grown per acre. At the Spano farm, a prize-winning bunch of celery (12 stalks) once stood over three feet high and weighed 150 pounds.

 

It didn’t take long for Colorado to be dubbed the “Celery Capital of the World.” The Pascal celery grown at farms across Arvada became nationally known and highly sought after. The White House regularly served Pascal celery on their Christmas dinner menu.

 

Farming celery was a labor-intensive endeavor. Children, parents, and grandparents were regularly seen working in the celery fields alongside hired workers. Often temperatures were freezing during harvest. Farmers would drag old barrels into their fields to build a fire to keep everyone warm.

Spano Celery Farm in Arvada
Harvesting Pascal celery (1930s) | Arvada Historical Society

When World War II broke out, labor shortages and rising labor costs made celery too expensive to grow. On top of that, root rot caused by bad seeds imported from other states decimated crops. By the end of the 1940s, the celery industry in Arvada had dried up.

 

Arvada honors its celery growing legacy every September at the annual Arvada Harvest Festival. Started by locals in 1925, this festival and parade are one of the biggest and oldest community events in Jefferson County.

Palisade: Peach Capital of Colorado

Ripe Palisade Peaches in Palisade, Colorado
Palisade Peaches | Mark Stebnicki

Palisade, located along the Western Slope in Mesa County, boasts a peach growing industry that dates back to 1882. That was the year homesteader J.P. Harlow and his wife decided to plant peach trees.

 

New to the art of growing peaches, the Harlows were disappointed when their young trees died. They hadn’t fertilized them properly. After planting new peach trees and using burnt bones and leached ashes for fertilizer, their small orchard flourished. They planted more trees, and in 1888 their orchard yielded a one-ton crop of peaches. A small festival called “Peach Days” was held in Palisade to celebrate their harvest.

 

Family orchards growing a variety of fruits began to crop up in the 1890s. This number skyrocketed when the 1915 Grand River Dam Diversion provided reliable irrigation. A steady water source combined with favorable climate conditions made Palisade the perfect place for growing peaches.

Orchard of young peach trees in Palisade, Colorado
Young peach trees in Palisade, Colorado | Library of Congress

Once farmers began shipping their sweet peaches across the nation, Palisade became known as the “Peach Capital of Colorado.” Today Palisade is the 7th largest peach producing state in the U.S.

 

Palisade honors its namesake peaches and productive peach industry every August at the annual Palisade Peach Festival. Events include live music on the Peach Jam Stage, a farm-to-table dinner experience called “Feast in the Fields,” a paddle boarding adventure called “Paddle Boarding for Peaches,” and a peach eating contest.

Wheat Ridge: Carnation Capital of the World

Bouquet of pink carnations

Wheat Ridge, located nine miles north of Denver in Jefferson County, was once a major grower of carnations. At its peak in the 1960s, Wheat Ridge had 32 carnation farms, producing millions of carnation blooms every year.

 

Back in those days, the “Carnation Capital of the World” sent weekly bouquets of carnations to the White House. The famous cinnamon-scented carnations grown by Wheat Ridge farmers were always included in the bunch.

 

Carnations aren’t the only crop that have graced Wheat Ridge fields over the decades. In the late 1800s gold prospectors, who came to Colorado during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush, homesteaded modern-day Wheat Ridge after failing to find gold. These 59ers discovered the sandy soil and sunny climate were ideal for growing wheat. They realized vegetables and fruits, and later carnations, grew well too.

Ernest Apel Farm in Wheat Ridge
Ernest Apel farm in modern-day Wheat Ridge (1890s) | Denver Public Library

As carnation production took off, the Colorado Flower Growers Association (CFGA) launched a vigorous marketing campaign. They trademarked “Colorado Carnation,” selected a “Miss Colorado Carnation,” and distributed promotional materials to florists across the nation. They even placed advertisements in Vogue magazine.

Vogue magazine ad for Colorado carnations
Advertisement for Colorado Carnations in Vogue magazine (1962-1963) | Colorado State University Libraries

When the 1970s rolled around, carnation farmers experienced a decline in demand due to less expensive carnations from South America entering the U.S. market. Wheat Ridge farmers were unable to match the lower prices, as their production and labor costs had spiked. Soon carnation farms across Wheat Ridge sold off land and ceased operations.

 

Wheat Ridge honors its rich carnation growing history every August at the annual Wheat Ridge Carnation Festival. Proceeds from this three-day event support local nonprofits, service clubs, students, and senior organizations. Festival attendees enjoy a lively parade, entertainment, food vendors, and even a circus.

Cañon City: Climate Capital of Colorado

St. Cloud Hotel in Canon City, Colorado
Hotel St. Cloud in Cañon City, Colorado

Cañon City, located in Fremont County in south-central Colorado, enjoys an unusually mild climate due to its unique geography.

 

Situated in a high-altitude mountain bowl, the town is protected from harsh weather conditions by the surrounding peaks. As a result Cañon City typically experiences temperatures 10 degrees warmer than the neighboring areas despite its higher elevation. This climate phenomenon earned Cañon City the nickname “Climate Capital of Colorado.” An article published in 1905 by local paper Cañon City Colorado Record documented the nickname.

 

The unique climate of Cañon City also provides ideal conditions for growing flowers. Florists across the region proudly sell Cañon City blooms in their flower shops.

 

Cañon City celebrates its flower industry every May at the annual Cañon City Music & Blossom Festival. Highlights include a parade with marching bands and floats, food vendors, live music, and a 5k run called the Run Blossom 5k.