A bit of Flatiron history
Some readers might recognize these rock formations as The Flatirons, a Boulder, Colorado, landmark. Symbol of the city, they rise from the foothills just southwest of town and are visible from miles away. (Weather permitting, they can be seen with some of the webcams listed at the bottom of the page.)
I’ve long sought a really great photo of The Flatirons, just because they symbolize a lot to me, and I finally came across this one the other day. It leapt off the page as far and away the best I’d seen and I grabbed it. Wikipedia has a good photo of all five Flatirons, but this photo is still my favorite.
My first childhood view of Boulder, as it is for so many, was from the southeast, coming in on Highway 36, the Denver-Boulder Turnpike (back then it was a free road, then was made a toll road until improvements were paid for, then became free again). You’re heading northwest with the mountains drawing ever closer (and if you’re rolling in from Oklahoma City after 10 hours on the road, you can almost smell them), top a certain rise, and suddenly the entire Boulder Valley opens below you. Conspicuous in the middle of the city are the pink tile roofs of the main Colorado University campus and to the left, against the foothills, are The Flatirons. I decided early on that I wanted to go to school there (and I did, for a year) and live there (never quite managed that).
There are five primary Flatirons, counting from north to south, and a number of smaller ones; the one featured in this photo, the most famous, is the Third Flatiron. Rising above a spectacular city park and green belt, it’s very popular with hikers and climbers, but I remember it for a different reason. “Back in the day” during my freshman year at CU, 1961-62, it bore the letters “CU” in white, 50-foot-high letters. Environmental awareness was in its infancy; I found those letters a source of pride.
And yet, being from Oklahoma and raised as a Sooner, I had to cheer when some enterprising OU students, on the eve of the OU-CU football game in Boulder, climbed the Third Flatiron and changed the “C” to an “O.” And as I recall it remained that way throughout the game, clearly visible from the stadium.
(Oh yes, CU won both the Big 8 Football and Basketball championships that year. It was a good year to be a CU student.)
In 2009 the Boulder Daily Camera ran a detailed article about how the Third Flatiron was originally painted and about the controversies and changes in the years since.