Rocky Mountain Rhapsody

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It has been years since I have been to Colorado, and I have never ventured outside of Denver until this past Labor Day weekend. Two vacation days extended the holiday into a 5-day holiday.

We arrived Thursday evening, greeted some old and new friends, and talked for a bit before resting in preparation for a busy Friday.

First on the agenda (after breakfast, of course) was a guided walking tour of downtown Denver. It was a hot day and my friends only lasted about half of the 3-hour tour; but I was happy to complete it and meet up with them later. We did not go into any buildings but received a good overview of the history and architecture of the city, walking from the state capitol to Civic Center Park to the theatre district to the art museum. It was a nice introduction to the city. In the afternoon, we visited the home of Molly Brown, the "unsinkable" woman who showed bravery and generosity when she survived the sinking of the Titanic. Brown was the estranged wife of a successful miner and spent most of her life in Denver. In the late afternoon, my friend Jerry drove down from his home in the mountains to spend an hour catching up. We have worked together at two different jobs, but rarely see one another face-to-face, so this was a treat.

Saturday morning, we headed west, stopping first at Red Rocks - an amphitheater carved out of the mountain stones from which it derives its name. We arrived too late Thursday to see Robert Plante and Allison Krauss and my friends were not fans enough to stay for the Nine Inch Nails concert in the evening; so, we contented ourselves with walking around the area and a walk through the small museum, which featured photos of the many stars who have performed in this famous venue. If I return to Denver, I hope to see a concert here.

We left Red Rocks and took I-70 toward Vail, stopping first for lunch at Idaho Spring - a small mining town that retains much of its history. A local historical group put on an entertaining skit about a 19th-century robbery next to the railroad tracks and a vintage engine. Our next stop was Georgetown because someone heard that John Denver thought it was the most beautiful town in Colorado. It was nice, but we just drove through, admiring the homes. 

Finally, we arrived in Vail in the late afternoon. This area is spectacular. While Denver is mostly flat, Vail is nestled within the Rocky Mountains which soar on every side. The town is a facsimile of an Alpine village with small shops and cafes along pedestrian roads. We walked these roads and hiked some of the trails along the rivers and mountains and sat at outdoor cafes enjoying the food and watching the world go by. On the final morning, we took the gondola cable car up to the top of a local mountain. From there, the views were spectacular, and I enjoyed watching mountain bikers risk injury as they sped down the mountain at top speeds.

Traffic back to Denver was heavy, as one would expect on a holiday weekend. The one thing I had hoped to do was attend the Colorado Rockies game at Coors Field - one of the few MLB stadiums I had yet to visit. We arrived at our hotel 2 hours after the game started, but I managed to go to the game and watch the final three innings. Check that one off!

Our flight home Tuesday was not until the evening. We began the day at a breakfast place recommended by my son, who attended a Denver wedding earlier this summer. After breakfast, we visited the Denver Art Museum, which has a wide variety of paintings, sculptures, and other forms of art; but is most memorable for its collection of US Southwestern art and Native American art. 

Colorado has astonishing natural beauty - much more than my current home state of Illinois. However, the cultural attractions of Denver are not as compelling as those in Chicago. In addition, Denver suffers from an inordinate number of homeless people. This did not bother me (I encounter the homeless often in Chicago) until our final day when a man began harassing us and went so far as to throw things at the back of my head as I was walking away. Fortunately, no harm came of it. Vail was beautiful but the cost of everything from hotels to meals to lift tickets will keep me from returning too frequently.

It was a good time to go to Colorado. Temperatures were high in Denver, but pleasant in the mountains and we saw no hint of rain or overcast skies. Traveling with friends made it more special and exploring new places is always a pleasure.