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|Denver boasts an interesting mix of history, culture and
sports. To acquire a satisfactory taste of each might take months or
even years. But if you have a couple of days to visit the Mile High
City, try to capture some of the bustling city highlights, as well as
the awe-inspiring sights of the Rocky Mountains.
Various companies offer guided tours of the city and may be worth the money if you are interested in seeing an abundance of Denvers attractions in a cramped amount of time. Gray Line offers an array of sightseeing expeditions spanning the downtown area and mountain locations, but runs in excess of $25 per adult. The Cultural Connection Trolley, owned by RTD, the areas public transit company, operates from mid-May until Labor Day, stopping at the majority of the citys major attractions, including the Denver Zoo and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. For a mere $3 day pass, you can saunter about the city at your leisure.
For the outdoor sort, a number of outlets conduct thrilling jeep tours over lonely mountain back roads and meandering horseback journeys along fabled trails. Guided biking tours of downtown and surrounding areas are popular tourist choices, but if you have access to a bike it is easy to create your own exciting two-wheel outings along the Cherry Creek and Platte River Trails. These two greenways pass many of Denvers celebrated venues, including the Pepsi Center, Colorados Ocean Journey, and Six Flags Elitch Gardens.
Walking Tour of Downtown
The best introduction to the wonders of the Mile High City begins in Civic Center Park. From this scenic point at the entrance to the central business district the options are unlimited. Landmarks of history surround the impeccably landscaped park and make a perfect starting place for adventure. From the park you can travel to the Colorado State Capitol Building, a remarkable turn of the century Greek replica topped with a solid gold dome, and explore the hallowed halls of government. The mountain and city views from the rotunda are awe-inspiring and if the legislature happens to be fighting it out you can see first hand how frontier law is born. There is also an ongoing debate over whether the 18th or 15th step to the entrance places one exactly a mile high.
The Colorado History Museum borders the south side of the park and provides an excellent pictorial history of the Centennial State. Also at the south end are two of Denvers wildest examples of modern architecture, the Denver Library and Denver Art Museum. The library, encompassing the original 1955 structure, is an eclectic design of turrets and multi-colored geometric brick shapes. Locals often refer to the huge wooden square hovering over the structure as the 'helipad.' The librarys neighbor, the Denver Art Museum, is a gigantic tiled castle. Gio Ponti designed the structure in 1971 as an antonym to the areas unilateral Greek influence leftover from the City Beautiful era. The museum houses the nations finest collection of Native American artifacts and boasts a strong collection of Spanish Colonial works and pre-Columbian artwork. Next door to the museum is the Byers-Evans House. Built in 1883, it reflects Denvers Victorian influence and stands as one of the oldest mansions in Denver. Today it serves as a posh museum chronicling the lives of the two families that made it famous. The carriage house behind the mansion is home to the Denver History Museum. Although small, it provides an informative account of Denvers colorful past.
The City and County Building borders the west side of Civic Center Park and is a great place to visit over the holidays when thousands upon thousands of lights illuminate the structure. Behind the City and County Building is the U.S. Mint. Occupying an imitation Renaissance palace, the Mint molds over five billion coins each year and has a gold reserve rivaled only by Fort Knox. Free tours begin every 10 to 20 minutes.
Once the sightseeing at Civic Center Park is finished, head north on Broadway across Colfax Avenue to the source of the 16th Street Mall, a pedestrian promenade stretching through the heart of downtown into LoDo. Here you have the option of catching the shuttle that runs along the mall every few minutes or strolling along and taking in the sights. The Denver Pavilions is a new open-air shopping plaza filled with trendy chain shops, a movie theater, the Hard Rock Café, and the entertainment-oriented Café Odyssey. Moving further along, you will pass the historic Paramount Theater and catch glimpses of the Brown Palace and Denver Performing Arts Complex before coming upon the Tabor Center. This imposing modern glass structure is an indoor shopping venue anchored by the Westin Hotel. The stunning brick D & F Tower stands down from the Tabor Center. The 325-foot landmark is a replica of St. Marks campanile in Venice.
