Spring Break in Colorado – Denver and the Rocky Mountains

Rocky Mountains, Colorado.

Colorado surprised me. I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was fantastic. It’s a spectacular state and I would love to go back during summer and do some serious hiking and biking. It totally is the place for outdoor activities. I mean seriously, what place could possibly be better than the Rocky Mountains? It’s also a great place to kick back with a beer afterwards; in Denver there are microbreweries on practically every corner…

We were there for only five days, but that was long enough to see some very interesting stuff. We flew into Denver, the Mile High City, but didn’t really spend a lot of time there. I feel like a day is a good amount of time to get a feel of the state’s capital.

Denver skyline.
Driving into Denver.

The Colorado Capitol is undoubtedly a very interesting place. The granite steps on the west side of the building have markers that identify 5,280 feet, or exactly one mile, above sea level. The inside is gorgeous and you can get in for free!

View from the Colorado Capitol in Denver, Colorado.
View from the Mile High markers at the Colorado Capitol..

Rising 272 feet above the ground, the gleaming gold dome of the Colorado Capitol is its most striking feature. It kind of represents the history of the state. At first the dome was topped with copper, but the citizens objected to the use of copper when it stopped being a primary metal in Colorado. It was then decided to cap the building with gold. The miners of Colorado donated 200 ounces of gold, of which only 47.5 are used to coat the dome.

Dome of the Colorado State Capitol, Denver.
Dome of the Colorado State Capitol, seen from the inside.
Denver Public Library.
Denver Public Library.
Denver skyline, Colorado.
Looking at the Denver skyline from inside the library.
Denver Art Museum.
Loved this piece in the Denver Art Museum.

What I liked about Denver is the sense of space. The streets are wide and there are bike paths and sidewalks everywhere. It’s extremely walkable and easy to get around. The main shopping street, 16th Street Mall, is a mile long and has free hybrid shuttle buses that stop on every corner. Another environment-friendly and healthy way of transportation is biking. Denver’s B-cycle is America’s first large-scale bike sharing program. Definitely worth checking out!

Downtown Denver.
Downtown Denver.

So, we ended up spending a day in Denver and I think that was enough. It does have some interesting buildings and museums and definitely a great beer culture, but I feel that it lacks the history to make it worth staying longer.

However, I do want to go back and catch a sports game. I still haven’t seen a major sports game in the States and that’s really high up on my list. We drove past Coors Field, the home of the Colorado Rockies, and what an impressive stadium that is! I would have loved to go to a baseball game there.

We were in Colorado for a week and Denver was the most logical place to stay. It’s a great base to explore the region and there are several awesome day trips from Denver. And by day trips I mean road trips. As is the case almost everywhere in the US, if you want to go explore, you’re going to need a car.

We rented a car at the airport. I’m not saying that it was a mistake – it is really useful and pretty much necessary – but it turned out to be super expensive.

Anyways… Once you have found a car, there are a couple of interesting places a short drive from Denver.

We drove up to the summit of Lookout Mountain, which offers fantastic views of the Rocky Mountains to the west and the endless prairie to the east.

Lookout Mountain, the Rocky Mountains, Colorado.
Lookout Mountain, the Rocky Mountains.
Lookout Mountain, Denver, Colorado.
Lookout Mountain, Denver and the surrounding prairie.

There’s a café and a truly great souvenir shop, but the main attraction is the Buffalo Bill Museum and Buffalo Bill’s grave.

Another reason to go back to Denver and Colorado is to see a concert at Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre. It’s a 9,000-seat open-air arena that has been carved from towering sandstone monuments. The visitor center is free and has a museum and performers hall of fame. It is the greatest concert venue I have ever seen, by far. I can’t even begin to imagine how awesome it must be to watch a concert at sunset, drinking a local brew in between massive sandstone pillars and with a view of Denver in the distance…

Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Denver, Colorado.
Panorama of the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, just an awesome place.

As a kid I used to be fascinated by dinosaurs and Colorado happens to be a heaven for fossil hunters. In some places you can literally pick up the bones and fossils. It also was the setting for the infamous Bone Wars at the end of the 19th century.

Dinosaur Ridge is practically across the street from Red Rocks. It’s an interesting spot to hang out for a while – some of the very first dinosaurs were found here – and you can see Jurassic dinosaur bones, traces left by other creatures, curious geological formations and even dinosaur footprints. I loved it. It’s free too.

Dinosaur footprints on  Dinosaur Ridge, Colorado.
Dinosaur footprints on Dinosaur Ridge.

The best places to go looking for that kind of stuff are actually all the way west in Colorado. We didn’t have nearly enough time to do that, so that’s another thing worth coming back for…

The town of Boulder is a twenty minute drive from Denver. It’s a college town as well as a hippie town. Is there a better combination? Actually, most of the Colorado I’ve seen during that week is pretty much hippie. It’s quite the progressive state.

We spent an evening walking around in Chautauqua Park (great views!) and strolling on Pearl Street Mall.

Chautuaqua Park, Boulder, Colorado.
View of the Rockies and Boulder from Chautauqua Park.
Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, Colorado.
Sunset stroll on Pearl Street Mall.

Those are all short trips from Denver, each taking up half an hour to a couple of hours.

The real deal is this: a road trip through the spectacular Rocky Mountains. You can easily spend an entire week or more in the Rockies, hiking, biking, white water rafting, skiing, para-sailing, camping,… you name it. We only barely scratched the surface by going on a day-long drive through Estes Park and a small part of Rocky Mountain National Park.

It was breathtaking though, absolutely magnificent.

The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park.
The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park.

The Stanley Hotel is a famous hotel in the Rocky Mountains. It was built by Freelan Oscar Stanley, who is also known as the inventor of the Stanley Steamer, a very popular type of car in the early 1900s.

The hotel got most of its fame after the visit of horror writer Stephen King, which inspired him to write ‘The Shining‘.

Rocky Mountain National Park lookout.
Lookout in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Lake in the Rocky Mountains, Colorado.
Amazing views everywhere.

Colorado is the highest of all American states. There are 70 mountain summits exceeding 14,000 feet, called ‘fourteeners’, in the US and a staggering 54 of them are located in Colorado!

Longs Peak, Rocky Mountains, Colorado.
Longs Peak, one of the 54 fourteeners in Colorado.

The Rocky Mountains are full of wildlife, such as elk, deer, bighorn sheep (the state animal of Colorado), moose, coyotes, bears, eagles, mountain lions, rattlesnakes and many many more.

A nature lover’s paradise? I think yes!

Bear sign in the Rocky Mountains.
Bears inhabit the Rockies.
Rocky Mountains in Colorado.
Rocky Mountains…
Buffalo in Colorado.
Millions of buffalo, or bison, used to roam the prairie.

What struck me most was the dramatic change in landscape once you drive out of the mountains on the east. The mountains suddenly stop, it’s all flat and the prairie – or Great Plains – begins. This is buffalo and cowboy country…

Prairie in Colorado.
Prairie as far as the eye can see.

In the next post we’re going to go south, to Cañon City and Colorado Springs, a vastly different region in Colorado.

Stay tuned!

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