A "Colorado Native" bumper sticker would have been wasted on the region's first human inhabitants, who arrived long before the invention of the wheel. By the time European explorers made their way to the area, Native Americans including the Utes in the mountains and the Ancestral Puebloans in the southwest had flourishing cultures.
Our voyage through the state's prehistory begins before humankind's tenure, though, with a visit to Woodland Park's Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center (rmdrc.com). Professional fossil hunter Mike Triebold's facility houses one of the world's more active paleo labs, a museum and an educational center.
Twenty minutes west is Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument (nps.gov/flfo), one of the richer and more diverse fossil deposits on the planet. Archaeological evidence shows the Florissant valley was important to early hunter-gatherer tribes and the Utes, whose connection to the area remains strong.
Head south to Garden Park Fossil Area (blm.gov), just north of Cañon City, where the nation's fossil hunters and scientists began mining for paleo-gold in 1877. Among other noteworthy discoveries, the site yielded the first complete Allosaurus skeleton.
The human narrative continues a few hours to the west, in Montrose, at Ute Indian Museum (visitmontrose.com), which features one of the nation's more complete collections of Ute artifacts.
A drive southwest brings travelers to the heart of Mesa Verde Country. To the west lies Canyons of the Ancients National Monument (blm.gov), with more than 175,000 acres of protected land containing the country's largest concentration of archaeological sites; Mesa Verde National Park (nps.gov/meve), whose cliff dwellings are among the more spectacular in North America, is 10 miles south of Cortez. While in the area, be sure to check out the Anasazi Heritage Center (mesaverdecountry.com) in Dolores.
From there, head north to Fruita, where the Museums of Western Colorado (museumofwesternco.com) boasts a multidisciplinary complex with exhibits on paleontology and the art and culture of Native Americans.
Continue north into Moffat County to reach Dinosaur National Monument (nps.gov/dino), a protected area straddling the border with Utah whose terrain has yielded a fossil mother lode.