Progress forward to Writer Square, which acts as a passage to Larimer Square and an entrance of LoDo. From here there are a variety of short journeys you can make, passing by countless examples of 19th-century Victorian buildings filled with chic restaurants, hip bars and expensive lofts. Continuing to the end of the 16th Street Mall will place you on Wynkoop Street, part of the Ballpark Neighborhood and Denvers original city. The Tattered Covers LoDo version is on the corner and offers countless hours of browsing through 150,000 titles. Swing right on Wykoop and head toward Coors Field passing Union Station and Denvers first brewery, the Wynkoop Brewing Company. The end of the journey lies at Denvers sporting treasure, Coors Field. Designed to blend with the surrounding neighborhood, the ballpark is home to the Colorado Rockies and a wonderful place to spend and afternoon or evening, whether you're a fan or not. Tours are available during the season.
Tours for the History Buff
9th Street Historic Park
Being a relatively young city, Denver has managed to protect important historical relics from the wrecking ball. Thus, a significant visual legacy of towns early days as a mining settlement infected with mineral desires remains pretty much intact. For starters, check out the 9th Street Historic Park, located on the northeast portion of the Auraria Campus at 9th and Curtis. This ancient block, lined with old Victorian structures erected between 1872 and 1906, is a reminder of the Colorado Territorys inaugural town and Denvers first assimilated neighborhood - Auraria. While the majority of the original town gave way to the educational campus housing three universities, select structures, including St. Elizabeths Church and the Tivoli Brewing Company, recall the areas once thriving past. If you walk along 9th Street, informative signs offer insight into the individual buildings, and at Lawrence Street you reach the famous home of Golda Meir. She occupied the house for a couple of years before immigrating to Israel and ultimately serving a spell as prime minister of that country. The house holds a moving collection of photographs from Meirs life and free tours are available by appointment.
East Mansion District
A great way to witness how the prosperous lived in Denver is by wandering around the East Mansion District in Capitol Hill. The Molly Brown House at 13th and Pennsylvania provides a starting point and for about nine bucks offers guided sightseeing through the neighborhood recounting vivid details of life in the surrounding area circa 1900. But if you prefer exploring on your own, all the major historic landmarks of the district reside in a five-block area.
From the Molly Brown House stroll east a couple of blocks to St. Johns Episcopal Cathedral, a mammoth structure displaying brilliant stained glass windows and an altar carved by the famous German sculptors Joseph Mayer and Peter Rendl.
Retreat one block west and turn south at 13th and Pearl and progress five blocks to 8th Avenue. On this jaunt you can grab a big burrito for lunch at Chipotle Mexican Grill or discover the neighborhoods more modern offerings such as Wax Trax, one of the citys preeminent independent record shops. At 8th Avenue swing right and after traveling a quick block you approach the Grant-Humphreys Mansion. Erected in 1902, this Colonial style mansion is a 30-room spread with a semi-circular portico entrance held up by giant Corinthian columns. Built for Colorados first Democratic governor James B. Grant, its many rooms include a bowling alley and posh billiard room. Oil baron Albert Humphrey bought the place in 1917. The mansion fell into the states possession in 1976, and although no formal tours are given, the lovely setting is popular for weddings and receptions.
The Governors Mansion stands next door on 8th Avenue. Initially known as the Cheeseman-Evans-Boettcher Mansion, this Colonial Revival edifice, built in 1908, became the residence of Colorados chief official in 1960, but not without controversy. Many Denverites opposed the governor living in such luxury. Tour the mansion for free May to August from 1pm-3pm. The Palm Room, an astounding glass room overlooking the manicured grounds and Rocky Mountains, is a must see.
From the Governors Mansion the options are endless, but a best bet is to close out the day at the Colorado History Museum or the Byers-Evans House, both downtown and easily accessible from Capitol Hill.
