On this weekend dedicated to our nation’s presidents, we’re giving a nod to those with connections to Colorado’s great outdoors. Here’s a look at how some legacies reached far west of the White House:
1. Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)
The Founding Father completed the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, acquiring 828,000 square miles that brought a certain 14,000-foot peak into the country. While Lewis and Clark set off to explore the northwestern portion of the land grab, Jefferson dispatched another group to explore a separate region – a group led by Lt. Zebulon Pike.
2. Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865)
At 14,295 feet, Mount Lincoln is Colorado’s eighth highest mountain, and it’s the tallest peak named for a U.S. president. No, ‘ol Abe never made it to the summit, as great a picture as that would’ve been. Wilbur Stone, who went on to help draft the state’s constitution, named the mountain by honoring the recently elected commander in chief, the nation’s first Republican in the highest office. Miners responded by naming a nearby peak Mount Democrat.
3. Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877)
Ranchers in the high plains have this legendary horseman to thank for what is now the Colorado Ranger breed. The horses’ first ancestors were two stallions that the Turkish sultan gifted to the 18th president. They were Leopard and Linden Tree, and they arrived on ships to Virginia in 1879. A rancher on the Eastern Plains named Mike Ruby is credited for the breed’s spread in Colorado, which became a state during Grant’s administration.
4. Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)
His forays into the wilderness are well-documented. In Colorado, his footprint is all over. During the winter of 1901, according to an account by the Frontier Historical Society, he met up with a friend in Colorado Springs, where they boarded a train for Meeker. There they hunted mountain lions – Roosevelt’s success on that trip is uncertain.
Better known is his bear hunt outside Glenwood Springs in 1905. “A big male, weighing three hundred and thirty pounds,” he journaled of his prize. Roosevelt battled a fever during the trip as his party camped out through a blizzard. But hard times weren’t apparent in his poetic description of the backcountry he encountered atop his horse.
5. William Howard Taft (1909-1913)
On Sept. 23, 1909, the famously plump president visited Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs. The hotel maintains he was served wild raspberries and mountain trout for breakfast and was offered a dip in the hot springs. His response: “I’ve found it’s much better for a man of my size not to bathe in public.”
6. Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)
At Mount Falcon Open Space, a 3-mile trail rises up the foothills near Morrison to the crumbled foundation of what was meant to be a summer palace for the 28th commander-in-chief and others to come. The retreat was the dream of John Brisben Walker, the visionary behind Red Rocks Amphitheatre. He set the groundwork for what is today the surrounding popular recreation area but fell short of his full plan. He hired a prominent architect to design the presidential home, modeled after a royal castle in Bavaria, and construction began. Alas, fundraising efforts failed as the economy faltered leading up to World War I.
7. Herbert Hoover (1929-1933)
He’s known as presiding over the country in its harshest economic times. He’s known also for finding solitude with his boots in a stream and a rod in his hands.
The book “Hoover, the Fishing President: Portrait of the Private Man and his Life Outdoors” recounts Hoover fishing along the Gunnison River in 1939, with then-Gov. Ralph Carr along for the start of the trip. The book also details a Colorado road trip Hoover took with his wife one summer during his post-presidency, during a time he remained active in politics and was working to prevent America’s involvement in World War II. “(T)hey stayed at the Hotel Belvedere in Montrose,” according to the book, “and the next day took dusty, rutted backroads to explore old mining towns such as Ouray, Silverton, and Durango.”
8. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)
Ike’s bronze likeness stands at a Fraser pond in northern Colorado. The statue is of him practicing a favorite pastime: fishing. His passion for the sport began at a ranch in Pine, in the state that the native Texan loved enough to make Denver his campaign headquarters. Soon after receiving the Republican nomination for president in 1952, he took his running mate, Richard Nixon, for a fishing retreat beneath the mountains of Fraser. The ranch belonging to a friend of Eisenhower’s became a favorite getaway out of the Army, a remote place where he also would take the former angler-in-chief Hoover.
In his autobiography, Ike explained his love for the ranch: “I found it advisable, and at times essential, to seek periods of relaxation and recreation away from Washington.”
9. Gerald Ford (1974-1977)
The 38th president has a spot in the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame for his promotion of the sport. He’s credited for drawing two World Alpine Ski Championships to the state, and in 1982 he established Vail’s Ford Cup, which became known as the American Ski Classic. He made frequent returns to the slopes after his first Vail visit in 1968. In retirement, he built a ski home in nearby Beaver Creek. It sold for $6.65 million in 2015.