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It's Colorado Day! How much do you know about the state's official symbols and emblems?

Colorado columbine flowers_Stephanie Butzer/Denver7
Posted at 8:18 PM, Aug 01, 2023

Tuesday is Colorado Day, the 147th anniversary of Colorado entering the Union in 1876, and a day to celebrate the state's history, present and future.

So, let's play a little trivia and take a look at the many Colorado symbols and emblems that the General Assembly had adopted over the decades.

It's Colorado Day! How much do you know about the state's official symbols?

State animal: Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep

If you enjoy exploring Colorado's high country, you've likely seen these animals up on steep walls around lakes, canyons and even highways.

Bighorn sheep have quite the recovery story. Around the turn of the century, they were near extinction in Colorado due to disease introduced from European livestock and unregulated hunting, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

CPW gets drone view of Pikes Peak bighorn sheep

Using the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation model, these animals were able to regain stable footing and now have a thriving population — about 7,000 — in Colorado.

State flower: White and lavender columbine

We have a bunch of students from before the turn of the century to thank for this designation. They chose the columbine as the state flower, and it was officially adopted on April 14, 1899 by an act of the General Assembly.

Colorado columbine flowers_Stephanie Butzer/Denver7
Colorado columbines wave in a slight breeze along Peru Creek near Montezuma. July 2023.

According to state law, it is illegal to tear a columbine out of the ground if it is growing on any state, school or public land, or if it is growing along a highway. The law reads that "it is hereby declared to be the duty of all citizens of this state to protect the white and lavender Columbine Aquilegia, Caerulea, the state flower, from needless destruction or waste."

You can find columbines of other colors in Colorado and beyond, such as pink and white, entirely blue or entirely white, creamy yellow and pink, and red and white, among others.

State fish: Greenback cutthroat trout

At one point in history, the indigenous greenback cutthroat trout were plentiful in Colorado's waterways, but pollution and competition from other trout species slowly pushed the greenback toward extinction.

It was presumed to be an extinct species by 1937, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. But a couple decades later, in the late 1950s, biologists found what they believed were the greenback cutthroat trout in the South Platte and Arkansas basins. And so an aggressive conservation campaign launched to save the species.

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In 2012, genetic testing showed the true native cutthroat of the South Platte basin were only found in a single stream. Since then, more recovery efforts have been implemented to replicate that population, CPW said.

The state said it is now reproducing successfully.

The greenback cutthroat trout was designated the state fish on March 15, 1994.

State songs: A.J. Fynn's "Where the Columbines Grow" and John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High"

Colorado has two state songs. The first, "Where the Columbines Grow," was written by A.J. Fynn and became a state song in 1915. John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" was named the second state song in 2007.

The American Music Research Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder analyzed both songs.

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Fynn, 1854-1930, was reportedly exploring a mountain near Schinzel Flats northeast of Pagosa Springs when he came across a meadow filled with columbines. This experience inspired the lyrics for "Where the Columbines Grow," according to the American Music Research Center. He finished the song in 1911.

Many years later, Denver would write the hit "Rocky Mountain High" with guitarist Mike Taylor in 1972 after seeing the Perseid meteor shower while camping near Aspen.

While the songs have faced some criticism for certain lyrics, as detailed in the article from the American Music Research Center, they both have a focus on the natural beauty of Colorado.

State fossil: Stegosaurus

Colorado is a treasure trove for fossils, which help piece together the story of what was happening on Earth well before recorded history.

Dinosaur Ridge near Morrison is the first place a stegosaurus was discovered. It is now Colorado's state fossil. You can also find stegosaurus fossils in the Quarry Exhibit Hall at the Dinosaur National Monument, just north of the town of Dinosaur.

Dinosaur exhibit at Denver Museum of Nature & Science

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Stegosaurus lived about 150 million years ago in the area now known as Colorado. These animals weighed up to 10 tons.

It was designated as the state fossil in April 1982.

10 dinosaurs that roamed Colorado millions of years ago
This Stegosaurus specimen is the most complete Stegosaurus fossil in a museum. Stegosaurus are Colorado's state fossil and have been located in the state! 

(Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

In May, Gov. Jared Polis signed the "Stegosaurus State Fossil License Plate" bill into law. This created an optional stegosaurus state fossil license plate for anybody who wants to make a donation to a qualifying nonprofit organization designated by the Department of Revenue. The plate will be available starting Jan. 1, 2024.

State tree: Colorado blue spruce

If you're walking around Colorado and see a pine tree of a silvery green-blue color, it's likely the state tree.

The Colorado blue spruce was initially discovered in 1862 on Pikes Peak by botanist Dr. Charles Christopher Parry, one of the earliest explorers of the state's flora.

On Arbor Day 1892, schoolchildren voted to name the blue spruce as the official state tree. That was officially declared decades later, in March 1939, according to the state.

The U.S. Capitol Christmas tree in 2020 — among other years — was a Colorado blue spruce cut down in western Colorado.

Barbara Bush National Christmas Tree
First lady Barbara Bush holds grandson Walker Bush, 3, as she and Joe Riley, president of the Christmas Pageant of Peace, Inc., place a star on top of the National Christmas Tree, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 1992 in Washington. The tree, a living 38-foot-tall Colorado Blue Spruce, will be lit on Thursday, December 10 by President Bush. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)

The trees are hardy and adaptable, and can grow up to 75 feet.

