World Facts Index > United States > Boulder

The Denver Post once described Boulder as 'the little town nestled between the mountains and reality.' Shadowed by the towering Flatirons and surrounded by more than 31,000 acres of recreational open space and nature preserves, the community is 28 square miles of outdoor heaven.

Named after the mammoth rocks scattered across the terrain, Boulder brims with big city sophistication, college town smarts, and environmental sensibilities. Technology and research firms such as IBM, Sun Microsystems, Storage Technology and Ball Aerospace keep the business economy booming. Of course, the 25,000 students enrolled at the University of Colorado (called CU in local tongue) keep the town feeling young. Plus, the incredibly diverse student crowd adds a worldly edge to the chiefly white and wealthy population residing in the city limits.

Wanderers from all over the world converge on the valley each year. Some are going to school. Others come for the renowned rock-climbing, mountain biking, hiking and skiing. Some show up searching for enlightenment or new age ideals. Others simply seek the mountain solitude. Whether disgruntled with East Coast congestion or the West Coast bustle, in search of spiritual freedom or simply on an exploratory mission from abroad, people find a reason to call Boulder home. Just try finding an actual Boulder native. It might be easier to find a nugget of gold up in the hills. In this hodgepodge of cultures and beliefs is a collective community rallying around the preservation of a natural landscape and a quality of life. Residents have banned together to fight off rapid growth and unruly developers. They managed to pass a law forbidding smoking in public spaces, including bars and nightclubs, and the town is currently battling chain stores from taking over the city. The community's aggressive nature in the political arena and fierce attitudes toward uncurbed growth has earned the city the nickname 'Peoples Republic of Boulder.'

Although it resides a mere 30 miles northeast of Denver and is lumped into the sprawling metroplex for statistical reasons, the town moves to its own funky vibe and might as well be three thousand miles down road. Living in Boulder is like living a different state of mind, in a place where time somehow moves slower, the paths seem a little less traveled and reality always seems a step away.


Boulder's historic civic center serves as a gathering place for the entire city. Anchored by Pearl Street, a vibrant thoroughfare boasting a magnificent four-block pedestrian mall, downtown brims with tourists, but is also a lively haven for the eclectic locals. The tree-lined promenade, long ago a refuge for drunken cowboys and prostitutes, is alive with cafes, galleries, brewpubs, restaurants, and every type of shopping imaginable. Musicians and performers clutter the Pearl Street Mall vying for attention. Stroll by the occasional flower child aimlessly wandering the mall, small groups of blue haired urban punk rockers, and even a peaceful band of Hare Krishnas camped on the courthouse lawn.

Locals pour into downtown nightly to relax and shop. An array of small boutiques and interesting gift shops complement the few national retailers and stand among 15 bookshops. If you're looking for New Age knick-knacks, Deadhead mementos or ethnic art, check out the Crystal Dragon or Mole Hole. Pick up an exotic souvenir at one of the two Tibetan gift outlets. MAX and Solo keep the business crowd looking stylish, while more than six retro shops recycle all the hip fashions.

If high culture is on the agenda, then browse around one at one of the galleries brightening downtown, including the popular Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art and the Busch Gallery International. You can also check out the Dairy Center for the Arts for productions by a local theater and dance troupe or a graceful performance from the Boulder Ballet.

The Boulder County Farmers' Market adds a bit of flavor from April to October and offers everything from organic veggies and local wines to famous homegrown cantaloupe. The Boulder Creek Path, crowded with bikers, in-line enthusiasts, walkers and wanderers, also meanders though downtown. Along the way, the trial passes the Underwater Observatory, Central Park, City Hall and Heartling Sculpture Park before winding into Boulder Canyon towards the mountain town of Nederland.

After a long day of exploring, kick back with a local brew on an outdoor patio, take in the amazing mountain views, and watch the world go by.

The surrounding Whittier and Mapleton neighborhoods feature towering cottonwoods and maples, blocks of stately Victorian homes with hefty mortgages and miles of flagstone sidewalks, providing the perfect setting for an late night romantic stroll.

The big box retail chains, strip malls, fast food fry pits (even Boulder has them), and Crossroads Mall occupy a long stretch of car heavy 28th Street, just a bit south of the city center. Although not the ideal destination for the tourist, the area is great for last minute stops before heading to the hills. The strip is also the place in town to find a movie theater.