Denver and the Beats
Although few of the places show any markings, it is still possible to roam in the mythical footsteps of Beat heroes Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac as they manifested their legends in prose. Most of the skid row haunts and homeless hangouts on Larimer Street, listed in On the Road, are long gone, replaced by more respectable ventures. But if you would like to share a beer with the literary ghosts try My Brothers Bar on 15th Avenue. Neal Cassady once referred to this area of lower downtown as his playground and he was well known for kicking back and putting them away at this local joint.
Neal spent a turbulent period with wife Casey on the third floor of the Colburn Hotel at 10th and Grant, home to the popular Charlie Browns Bar. Allen Ginsberg composed the famous poem Denver Doldrums during an extended down-and-out stay with the couple. Ride the 16th Street shuttle and you are traversing the same path Neal took every afternoon when trolley cars trekked through the streets of downtown. At 15th and Tremont stands the D&F Tower, the remaining relic of the old May D&F Department store, where Cassady and Ginsberg both worked. Cassady honed his writing skills at East High School (Colfax and York), and all the writers hung out with the homeless on the lawns of Civic Center Park.
Scenic Drive to the top of Mount Evans
Every year thousands of thrill seekers trek to the Rocky Mountains seeking to conquer a massive 'fourteener? (lingo for a mountain over 14,000 feet). For the less adventurous, there is Mount Evans, named after Colorados second territorial governor. While still a great challenge to hikers and climbers, the nations highest paved road easily accesses Mount Evans by car. The 14,264-foot mountain is the states 14th highest. Serving as a natural backdrop to the Mile High City, it is the closest fourteener to the city, just 36 miles away.
This is definitely a summertime excursion because the road winding to the top of Mount Evans is only passable June through early September. To begin the journey, take I-70 west. You will meander though the foothills before shooting down Floyd Hill into gorgeous Clear Creek Canyon, which brings you around to Idaho Springs. Veer off on exit 240. It is clearly marked as the Mount Evans Exit. From here you have the option of exploring the old mining town of Idaho Springs, which might include panning for gold at the Argo Gold Mine, or enjoying a mountain pie at Beau Jos Pizza. If you're anxious to see the mountain, take a left at the exit and begin wandering up Colorado 103. You will pass by a scattering of houses and through areas of dense forest before beginning to climb. After moving thirteen miles you will come upon Echo Lake where a picnic area offers a quick place to stretch your legs and acclimate to the altitude. Fishermen line Echo Lake hoping to snag a rainbow trout from the frigid water, and great hiking trails sprawl in all directions from the area.
From Echo Lake and Colorado 103 turn right onto Colorado 5. Here you must pay a $6 fee to the Forest Service to continue the to the top. The road narrows along the edge of the mountain and inches 9.1 miles to Summit Lake. Along the way there are small pull outs to get out of the car and take in the views of the Front Range. Summit Lake provides a parking lot to leave the car and go explore the amazing alpine tundra and watch for wildlife. Mountain goat herds cover the hills and will mosey right up to you or your car looking for a snack. But no matter how much they beg, don't feed them. The last leg of the expedition is mounting the summit. From Summit Lake continue up the road, which gets even smaller. Be sure to watch out for cars coming at you as the road can barely hold two cars and may require some maneuvering. The drops off the road seem endless and you may even begin passing through clouds. The summit offers astounding panoramic views of the Continental Divide and Pikes Peak. On a clear day, you can see Denver. A winding footpath leads to the actual summit. The University of Denver owns an observatory atop the mountain housing the highest fixed astronomical telescope in the world. Also, ruins of the old stone Summit House still haunt the peak. Be prepared for any type of weather as ferocious afternoon storms roll in fast. Don't be surprised to see light snow showers in the middle of July.
