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The ruddy or red-hue rocks found in much of the state, particularly in the southwest, give Colorado its name. The region's terrain varies widely—from yawning black canyons and desolate monochrome moonscapes to pastel deserts and mesas, glistening sapphire lakes, and wide expanses of those stunning red rocks. It's so rugged in the southwest that a four-wheel-drive vehicle or hiker's sturdiness is necessary to explore much of the wild and beautiful backcountry.

The region's history and people are as colourful as the landscape. Southwestern Colorado, as well as the "Four Corners" neighbors of northwestern New Mexico, northeastern Arizona, and southeastern Utah, was home to the Ancestral Puebloan peoples formerly known as Anasazi, meaning "ancient ones." They constructed impressive cliff dwellings in what are now Mesa Verde National Park, Ute Mountain Tribal Park, and other nearby sites. This wild and woolly region, dotted with rowdy mining camps and boomtowns, also witnessed the antics of such notorious outlaws as Butch Cassidy, who embarked on his storied career by robbing the Telluride Bank in 1889, and Robert "Bobby" Clark, who hid out in Creede from the James Gang after he shot Jesse in the back. Even today, the more ornery, independent locals, disgusted with the political system, periodically talk of seceding from the union. They can be as rough as the country they inhabit.

Southwest Colorado has such diversity that, depending on where you go, you can have radically different vacations. You can spiral from the towering peaks of the San Juan range to the plunging Black Canyon of the Gunnison, taking in alpine scenery along the way, as well as the eerie remains of old mining camps, before winding through striking desert landscapes, the superlative Ancestral Puebloan ruins, and the Old West railroad town of Durango. If you're not here to ski or golf in the resorts of Crested Butte, Purgatory, or Telluride, there's still much to experience in this part of the state.