University Hill

Known as 'The Hill' by locals, the neighborhood is the home of the University of Colorado. Literally parked on a hilltop above downtown, the district provides the typical college town quirkiness and a host of popular attractions including the Heritage Center and the Sommer-Bausch Observatory.

Spread across more than 600 acres of rolling landscape, CU is a feat of architectural beauty with old stone buildings sporting red Spanish tiled rooftops. Just moseying about the campus grounds creates a sense of wonder, moving through tree-lined passageways, catching glimpses of wildlife, and gazing into the serene depths of Varsity Pond. Catch a CU Buffalo football game at Folsom Field or take in a concert at Mackey Auditorium. The Sibell-Wolle Fine Arts Building houses a plethora of galleries displaying contemporary work by revered artists as well as students. Try to see Foucault's Pendulum make a move or stargaze at the Fiske Planetarium.

After checking out CU, head of to The Hill's entertainment district. The area floods with students filling the bars and restaurants searching for the perfect pizza and a cold beer. Neo-hippies peruse the streets, usually entertaining a pack of friendly canines, and the coffee shop crowd relates in one of the quaint cafes. The area can get a little rowdy, especially after Buff games and long nights of drinking.

The residential neighborhood bordering The Hill is an odd mix of fraternity and sorority houses, apartment complexes, rental houses and posh single-family homes. It is not unusual to see six or more people packed into one house trying to beat the area's high rent costs. The streets are usually bustling with activity well into the night.

Chautauqua Park rests at the base of Flagstaff Mountain on the southwest side of University Hill. The park, one of three remaining from the early 1900s cultural movement, features a dining hall and an outdoor auditorium that hosts an excellent summer concert series.

Other Places of Interest

Boulder contains a wealth of pocket residential communities peppered with parks and open space. Martin Park, on the south side of town, is a step into 1950s tract housing. Table Mesa, nestled in the western foothills, is home to the NationalCenter for Atmospheric Research and miles of easy nature trails.

Most of Boulder's big business sectors reside on the fringes of the city. Gunbarrel, on the eastern edge of town, is home to IBM and Celestional Seasonings. Boulder's small southern neighbor, Louisville, is home to Storage Tek. Broomfield, nine miles south of Boulder, recently opened the posh Interlocken Business Park and Resort and is attracting national attention as a hot relocation spot.

If you're searching for an otherworldly experience all together, take a day and visit one of the area's mountain towns. Eldorado Springs, where the world comes to rock climb, was once a hangout for the well-to-do including Damon Runyon and President Eisenhower. Now, it is a quaint commuter community of about 900 residents. Nederland, home to Eldora Ski Resort, is a tourist-oriented former gold claim that still possesses a bit of the anti-establishment mountain attitude.

History of Boulder

It has taken Boulder almost 150 years to develop into an eccentric town two steps off the beaten path. But in the early going, it resembled just about every other western mountain town appearing overnight, displacing the natives, and evolving into a boom and bust paradise colored by silver and gold.

When the first tribes meandered into the Boulder Valley, most passed it by for destinations further southwest. Although the open plains presented a wealth of hunting opportunities, the harsh winters and fierce winds ultimately detoured most of the migratory clans from permanent settlement. Drawn to the pristine rivers, protective terrain and the massive quantities of buffalo roaming the prairie, the Southern Arapaho, lead by Chief Niwot, took a chance on the valley, utilizing the area as a winter camp. The tribe remained basically unhindered, minus the occasional spat with neighboring enemies, until 1803 when then-American president Thomas Jefferson scored the monumental $15 million bargain known as the Louisiana Purchase.

Although the acquisition more than doubled the size of the existing nation, early scouts exploring the new territory deemed the land uninhabitable, especially for any sort of agricultural endeavor. But digging for gold didn't require anybody to plant crops. It didn't require much more than a shack to bed down in, a few tools for mulling about the rocks and a fever for riches. So, when scout William Gilpin wandered into the river valleys of the Front Range and claimed gold might lie in the surrounding hills, the rush was on.

The first specks of gold, discovered at the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River in present-day Denver, sparked a surge of westward movement. Hopeful pioneers came kicking, scratching and clawing across an angry, unexplored landscape in search of instant wealth.