According to Historic Jeffco, a large granite boulder on Pikes Peak commemorates Parry's discovery of the Colorado blue spruce.

State gemstone: Aquamarine

High up on the peak of Mount Antero, Colorado hides aquamarine crystals. As the name indicates, the crystals range in color from light blue to pale blue to a deep aquamarine green, according to the state.

The quest to find aquamarine began in the late 1800s on Mount Antero, according to Geology.com. Today, there are multiple claims around the mountain, so any gem collectors must ensure they do not trespass on a claim.

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The aquamarine was named the state's gemstone on April 30, 1971.

State insect: Colorado hairstreak butterfly

At barely 2 inches wide, the Colorado hairstreak butterfly has earned a big name in Colorado as the state insect.

It has purple wings with a darker color along the edges and orange spots. You can find these butterflies in scrub oak ecosystems in hills and canyons around 6,500 to 9,000 feet in elevation. They are most commonly seen in July and August, according to the state.

Colorado Hairstreak Butterfly

According to the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster, Aurora teacher Melinda Terry led her fourth-grade class to the state legislature to insist that the butterfly be an official symbol of the state. Other fourth-graders jumped on board and the designation was made official by the General Assembly in April 1996.

The Butterfly Pavilion said the insects tend to stay extremely close to where they hatch — typically within a few yards — their whole lives. They are dependent on the gambel oak throughout its life, from laying eggs to eating leaves, to consuming the tree's sap and sugar as caterpillars.

State bird: Lark bunting

The state bird only calls Colorado home for about half of the year. The lark bunting, a migratory bird, hangs out around the eastern plains and areas up to 8,000 feet between April and September, when it flies south, according to the state.

The males are about half a foot tall and is black with white patches. The females are slightly smaller and gray-brown.

Lark bunting_state bird_Tony's Takes Photography

During mating season, the males warble and trill a distinctive song. They nest in the ground, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. They mostly eat insects and seeds.

The lark bunting was named the state bird in April 1931.

The state's other option at the time was the magpie, but lawmakers decided against this because the magpie was already the state bird for several other states.

State mineral: Rhodochrosite

One rhodochrosite specimen, called the "Alma King" lives at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. It came from one of Colorado's defunct silver mines near Alma.

The 57th San Francisco Gem & Mineral Society Show - Aug. 6 & 7
Exclusive museum-quality exhibits from renowned mineral crystal collector Jack Halpern will be displayed during the 57th annual San Francisco Gem and Mineral Society Show and Sale on Saturday, August 6, and Sunday, August 7, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Golden Gate Club in the historic Presidio. This original and most established exhibition of its kind in the city features 52 exhibits, 24 dealers and several educational demonstrations. The spectacular mineral exhibit shown here, one of Halpern's rare crystalline Rhodochrosite specimens, is from the Sweet Home Mine in Alma, Colorado. (Photo: Business Wire)

According to History Colorado, the football-sized ruby red crystal is "the finest mineral specimen of rhodochrosite in the world" and "might be the finest and most famous mineral specimen ever collected from the mountains of Colorado."

Rhodochrosite became the state mineral thanks to a bill passed by former Gov. Bill Owens in April 2002, according to the state. This came in the wake of research and work by high school students in Bailey, who pushed for the designation.

State rock: Yule Marble

Yule Marble may have its roots in Colorado, but it has spread far and wide. It is now part of the floors of the State Capitol, as well as the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

A marble deposit was reported in 1882 in Gunnison County near Yule Creek, though a quarry did not begin operating in the area until 1906. Unlike most other marbles, Yule Marble is found underground.

Budget Battle Washington Tourism
Law enforcement officers stand at right as the Lincoln Memorial, and most of the federal government, is closed Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Ultimately, there were five quarries along Yule Creek Valley, but only one remains in operation today. As for the amount of marble available here — there's apparently enough to last for hundreds of years of mining.

In 2004, it was named the state rock after a Girl Scout troop in Lakewood gathered information about the rock's importance to the state and petitioned, according to the state.

State winter sport: Skiing and snowboarding

Who is surprised by this one? Coloradans have been skiing since before 1900 and over the past century-plus, it has made enormous contributions to the state's economy.

Skiing and snowboarding were designated the state winter recreational sports in 2008.

The effort was kicked off by a 9-year-old at Dennison Elementary School in Lakewood who had the idea to designate a winter sport, according to the state.

State summer heritage sport: Pack burro racing

On May 29, 2012, pack burro racing was named the summer heritage sport in Colorado. As the story goes, two miners found gold in the same place in the Rocky Mountains and using donkeys, they raced each other back to town to be the first to claim the find. Because their donkeys were carrying heavy loads, the miners had to run alongside the animals instead of riding them.

And so burro racing was born.

2019 Pack Burro Racing World Championships group shot

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The first official event was held in 1949 between Leadville and Fairplay. Today, thousands of people turn out to participate or watch the annual competitions, which have expanded to include other cities such as Idaho Springs, Georgetown and Buena Vista.

It is considered the only indigenous sport in Colorado.

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You can celebrate Colorado's 147th birthday all week with statewide Celebrate Colorado events, which include outdoor fun, art, historical attractions and vibrant main streets all over the state.

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