Denver’s B-cycle bike-sharing program is a great way to explore the city. Bike stands are conveniently located near all the top attractions, including the stylish Denver Art Museum (DAM) with 70,000 pieces in nine permanent collections and international touring exhibits. A museum dedicated solely to the works of abstract expressionist, Clyfford Still sits nearby. Before leaving the area, stop by The Cell – a museum devoted to the study of terrorism and the History Colorado Center, featuring high-tech, hands-on explorations of 10,000 years of Colorado’s people.
Further uptown, via the South Platte River bike trail, the Museum of Contemporary Art showcases the latest work from regional, national and international artists. To encourage discussion and exploration of art and ideas the MCA sponsors “Museum Quality Drinking: Curated Art and Cocktails” nights on the chic rooftop patio café.
When it’s time to relax, take the free 16th street shuttle back to Larimer Square to sample nouveau Mexican creations at Tamayo or comfort gastro pub fare on the city’s best roof top patio at Ignite. For up to the minute cocktail creations, stop by Green Russell for a nightcap. High end shopping and dining entice visitors to the tony Cherry Creek Area on the bike trail of the same name. Skiers are a little over an hour from Loveland, a local favourite on the eastern side of the Continental Divide.
For one last look at Colorado’s mountains, check out the roof of the Denver International Airport where glowing man-made peaks of Teflon-coated fabric silhouetted against the Rockies represent Colorado’s 54 “fourteeners” – mountains that top out at 14,000 feet.
Whipping along an abandoned narrow gauge rail line in an open air jeep, inches from Colorado’s North Cheyenne Canyon where a guardrail should be, I recall the disclaimer on Adventures Out West website:
Drive shafts break on rocks, batteries jostle loose. Rescue times may be long and are part of the experience… Should you encounter an out of the ordinary experience count yourself lucky.
Luck is what I’m counting on plus a strategically chosen backseat on the high side of the vehicle that could buy me extra seconds to jump, should we plunge 800 feet off the Gold Camp Road into the blue spruce and scrub oak below. To avoid looking down, I gaze out over Colorado Springs, a tourist destination since its 1871 inception.
With wheels back on solid ground it’s easy to enjoy Colorado’s favorite attractions starting with The Garden of the Gods Park, where brick-red sandstone formations stand 300 feet against the stark blue sky below Pikes Peak. This 14,000 feet of “purple mountain majesty” inspired “America the Beautiful”, earning Pikes Peak the unofficial title of America’s Mountain.
But local colour extends far beyond the landscape. Gold Rush characters and their deeds are celebrated here with novel attractions like the Brothel Museum in Cripple Creek and the annual Emma Crawford Festival commemorating the life of a young beauty, sick with tuberculosis whose grieving fiancé honored her dying wish with a burial atop Red Mountain – 7,200 feet above Manitou Springs. Unfortunately, heavy rains washed Emma’s coffin downhill leaving her bones scattered throughout the town. Every year, just before Halloween, participants race homemade coffins down the main street in homage to her.
Spencer and Julie Pemrose, the founders of the nearby 5-star Broadmoor Resort fared better with their mountain top burials. From their final resting spot at the Will Rogers Memorial on Cheyenne Mountain they overlook the signature Donald Ross-designed East Golf Course. Their tomb serves as a convenient landmark for reading the greens that roll away from the couple towards Amarillo, Texas.
“The big advantage of playing golf at 6,200 feet” says Tanner Clarke, assistant pro at The Broadmoor, “is the extra distance gained even when shooting uphill to elevated greens.” He advises players to take a club and a half less on every swing.
Leadville, North America’s highest incorporated city, at 10,152 feet, entices golfers with a beautiful municipal course at a fraction of the price of The Broadmoor. Located two hours west of Denver, Leadville is a budget alternative to Aspen – 60 miles away over The Top of the Rockies Scenic and Historic Byway past glacial lakes and snow-topped mountains.
With a downtown core of Victorian architecture, this former home of Doc Holliday, and the Unsinkable Molly Brown features heavy snowfalls with miles of free ski trails and a 100-mile out and back cycling trail. Cyclists, skiers, runners and other athletes train here and at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to boost their performances at lower levels.
Heading south past San Isabel National Forest, the greens and beiges of the mountains slowly give way to 30-square miles of yellow sand dunes that comprise Great Sand Dunes National Park. The dunes, the tallest in the USA, top out at 750 feet – perfect for climbing.
Bordering the Dunes, the all-inclusive Zapata Ranch provides excellent accommodations and a chance to participate in sustainable farming on a 100,000-acre family-run bison ranch. These high desert grasslands on Nature Conservancy lands protect rare plant and animal life like the white-faced ibis, flower and tiger beetles and slender spider flowers.
Published in Dreamscapes Magazine winter/spring 2013