A prospecting party captained by Thomas Aikins set up camp at the entrance of Boulder Canyon in 1858, becoming the first non-native settlement to call the valley home. Chief Niwot confronted the clan before the first night passed, fearing the paleface gold seekers would pillage the Arapaho camp. But after a hearty dinner and a few passes of the pipe, they all opted to peacefully coexist. Unfortunately, Niwot's good nature would come back to haunt him. A mere six years later, while peacefully encamped at Sand Creek on the eastern fringe of Colorado, Niwot and a good portion of his tribe were brutality slaughtered and scalped by the new white settlers.

Four short months after bedding down in the valley, Aikins and his boys discovered golden flakes floating in a small canyon creek. When word wandered back east, some 2000 gold seekers flooded the Front Range seeking fortune. While the frenzied masses ultimately followed the flow of gold up into the mountains, crippling a good number of lowland settlements, Boulder sought to develop a stable economy and attract residents for the long haul.

In February of 1859, shortly after the initial gold find, the Boulder City Town Company was established. It is hard to believe today, with stop growth initiatives filling the city's current law books, but Boulder once sought to expand. Of course, it was just starting out. So A.A. Brookfield, the company's first president, along with 56 shareholders divvied up 1280 acres into 4044 lots and sold them for an exorbitant $1000 each. When this price failed to bring in the homesteaders, the company slashed the cost. Although the cut still failed to create the desired population surge, it helped Boulder avoid the typical boom and bust cycles affecting neighboring towns. Thus, Boulder, which was incorporated in 1871, started budding into a real town complete with a city hall, newspaper, railroads and brothels. By the late 1800s, the town developed into a hub for miners moving from dig to dig and a haven for local farmers.

In 1876, Colorado became a state and Boulder became a college town. After losing to Denver in the race for state capital, Boulder managed to snag the State University. The following year the University of Colorado came to life in the form of Old Main, the initial building, which encompassed the entire campus.

Just when things in Boulder were looking up and the town was carving out an identity came the unusually long and harsh winter of 1894. The snow piled high well into the warm season when the spring rains began to fall. And on May 31, the rains would not stop. The snow pack melted instantly, running into nearby rivers until they swelled beyond the banks and wiped out most of Boulder. Washed away were the dreams of gold and other remnants of the city's mining heritage, including the notorious red light district.

Given a fresh start, Boulder sought a new vision of city development, one based on the preservation of open space and tourism. A few years after the flood, a gaggle of Texas teachers wandered into town looking to set up a summer Chautauqua, a prominent movement filtering out of New York that promoted cultural and educational gatherings in open-air settings. The Texans opted for Boulder and locals quickly passed a bond issue to construct a park, auditorium, and dining hall at the base of Flatirons. Originally called Texado Park in honor of the founders, the name ultimately changed to Chautauqua Park. Over the next few years, approximately 60 cottages popped up around the park to house the incoming summer guests. Chautauqua presented an array of events ranging from musical concerts to lectures on politics and culture to operas. Perhaps the most important element of the movement, in relation to Boulder, was the emphasis on health and outdoor pursuits. Visitors to the park flocked to join the Climbers Club, a curious group that trekked about the local mountains in search of enjoyment rather than gold. In 1906, thrill seekers Floyd and Earl Millard pitched their way up the east face of the Third Flatiron, igniting an adventure craze forever synonymous with the word Boulder. Today, the jagged red rock Flatirons possess some of the finest beginning rock climbing routes in the world, and the surrounding El Dorado and Boulder canyons present more technical challenges.

Chautauqua was the first step in Boulder's long history of buying surrounding land for parks and open space. Under the guidance of Robert Law Olmstead, Jr., son of the famed creator of New York's Central Park, Boulderites developed an environmental conscious. They sought to remain 'green' regardless of the desires of outside developers, and created an economic environment suited to 'clean industry.'

By the early 1900s, the area population was brimming around 10,000. The university district, known as 'The Hill,' was thriving with small businesses. Tourism was booming. And the town's environmental conscious suddenly developed a sense of morality. In 1907, thirteen years before Prohibition, Boulder elected to ban liquor sales in public places. This included bars, pubs, and restaurants. Somehow, the city remained clean and sober until 1969, when the local watering hole Catacombs started pouring spirits again.

