To get a good perspective on Colorado, before going to Vail and the Rockies, spend a day or two in Denver. There were several wonderful history museums - the Colorado History Museum and the Black American West Museum. Both were wonderful and gave a historical perspective on what we would be seeing when we reached the Rockies. There is also the Denver Mint, but be sure to try to get a reservation ahead of your arrival.
The Colorado History Museum begins with a panorama of the history: Indians, trappers, settlers, etc. It also had an exhibit about the 10th Infantry during WWII - the Snow Soldiers, who were on skis, trained in Colorado, and later were on missions in Italy. Very interesting. What a life! White tents on the snow. Mules were their transportation.
There were also wonderful exhibits on the Cliff-Dweller Indians.
The timeline of Colorado started in 1803, when Colorado was included in the Louisiana Purchase, and continued through 1950. There were relics and photos of the Mountain Men - the trappers, fur traders, the explorers, and it told of their coexistence with the Indians. The Gold Rush of Colorado was in l858-9, years after the California gold rush of l849. Many fortunes were made in the Gold Rush, but many more people drifted from claim to claim, never making much money, and leaving ghost towns in their wake.
The Black American West Museum had a wonderful interpreter who told stories of Jessie James and the Thompson Brothers - who, it turns out, were black outlaws... a third of the cowboys of the West were black. There were artifacts from the days of the Wild West, the days of the settlers, life as an African American in Denver, and stories of retired black miners who tunnelled under the city from one hotel to another and then to the state house!
The Tuskeegee Airmen - black pilots during the Second World War - were included in the exhibits.
We tried to take a tour of the Denver Mint, but its guest list was full - you have to make reservations on Monday for the entire week! Check the web or call the Mint. Actually, the movie in the gift shop was excellent. It had close-up pictures of the process of making money and had a better explanation than was given on the tour, according to other people in the gift shop and according to the guard outside. It was quite interesting.