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Wandering the West

Larry Warren, Record columnist

All eyes, at least all political eyes, are on Denver this week as the Barack and Joe Show launches. What with reporters, delegates, agenda pushers, demonstrators and all the hangers on, it’s probably not a good week to be there. But most every other week it is. I’ve always had a fondness for Denver. In the Midwest where I grew up, the only big cities nearby (and in South Dakota, "nearby" meant within 500 miles) were Minneapolis and Denver. I gravitated to Denver.

Denver to me was Oz rising at the end of the yellow brick road west. I went to school at Denver University and got to know the place just as John Denver was singing "Rocky Mountain High" and young people everywhere were discovering it. A lot has changed over time and now I’m rediscovering it and it has turned into one great major American city.

Then, Larimer Square was the new place to be a one-block stretch of old Victorian buildings restored and fitted with chic restaurants and bars. On the adjoining blocks, hundreds of homeless were collapsed in doorways. Larimer was a good start.

Now the whole lower downtown area, or "LoDo" for Lower Downtown, is Larimer Squared. A hundred and twenty five old red brick warehouses and abandoned buildings now house 90 brewpubs, sports bars, restaurants and coffee houses.

Between Coors Field in the heart of LoDo and the Pepsi Center on its outskirts, Denver has a rich entertainment district for adults and kids. Elitch Gardens, an amusement park dating from the 1880s is not far from the Pepsi Center, probably the only downtown amusement and water park in a city this size.

Another downtown district is centered around the Colorado state capitol. Walk up the west staircase and you’ll find a step engraved with its elevation 5,280 feet one mile high. Check out the gleaming dome made of Colorado gold and take a quick look inside. Head south down Broadway to the Colorado History Museum, then across the street to the spectacular Denver Art Museum, nearly as interesting for its architecture as for what’s inside. You’ll also find the Denver Mint nearby, where you can tour the place where they punch out much of the change in your pocket.

If you’ve got kids, there’s a downtown Children’s Museum and a new downtown aquarium. (I for one don’t understand why inland cities spend millions on salt-water aquariums, but maybe that’s just me.) I can’t vouch for the aquarium as I haven’t been to it but I have taken in the Denver Museum of Nature and Science a short drive northeast of town, complete with IMAX Theater and can vouch for its quality.

There’s a museum in this city for every taste. There’s one on black Americans in the early West, a museum dedicated to mountaineering, and several historic mansions from the mining barons, mostly concentrated on Capitol Hill. You’ll find the "Unsinkable" Molly Brown’s home open for tours. The "Unsinkable" label came after she showed up back in town after surviving the Titanic sinking. You can visit Buffalo Bill’s grave up on Lookout Mountain, and while you’re in the neighborhood tour the Boettcher Mansion, a Craftsman beauty on 110 forested acres. And speaking of Lookout Mountain, anyone out there remember Sam’s up on top and bands called Fever Tree and George?

Utah sports fans seem to favor West Coast pro teams, but Denver has the closest major pro sports, and can boast one team from every major-league organization. There are baseball’s Rockies, basketball’s Nuggets, football’s Broncos, hockey’s Avalanche, arena football’s Colorado Crush and even pro lacrosse’s Colorado Mammoth. And did I mention how spectacular Coors Field is for watching America’s pastime? It’s a new park built in the style of the classic parks, with grandstands stacked high and close to the field, with the real Colorado Rockies on the horizon while the other Rockies are on the field. And while summer’s ending, there are 15 Rockies home games in September.

I’m just scratching the surface here. The side excursions from downtown up to the mountains run from casinos in Central City to the steam train on the Georgetown Loop. You can even drive to the top of two Front Range 14,000-foot-summits Pike’s Peak and Mount Evans.

Denver is a great road trip you can do in a loop so you’re not repeating the scenery, Head over on US 40 through Vernal and Steamboat Springs and head back on I-70 through Glenwood Springs and up through Price. It’s all good.

Free-lance writer Larry Warren has been wandering the West covering news stories for television and magazines since he landed in Utah in the mid-1970s. In this column he writes about the favorite places he goes back to when he can.

THE VITALS:

Park City to downtown Denver (via US 40) 513 miles

Denver to Park City (via Interstate 70) 526 miles

Web site: http://www.denver.org

Insider tip: Quench your thirst. About 100 beers are made and distributed in Colorado only. More beer is now brewed in Denver than Milwaukee or any other American city, for that matter


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