Denver - Colorado

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Denver: Mile High City

This is the very livable center of commerce in Colorado, and a major transportation hub for the whole western half of the United States. Denver almost lost it when, in the 1860s, the Union Pacific decided to put their transcontinental railroad line through Cheyenne, about 100 miles north of Denver. However, Denverites wouldn't take this snub lightly and raised more than a quarter of a million dollars to build a railway spur to Cheyenne.

The Denver Pacific Railroad was inaugurated in 1870 and -- thanks to gold and silver strikes and a growing agricultural scene -- Denver flourished. Rich cattle barons and millionaire miners built mansions and impressive hotels in the city. After a few years of financial difficulty when mining declined in the 1890s, Denver became a modern diversified city. Today, it has its long-awaited new airport, one of the five busiest in the nation, and is a major manufacturing and trade center.

Denver occupies a commanding site on the high Colorado plateau. To the west lie foothills and then the Rockies rise in the distance. Its population is as diversified as its business community. The gold and silver strikes in the mountains west and south of Denver brought immigrants from almost every country in Europe. There is a large hispanic population, reflecting the early Spanish history of Colorado. There is a prominent black community and everywhere there are signs of the more recent arrivals: Japanese, Greek, Jewish, Italian, Korean, Vietnamese.

Because of this great diversity of immigrant cultures, the Denver social and cultural scene is impressive, with fine restaurants offering cuisines from around the world, excellent museums and a steady series of wonderful ethnic festivals and celebrations. The downtown area has a mixture of historic hotels and other buildings constructed during the gold rush period, and modern high rise towers.

Denver's daily newspapers include the Rocky Mountain News still publishing after more than 130 years, after its first edition appeared in April 1859. Its founder, William Byers, brought his printing press here from Omaha, Nebraska after he heard tales of the impressive gold rushes in the area. The Denver Post followed -- in the 1890s.

All in all, it's a civilized city with much to attract the visitor. Most of all, it's a fine place to begin or end a tour of the Colorado Rockies.

Parks & Gardens

The Denver boasts a marvelous park system and outside of the city, state parks and national forests provide recreational opportunities of every kind -- summer and winter. Here are a few highlights:

Denver Botanic Gardens

Dominated by a large glass conservatory, the Botanic Gardens offer everything a garden lover could wish for. There are three major gardens and several other smaller plantings in this park. The alpine garden is a very impressive collection of high altitude varieties and is perhaps the best alpine display in America. The Japanese garden, with its teahouse, lake and meandering stream is a quiet oasis within an oasis of beauty. There are rose gardens, peony beds, an herb garden and yet more.

The conservatory is a modern structure containing the best collection of tropical plants in the West. Woody Allen film fans will recognize the conservatory building which was used in Sleeper. The Botanic Gardens are open daily -- from dawn to dusk on Wednesdays, Saturdays & Sundays, from June 1st until Labor Day and from 9 AM to 4:45 PM on other days and throughout the year.

Washington Park

This park is perfect for family enjoyment. There are paddle boats in the largest of two lakes, there is fishing, there are playgrounds, an indoor pool for swimming, tennis courts and bicycle paths. There are lots of tall trees and also Rower plantings in the park, including a replica of George Washington's Mount Vernon garden. The park is located between Almeda Avenue and Louisiana Avenue, west of Downing Street.

Cheeseman Park

Situated north of 8th Avenue, this is a favorite place to attend a summer concert and they are held regularly in this park which is surrounded by housing. It was once the city cemetery and the western view is quite impressive.

Barr Lake State Park

A short drive from Denver (20 miles to the west) is this reservoir which is one of two great bird watching spots around Denver. Some 300 species have been seen to stop at the lake and the nature center in the park offers information on which birds are currently in residence. Herons and cormorants are permanent nesters -- on the shoreline. There are also eagles, owls and geese in numbers.

A trail leads around the lake, with boardwalks and blinds to enhance bird watching. The trail is nine miles long and in winter months, it is ideal for cross country skiing. There is a boat ramp at the north end of the lake. Allowed are sailboats, canoes, row boats and boats with electric motors. The reservoir contains perch, trout and bass. To get there, take Interstate 76 northeast from Denver.

Chatfield State Recreation Area

This is the other wonderful bird watching location, complete with an arboretum, walking trails, hiking trails and boating. It is another reservoir, part of the South Platte River system, with campsites along the shore. To reach the reservoir, take Interstate 25 to County Road 470 and drive west to Highway 121. Turn south and drive to the recreation area.

Other parks and recreation areas within a short drive of Denver include Golden Gate Canyon State Park, north of Black Hawk near Central City. Devil's Head, in Pike National Forest, is south of the metropolitan Denver area via Highway 85 past Littleton to Sedali; turn west onto Highway 67 and drive for nine miles. Turn south on Rampart Range Road and drive for another nine miles to Devil's Head Campground. From here, hiking trails lead into the mountains. You may turn this trip into a loop drive through Colorado Springs by driving south to Woodland Park and taking Highway 24 east to Colorado Springs and Interstate 25 north to Denver. You might even plan a trip taking two or three days to fully enjoy the natural sights along this loop drive which cuts across the Rampart Range, passing several forest recreation areas.

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