My trip to the US this summer ended with a final two weeks in Denver, where the plan as usual was to work but also try to see a bit of the area. As I soon discovered when I arrived, Denver is known as the ‘mile-high city’ since it’s located at an elevation of exactly one mile (1,610 metres) above sea level. I’ve always had an image of Colorado being a very green state, and Denver is clearly an ever-more popular city, now one of the fastest-growing in the country alongside other fashionable destinations like Austin and Portland. The only thing I’m missing in this city, based on what I experienced on this short stay, is the ocean!
Enjoying the weather – and the views
I was told repeatedly by the different people I met during my time there that Denver has 300 days of annual sunshine, and although that’s turned out to be a myth* I get the impression that they get a pretty good deal, with four distinct seasons including both a cold winter and a hot summer. The weather was great while I was there, and even when it rained it was warm and the clouds quickly blew over. I would go out in the evening in a vest top and skirt and didn’t even need to bring a jacket, something that is incredibly rare even on my latest beach holidays. The city is located with the Rocky Mountains to the west and the High Plains to the east. One of the highlights was definitely the balcony (and the rooftop pool) at my airbnb, which was on the 10th floor of one of the few tall buildings in Capitol Hill and offered stunning 360 views across to the mountains, which looked to me like a fake Hollywood backdrop.
*According to this article, the first reference to these “300 days of sunshine” was by a railroad company that wanted to attract people from the East. The true figures are more likely around 115 clear days, 130 partly cloudy, and 120 cloudy days.
Visiting Molly Brown’s house
In looking for famous sights to visit in the city, I was surprised to discover a museum dedicated to Molly Brown. You’ll likely recognise the name Molly Brown (although she was actually named Margaret Brown throughout her lifetime) from Titanic, in which the role was played by Kathy Bates. In the film, the real-life character befriends the fictional Jack and tries to get her lifeboat to return to the sinking ship to save more of the drowning passengers; I found the rest of her true story is equally impressive. Born in Hannibal, Missouri, she moved to the silver mining town of Leadville in Colorado in order to find a rich husband. Instead she fell in love with a foreman and they were married six months later – but when the Colorado Silver Boom ended and many others went bankrupt, James Joseph Brown’s geology knowledge led to the world’s largest gold strike to date, and the couple became wealthy as a result and moved to Denver where they bought the mansion that I’ve now visited.
Margaret Brown was a formidable woman, playing an important role in issues such as improving the rights of miners and their families, votes for women, and education and juvenile justice for children. She was fluent in five languages, drove a truck for the French Red Cross during the First World War, and was awarded the French Legion of Honour. Her husband JJ Brown grew frustrated with her activities outside the home and in 1909 they were legally separated. At the time of her death she was studying acting with Sarah Bernhardt…
Taking Banjo Billy’s bus tour
I tend to steer clear of those awful sightseeing tours on double-decker buses but this one was recommended to me by my airbnb host. The bus itself is pretty unusual, the tour guide a lot more energetic and fun, and the information we got more interesting than a typical city tour. I particularly enjoyed learning about the early history of Denver, which started with the discovery of a small amount of gold at Cherry Creek in 1858; the girls’ school next to the Brown Palace Hotel that became a brothel; and the Teapot Dome Scandal (which I had actually read about in my research on President Warren Harding, 1921-23, as part of learning all the US presidents from 1901 through to the present day during my recent road trip). We also learned important facts about the blue bear and demon-eyed horse statues (they cost $425,000 and $800,000 respectively, while the latter fell on its creator and killed him); the “wickedest street in America” (Colfax Avenue); and the ratio of pot dispensaries to Starbucks (it’s 2:1, FYI).
Whiskey and wine. And cider. And beer.
For some reason my time in Denver involved a lot of tasting of alcohol. It all started with a flight of cider at Stem Ciders (warning for the coffee one: it tastes as advertised but I’d steer clear of that particular flavour). I then moved on to Stranahan’s whiskey distillery, where they offer free tours but of course you may enjoy going next door to the bar and sampling a full-size Diamond Peak or some kind of cocktail. There I got the recommendation to visit Infinite Monkey Theorem, a winery started by an Englishman, Ben Parsons, and which produces wine by the barrel, bottle, and can (!!) as well as housing a lively bar. I completed this tour of Denver drinks with a visit on my last night to LowDown Brewery, which has pretty good food as well as the possibility to sample the different craft beers.
If you want something a bit less alcoholic, then there are also plenty of nice little coffee bars – my local ones included Pablo’s Coffee on 6th and Washington as well as the hipster-filled Thump Coffee on East 13th Avenue.
Running in the city
These days a list of my highlights is never complete without a mention of my running. It’s such a great way to see the city, especially once you’ve built up to the longer runs. My shorter weekday runs would venture into Cheesman Park*, which was formerly a cemetery and still houses the remains of what may be thousands of dead bodies. On my longer runs, I’d go along the Cherry Creek Trail and down to Washington Park.
*For the record, there are plenty of Pokestops in Cheesman. Although running becomes somewhat less effective when you keep having to stop to collect the balls…
Although I didn’t make it to all of these, there were plenty of outdoor activities going on throughout the summer. Jazz in the Park in City Park, ‘Meet in the Street’ on 16th Street Mall, various concerts at Red Rock Amphitheater, outdoor movies, walking tours, and, of course, camping up in the Rockies.