In the 1950s, after two world wars and a depression, the 'clean industry' pursuits paid dividends when the National Bureau of Standards moved to Boulder. Beech Aircraft followed suit and set up an aerospace division on the north side of town. Ball Brothers Research headquartered its aerospace operations on the east side in the new Boulder Industrial Park. The business outlook appeared bright with technology and research firms peppering the valley. Soldiers on the GI Bill filled the University of Colorado and the opening of the Boulder turnpike allowed easy access to neighboring Denver. But, the population soared uncontrollably and a once modest community of 20,000 residents in 1950 transformed into a bustling city of 67,000 by 1960. This caused discontent, as the local residents had to compete for the industry jobs. And although glad that the new companies, along with the university, jolted the economy, the local population didn't want unchecked growth to scar the natural landscape that set Boulder apart from other towns. So in 1959, the organization PLAN-Boulder came onto the scene, paving the way for future initiatives to block development and limit growth. PLAN-Boulder developed a comprehensive policy to limit city water service to within specified boundaries. Later, in the 1970s, the group helped push through an ordinance placing height restrictions of 55 feet on all new constructions. Boulder has since prevented countless attempts to build shopping malls, golf courses and hotels by simply buying the land and deeming it open space.

National Center for Atmospheric Research joined Boulder's hopping research industry in 1960. The architectural gem designed by I.M. Pei, watches over the city from its roost on Table Mesa. Other research and government firms and technology conglomerates found Boulder to be an attractive setting for business. Inevitably, the population continued to increase.

The college town came of age in the tumultuous late 1960s and early 1970s. Student protests and riots occurred in response the Vietnam War. The predominantly peaceful hippies encamped in the center of town gave way to angry revolutionaries insistent upon being heard. Buildings burned and bombs blasted away Boulder's innocence.

Meanwhile, the town expanded east, continuing to preserve land but also building new shopping centers and allowing more development. IBM, Storage Technology, and homegrown tea maker Celestial Seasonings anchored the new fringes, giving Boulder a significant position in the high technology arena. Tibetan monk Chogyam Trungpa established the Naropa Institute in 1974 to ponder the liberal arts from the spiritual perspective. Poets Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman later formed the Jack Kerouac School for Disembodied Poetry at the institute. The Pearl Street Mall, a pedestrian utopia gracing the heart of downtown, also opened in 1974 to rave reviews. The project brought back the city's small town ideals and provided an attractive civic center full of cafes and retail shops.

People still flocked to the town, even though a 2% growth plan went into effect in the mid 1970s, and a diverse community was slowly beginning to take shape. Today, outdoor purists and adventure seekers mingle with hippies (known in Boulder as "Granolas.") Computer techies, college professors and scientists shop with postmodern Buddhists, health nuts, and every sort New Age fanatic. And everybody takes time out for a massage. The Boulder School of Massage Therapy formed in 1976 and prompted an all-consuming rage that continues in Boulder today. Although Boulder incorporates a wide range of ideals, from liberal to conservative to down right alternative, the residents have managed to coexist and grow as one community.

Major corporations continue to relocate to Boulder. Sun Microsystems, US West, Lucent Technologies, and NeoData are prominent figures in the recent business boom. Although Boulder has sufficiently fortified itself behind 25,000 acres of unspoiled open space, the town still struggles with development issues and growth problems. The population now hovers around 100,000 and the rapidly growing neighboring towns of Louisville and Broomfield only add to the problem. In recent years, Boulder has also faced an onslaught of negative national and international media attention for the handling of one of the world's most infamous unsolved crimes'the Jon Benet Ramsey murder.

Through it all, Boulder remains an outdoor oasis protected from a Front Range drowning in suburban sprawl. The mountain setting still draws Olympic athletes, free thinkers, and distressed urban hipsters. The unemployment and crime rates are low, but the unbearable cost of living forces even the most educated to pinch pennies in order to stay within the city limits. Thus, it is not unlikely to have PhDs serving coffee or research scientists delivering pizza. It is simply a means to an end to live in such an ideal location blessed with unparalleled scenery and more than 300 days of sunshine.

The Weather

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Avg. High 45 48 54 62 71 81 87 85 76 66 54 45
Avg. Low 18 24 28 35 44 52 58 56 48 38 28 21
Mean 34 36 41 48 58 67 74 71 62 54 41 34
Avg. Precip. 0.6 in 0.7 in 1.6 in 2.2 in 3.0 in 2.2 in 2.0 in 1.3 in 1.9 in 1.3 in 1.1 in 0.8 in


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