2012 was a defining year in Colorado culture.

It was a year of dazzling art exhibits. Thrilling musical moments. Triumphant theater. Inspiring filmmaking. Galvanizing television events. Brilliant athleticism. Blockbuster shows.

But 2012 also saw terrifying crimes. Devastating disasters. Divisive politics. And not a lot of rain.

The nation, and the world, were focused on Colorado with unprecedented intensity in 2012 and for good reason: We are a state to be reckoned with. And this was a year we'll remember.


If not the center of the universe in 2012, Colorado was at least the center of the televised political show.

Photos: 2012 Election Day in Colorado

From the nonstop campaign visits by each candidate here, to the dramatic first presidential debate at the University of Denver, the state was consistently in the media spotlight this election year.

Where pictures of candidates trudging through snow in New Hampshire or eating corn dogs in Iowa used to be emblematic for TV news outlets, this year the scene shifted to Colorado, the perfectly purple state.

Facing a statistical tie in the national projections, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama held rally upon rally here, and pollsters persisted in inquiring about residents' political leanings.

TV broadcasters in Colorado took in some $86 million in political ad spending.

Denver Post reporter John Ingold figured that over nine months, the candidates and their running mates attended more than 42 campaign events in Colorado. "They've spoken — in rallies as small as a few hundred people and as big as more than 10,000 — before roughly 165,000 people combined, enough to populate a city bigger than Fort Collins," Ingold wrote in November.

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 02:  Traffic drives on the segement of Interstate 25 near the venue for the first presidential debate on October 2, 2012 in Denver,
DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 02: Traffic drives on the segement of Interstate 25 near the venue for the first presidential debate on October 2, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Interstate will be closed from 5 PM until 10 PM when Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will square off against U.S. President Barack Obama in the first of three debates on October 3. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) (Doug Pensinger)

On Election night, as suspense mounted, every pollster, Magic Wall, white board and computer graphic on every network zoomed in on the counties of Colorado, waiting for the electoral balance to tip.

Beyond presidential politics, Colorado gained national attention for Amendment 64, the legalization of recreational pot. The year saw an onslaught of TV news crews documenting the robust medical-marijuana industry already in place here (from "American Weed" on National Geographic to "Green Rush" on "60 Minutes").

Supporters erupt in cheers on election night at the passage of Amendment 64.
Supporters erupt in cheers on election night at the passage of Amendment 64. (Kathryn Scott Osler, Denver Post file)

The combined effect was oddly burnishing for Colorado's image, which was also blistered by tragedy.

After dominating June newscasts with spectacular images from disastrous summertime wildfires, Colorado was back in heavy rotation in July. Memories of Columbine were revived when the media's well-practiced massacre response teams descended on Aurora to cover an unthinkable attack on vulnerable citizens in a movie theater, of all places. All too soon, of course, they moved on to a Conneticut first-graders in December.

The Aurora broadcast coverage confirmed the value of strong local journalism, without the mistakes and retractions that characterized the Newtown coverage.The TV audience again endured shock, grief and a certain dull acceptance of the stream of images in the aftermath — news conferences, memorials, funerals and the continuing debate about guns.

Taken together, 2012's big stories painted a complicated, quirky and occasionally even accurate image of Colorado.

Not only can the state boast more days of sunshine than most anywhere, but it also has more pot dispensaries per square inch, and more red versus blue political standoffs per minute. The spirit of the Wild West seemed to be alive and well in our show of independence and general refusal to be pinned down.

Colorado's reputation on the weed front even led a national cable news network to fall for a goofy promotional stunt by a Denver radio station. When KDHT recently switched formats, it briefly advertised itself as Pot107.1 FM, "the first pot-themed radio station."

The first song was "Rocky Mountain High," and CNN sent a crew to check it out.

Joanne Ostrow: 303-954-1830, jostrow@denverpost.com or twitter.com/ostrowdp