A Sign of the Times: Welcome to Colorful Colorado

CDOT Sign Shop

March 20, 2023 - A dive into Colorado’s most memorable sign
Welcome to Colorful Colorado Sign
Welcome to Colorful Colorado Sign

You’ve all seen one. You’ve probably taken a picture in front of one. And if you’re reading this from Colorado right now, you’ve definitely driven past one. We’re talking about the Centennial State’s signature “Welcome to Colorful Colorado” signs. What has become more of a landmark than a roadside sign is now arguably as infamous as the Rocky Mountains themselves. But there’s more to these signs than meets the eye.

Each one of Colorado’s iconic welcome signs (there are more than 40 outlining the state) are handmade by the Colorado Department of Transportation in the agency’s in-house sign shop.

Bernard Cole oversees this process. He’s a program manager/state asset manager for the CDOT Sign Shop. Bernard and his team make the signs using locally sourced wood boards that are cut to size and glued together. Vertical metal rods are threaded into the boards, which allows them to be tightened as the wood shrinks over time due to Colorado’s dry climate. A routing machine is used to carve “Welcome to Colorful Colorado.” Then, the sign is stained, and each letter is painted by hand. CDOT also sprinkles in glass beads to make the sign reflective – so no matter what time you arrive in Colorado, you’re always welcome.

All in all, the process takes about two weeks. Each sign has a life cycle of about seven to 10 years, as long as they’re properly maintained (and not stolen… yes, it happens). CDOT maintenance teams help keep the signs in tip-top shape out in the field. They touch up the paint, re-stain the wood, and tighten the wood boards.

It’s not just Colorado’s welcome sign that’s made right here at CDOT. The agency’s sign shop also fabricates every traffic and road sign you see on Colorado’s interstates and state highways — from stop signs to interstate shields and directional signs. CDOT’s Sign Shop even made trophies for the National Western Stock Show.

Truly a sign of the times, the rustic “Welcome to Colorful Colorado” beacon has been cheerfully greeting travelers since the 1950s. And CDOT says that will never change (we tried once in the 80s, it didn’t go over well). The state’s Transportation Commission and executive leadership team at CDOT agree – this Colorado treasure is here to stay.

So, the next time you’re welcomed to colorful Colorado – no matter where you’re from or where you’re going – the sign will be there to greet you with good old-fashioned handmade hospitality.