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Colorado’s History of Failure

Uncovering the silver linings behind some of our state's biggest blunders.

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-1995-

The Fail
About a year and a half after starting construction on DIA, the project management team made a tiny adjustment to its plans—namely, adding the most complex baggage system in the world. It proved an ambitious task. In fact, DIA’s opening was delayed 16 months (at a cost of $1.1 million a day) as workers tried to make the thing functional. The system never ran as intended. DIA abandoned it in 2005, turning instead to battle-tested baggage handlers.
The Win
Word on the street is DIA made $90 a pound for the scrap metal.


-1969-

The Fail
In the 1960s and ’70s, Project Plowshare tried to find peaceful uses for U.S. nuclear bombs, such as, in Colorado, mining. Projects Rulison (1969) and Rio Blanco (1973) let loose explosions under western Colorado to free natural gas from shale rock—fracking, essentially. And it worked. Sadly, there was little market for radioactive gas. The wells are now capped.
The Win
A 1974 amendment to the state constitution banned nuclear explosions without voters’ go-ahead, which is comforting.

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-1960-

The Fail
Bob Howsam went deep into debt building Mile High Stadium for his new Denver Broncos franchise and had to buy secondhand uniforms from the Cleveland Browns (with atrocious brown-and-yellow vertical-striped socks). After two awful seasons, the Broncos torched the socks during a public bonfire and ordered new unis. The front office sought burnt orange (and blue), but the manufacturer bungled the order—hence, the distinctive bright orange the team dons today.
The Win
A pretty boss nickname (the Orange Crush) for the defense.


-1898-

The Fail
The Spanish-American War put a focus on naval innovation. Hoping to get ahead of the field, Central City engineer Rufus Owens developed his own submarine. Just as intended, the Nautilus submerged during its inaugural voyage at Missouri Lake. Regrettably, it didn’t resurface until it was recovered in 1944. It’s now at the Gilpin County Museum.
The Win
In 1900, the U.S. Navy bought its first submarine, proving that at the very least, Owens had the right idea.


-1869-

The Fail
As John Wesley Powell was preparing for his ultimately successful expedition to discover a passage through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River, a stranger calling himself “Captain” Samuel Adams tried to join the crew. When Powell said no, Adams went to Breckenridge and convinced its residents to support a rival expedition—one he hoped would beat Powell through the Grand Canyon by taking the Blue River, which runs past Breckenridge to the Colorado. In one month, Adams lost all four of his boats, and eight of his 10 recruits deserted. Near the confluence of the Eagle River and the Colorado, Adams climbed to a high point, looked west, and claimed to see the passage through the Grand Canyon. Having succeeded (in his own mind), Adams demanded $20,000 from Congress.
The Win
Congress demurred, but Adams’ trip was the first thorough exploration of the rivers above Glenwood Canyon.


-1864-

The Fail
To spare the feelings of Denver City and Auraria City, which had a fierce rivalry, Rocky Mountain News founder William Byers planted his newspaper building equidistant from the two townships in 1860—on stilts in the middle of the Cherry Creek streambed near Blake Street. The creek flooded, destroying the building and taking the paper’s printing press with it.
The Win
Subsequent floods led to the creation of the Cherry Creek Dam in 1950, allowing developers to flip the area from a landfill into the tony section of town we know today.


-1859-

The Fail
Before Colorado was a state (or even a territory), Pikes Peak sat in Kansas Territory. When gold was found near Pikes, thousands of fortune-seekers flocked to the western edge of the territory, and the rabble went largely ungoverned. It was difficult, after all, for the Kansas government to lay down the law from faraway Topeka. To inject some order into the area, those who had settled near Denver City voted to establish Jefferson Territory. It was a logical solution, but Jefferson ran into two small problems: The territory was illegal (forming a new territory required the federal government’s say-so), and its authority was ignored by those in the mining camps, which had their own regimes.
The Win
A U.S. Congress that would soon dissolve into civil war agreed on at least one thing: It created Colorado Territory in
February 1861.

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-1806-

The Fail
As part of a Louisiana Purchase exploration, Zebulon Pike and his team attempted to climb present-day Pikes Peak. In November. In waist-deep snow. Not surprisingly, they failed to make the summit. Three months later, the Spanish captured them.
The Win
Who cares if he didn’t summit—it’s still called Pikes Peak, isn’t it?

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