Scenic tour from Dinosaur Ridge to Red Rocks Park
Colorado has a rich and deep-rooted geological past spanning millions of years and miles of rock. A great way to explore this fossilized history is by checking out two of Denvers most well known natural attractions: Dinosaur Ridge National Landmark and Red Rocks Park. To begin the journey take I-70 west to Morrison exit 259. Turn south (left) onto Colorado 93 and drive to Colorado 26 (Alameda Parkway). At this point turn left. Follow the road as it curves up and around to the Dinosaur Ridge visitor center on the left. The visitor center is the perfect place to get acquainted with Dinosaur Ridge and pick up all the information needed for a self-guided tour along the one-mile trek into the natural landmarks preserved paleontological past.
The main trail actually winds along the road and you may choose to drive from point to point, although the road is narrow and floods with tourists and cyclists in the summer. Plus, you can only park on the north side of the road so it is just as easy to hike up the ridge. Interpretive signs lead the way and describe, in full detail, each amazing petrified feature branded into the beautiful Dakota sandstone. The fossils are from two distinct geological time periods ' the Jurassic and the Cretaceous.
Ancient bones of stegosaurus and brontosaurus protrude from the Jurassic rock and over 300 footprints from Cretaceous creatures, such as ornithpods and theropods, track across the landscape, leading many scientists to term the ridge the 'dinosaur freeway.'
Discovered in 1877, Dinosaur Ridge receives protection as a national landmark and although it is a great site for fossil viewing, state law strictly forbids collecting.
After you get your dinosaur fossil fix, head over to Red Rocks Park for more prehistoric meanderings. From the visitors center turn right and jaunt back over the ridge along Colorado 26 (Alameda Parkway). Pass through the intersection at Colorado 93 and pick up Road One at the entrance to Red Rocks Park. Wind up the road until you reach the upper parking lot, where you can begin exploring the natural wonders of this magnificent site. Perhaps Denvers most awesome visual attraction, the park features jagged red formations soaring across the landscape, and the impressive architectural achievement, Red Rocks Amphitheater.
The rocks formed while beneath a sea that stretched across the plains prior to the existence of the Rocky Mountains. Once the water diminished, millions of years worth of sea-floor sediment hardened into a rock surface. The shifting plates and earthquakes that gave slow rise to the Rocky Mountains also thrust the red rocks into shape. The beautiful red colors come from deposits of iron oxide, and 150 million years of wind and water erosion molded the unique formations.
From the upper parking lot, leave the car, and saunter up to the entrance of Denvers famed natural amphitheater. The small foothill town of Morrison initially owned the park and christened the place Garden of the Titans. John Walker, founder of Cosmopolitan Magazine, purchased the property from the town and in 1910 hosted the first live concert, the Ferullo Band, on a makeshift stage. Walker was convinced the site possessed a magical acoustic quality, but financial hardship forced him to sell the park to Denver in the 1920s for a whopping $54,000. Denver incorporated the area into its mountain parks division. In 1941, under the regime of Mayor Benjamin Stapleton and planner George Cranmer, and with the help of architectural genius of Hoyt Burnham, the Civilian Conservation Corp painstakingly blasted and carved this natural spectacle of acoustic perfection. A plaque dedicating the Corps toil'they were paid a buck a day for labor'resides at the top of the amphitheater.
The physical structure encompasses 68 rows, with a seating capacity of 9,600, tucked between 400-foot rock pillars. A 100-foot stage sits surrounded by three famous rocks. Creation Rock and Ship Rock book end the stage. The Rock of Mnemosyne, named after the goddess of song, towers behind.
Since 1947, the Easter Sunrise Service has had the honor of opening each event season. A legendary line up of musical diversity has graced the stage, including the Beatles, U2, and Dave Matthews. The setting has such an intimate ambiance that bands often request to play the venue.
After taking in the amphitheater take a breather at the Trading Post, a café and information center. If you are feeling up to some more hiking, the Trading Post Loop spans 1.4 miles of incredible terrain, trekking past a multitude of rock formations and open meadows. The trail comprises both easy and moderate difficulty hiking levels and makes for a pleasant conclusion to a days journey. But watch out for the rattlesnakes!