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 cities have earned a number of unique nicknames over the past 100 years. Read on to learn about their cultural and historical 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 Colorado’s Gunnison County, sees flocks of flower loving visitors arrive every summer to enjoy the abundance of wildflowers blanketing its high-altitude meadows as far as the eye can see. 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 Blue Columbine to the shy Monkey Flower.

 

The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL), located north of Crested Butte in the abandoned mining town of Gothic, also goes wild for wildflowers every spring. Its history dates back to July of 1919, when college professor Dr. John Johnson visited Crested Butte and was astonished by the area’s wildflower phenomenon. In 1928, RMBL was founded there, and over the decades, has hosted thousands of scientists and students inspired by Crested Butte’s unique ecology. Every July, Crested Butte celebrates its wildflower blooms at the annual Crested Butte Wildflower Festival.

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 in the early 1900s. The prize-winning Pascal celery grown by the Lotito family, who established their farm in 1932, became so well-known, the White House regularly served it on their Christmas menu.

 

During the planting and growing season, the Lotito farm typically dedicated 5 to 7 acres to celery, with around 30,000 plants per acre. Arvada’s other celery farms, such as that owned by the Spano family, experienced similar success. Soon Arvada became known as the “Celery Capital of the World.”

 

Then World War II broke out. Labor shortages combined with rising labor costs made celery, a labor-intensive crop, too expensive to grow. Machinery to streamline the process hadn’t been invented yet, and by the end of the 1940s, Arvada’s celery industry was dried up. While the city never recovered from the wallop dealt by the war, Arvada continues to honor its celery growing history every September at the annual Arvada Harvest Festival.

Palisade: Peach Capital of Colorado

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

Palisade, located along Colorado’s Western Slope in Mesa County, boasts a peach growing industry that dates back to 1882, when early settler J.P. Harlow planted the area’s first peach trees. Over the following years, those peach trees grew into an entire orchard that, in 1888, yielded a one-ton crop of peaches.

 

A small festival called “Peach Days” was held in Palisade to celebrate Harlow’s harvest. Additional orchards cropped up around the area, but it wasn’t until the completion of the Grand River Dam Diversion in 1915 that the town’s peach industry took off. Soon Palisade became known as the “Peach Capital of Colorado.” Today, Palisade honors its namesake peaches and rich peach growing history every August at the annual Palisade Peach Festival.

Cañon City: Climate Capital of Colorado

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

Cañon City, located in southern Colorado’s Fremont County, 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 phenomenon earned Cañon City the nickname “Climate Capital of Colorado.” An article published in 1905 by the area’s local paper, Cañon City Colorado Record, documented the nickname.The city’s unique climate also creates ideal conditions for growing flowers, which are sold by florists across the area. Every May, the city celebrates its flower industry at the annual Cañon City Music & Blossom Festival.

Wheat Ridge: Carnation Capital of the World

Bouquet of pink carnations

Wheat Ridge, located around 9 miles north of Denver in Jefferson County, was once a major grower of carnations. At its peak in the 1960s, Wheat Ridge was home to 32 different carnation farms, producing 40 million carnation blooms every year. Back then, the “Carnation Capital of the World” sent weekly bouquets to the White House, including the famous cinnamon-scented carnations.

 

Though Wheat Ridge was originally named after its wheat growing industry, carnation greenhouses came to outnumber wheat fields as reliable flower bumper crops lured farmers to transition into the carnation growing business. But like all urban agricultural hubs, Wheat Ridge’s carnation industry waned as the area’s population grew. Land was sold off until there was only one carnation grower left: the Novacek Greenhouse, which ceased operations in 2008. Today, the city continues to honor its rich carnation growing history every August at the annual Wheat Ridge Carnation Festival.

Dove Creek: Pinto Bean Capital of the World

A field in Dove Creek, Colorado
Field near Dove Creek, Colorado | Ken Lund

Dove Creek, a tiny town located in southwestern Colorado’s Dolores County, first made its mark on history in the mid-1800s, when it served as a way station for the Old Spanish Trail. It wasn’t until sometime in the early to mid-1900s (accounts vary) that the area’s farmers decided to try their hands at growing pinto beans. It was a natural crop to grow in the area. The Anasazi people had already demonstrated this when growing beans on those lands long, long ago.

 

Dove Creek’s pinto bean industry soon took off, and the nickname “Pinto Bean Capital of the World” was proudly given to the town by its residents. Today, the area’s pinto bean industry is alive and well, with the town celebrating its harvest every July at the annual Dove Creek Pick N’ Hoe   Celebration.