Tourism and Environment in the Colorado High Country

William Philpott
Foreword by William Cronon

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  • Published: March 2013
  • Subject Listing: Recreation, Environmental History, Western History
  • Bibliographic information: 488 pp., 37 illus., 5 maps, notes, bibliog., index, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World
  • Series: Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books
  • Contents

Mention the Colorado high country today and vacation imagery springs immediately to mind: mountain scenery, camping, hiking, skiing, and world-renowned resorts like Aspen and Vail. But not so long ago, the high country was isolated and little visited. Vacationland tells the story of the region's dramatic transformation in the decades after World War II, when a loose coalition of tourist boosters fashioned alluring images of nature in the high country and a multitude of local, state, and federal actors built the infrastructure for high-volume tourism: ski mountains, stocked trout streams, motels, resort villages, and highway improvements that culminated in an entirely new corridor through the Rockies, Interstate 70.

Vacationland is more than just the tale of one tourist region. It is a case study of how the consumerism of the postwar years rearranged landscapes and revolutionized American environmental attitudes. Postwar tourists pioneered new ways of relating to nature, forging surprisingly strong personal connections to their landscapes of leisure and in many cases reinventing their lifestyles and identities to make vacationland their permanent home. They sparked not just a population boom in popular tourist destinations like Colorado but also a new kind of environmental politics, as they demanded protection for the aesthetic and recreational qualities of place that promoters had sold them. Those demands energized the American environmental movement-but also gave it blind spots that still plague it today.

Peopled with colorful characters, richly evocative of the Rocky Mountain landscape, Vacationland forces us to consider how profoundly tourism changed Colorado and America and to grapple with both the potential and the problems of our familiar ways of relating to environment, nature, and place.

William Philpott grew up in the Denver suburbs and teaches history at the University of Denver. He formerly taught at Illinois State University.

"This history of the Colorado high country and the I-70 corridor will be indispensable in understanding how consumer culture and tourism shaped environmental politics and postwar landscapes. Vacationland is a smart analysis that's thoroughly researched and also fun to read." - Annie Gilbert Coleman, author of Ski Style: Sport and Culture in the Rockies

"Written in a lively style and peopled by characters like balladeer John Denver and gonzo jounalist Hunter S. Thompson, Vacationland is a must-read for those interested in the environmental movement, modern tourism, and the power of the state in building the twentieth-century West." - Susan S. Rugh, author of Are We There Yet? The Golden Age of American Family Vacations

"Vacationland is a wonderfully written book that brings new insights to environmental and Western history by emphasizing how modern tourism redefined Americans' sense of place. 'Vacationland' is more than the resorts to which we travel; it is also the place we call home." - John M. Findlay, coauthor of Atomic Frontier Days: Hanford and the American West

“Without skis, jets, cars, and highways, Colorado would never have become the tourist playground that it is today. This remarkable transformation is the subject of William Philpott’s fine new environmental history, Vacationland. It combines meticulous scholarship with deep interpretive insight and genuine literary grace to tell fascinating stories about places many Americans visit without ever really knowing them very well. –from the foreword by William Cronon
List of Illustrations

Foreword: At Home and at Play in the High Country by William Cronon

Introduction: Seeing Like a Tourist
1. Selling the Scene
2. The Roads Nature Made?
3. Our Big Backyard
4. Blueprints for Action
5. The John Denver Tenor
Conclusion: How Tourism Took Place