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The Rough Guide To The Rocky Mountains
By Alf Alderson, Christian Williams and Cameron Wilson
Copyright © 2002 Rough Guides/Haymarket Customer Publishing.
All rights reserved.
A good six hundred miles from another city of even vaguely similar size, Denver and its surrounding area is unique in the Rockies for its great mix of urban diversions and outdoor adventure. Flanked by the impressive mountain peaks of the Front Range the foothills of the Rocky Mountain range that rise from the plains along a north-south axis the Denver area has always been closely connected with serving the needs of the mountain towns; first acting as a string of supply centers when ores were the main source of wealth, and now providing the gateway for vacationers heading to the mountains. Indirectly, the nearby mountains even contributed to current high-tech industry growth, giving the area a reputation for easy access to numerous mountain pursuits, and attracting college graduates wanting to escape the prices and congestion of eastern and western seaboards. The pool of intelligent labor here consequently attracted numerous high-tech corporations also keen to benefit from the low rents. In the 1990s up to two thousand people per week migrated into the Denver area, doubling its population to well over two million. And while the inevitable congestion, soaring real estate prices and suburban sprawl that have followed cause native Denverites to grumble, most consider it a reasonable price for the transformation of a flagging cow-town and declining oil-center to a high-tech boom-town.
Encouraged by consistently good weather more sunshine, in fact, than either San Diego or Miami Denver bustles with life all year round, as does its northern neighbor, the progressive college town of Boulder. Most precipitation lands on the Rockies themselves and snow, when it settles in the Front Range, never stays for more than a couple of days). But beyond their leafy pedestrian malls, neither town has an abundance of attractions to explore, though the citizens of the towns have proudly sponsored the purchase that has created large public parks in the foothills of the Front Range. Tourism in the area is based more around these parks and along the I-70 highway corridor to the stunning landscapes and greater outdoor recreation opportunities of the rest of the Rocky Mountains. Located at the base of this highway as it enters the mountains, the sleepy brewery town of Golden is well-placed for these outdoor adventures and close to the start of the stunning Peak-to-Peak highway. A great way to travel to Rocky Mountain National Park (see p. 275), the Peak-to-Peak cuts its way through alpine scenery and small mining towns like the rather crassly made-over, casino hot spots of Black Hawk and Central City, or laid-back, rustic Nederland.
Accommodation price codes
All accommodation prices in this book have been coded using the symbols below. For hotels, motels, and B&Bs, rates are given for the least expensive double room in each establishment during peak season; variations are indicated where appropriate, including winter rates for all ski resorts. For hostels, we've given a specific price per bed; for camping, the overnight cost per site is given. For a full explanation see p.30 in Basics.
Its skyscrapers marking the final transition between the Great Plains and the American West, DENVER stands at the threshold of the Rocky Mountains. Despite being known as the "Mile High City," it is itself uniformly flat, perched on the last few acres of Colorado's and eastern plains. The grand peaks of the Rockies, though, are clearly visible, rising roughly fifteen miles west of downtown, though urban sprawl spreads out far in all directions, even lining the base of the Front Range's foothills.
Mineral wealth has always been at the heart of the city's prosperity, with all the fluctuations of fortune that this entails. Its original foundation in 1858 was pure chance; this was the first spot where small quantities of gold were discovered in Colorado. There was no significant river, let alone a road, but prospectors came streaming in, indifferent to any prior claims on the land least of all those of the Arapaho, who had supposedly been guaranteed ownership of the area by the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851. Various local communities had their own names for the settlement, but, with the judicious distribution of whiskey, one faction persuaded the rest to agree to "Denver" in 1859. Their hope was to ingratiate themselves with territorial governor James Denver, who, humorously, had already resigned.
With actually very little gold in Denver itself, the infant town swarmed only briefly with disgruntled fortune-seekers, who soon decamped after receiving news of a massive gold strike at Central City. Despite this, and the various fires and floods that all but destroyed the city in the 1860s, Denver cagily survived as a supply town, prospering further with the discovery of silver in the mountains. All sorts of shady characters made this their home, including the entrepreneurial Jefferson "Soapy" Smith, who acquired his nickname here by selling bars of soap at extortionate prices under the pretence that some contained $100 bills.
Once strengthened in its role as supply center for the mountains and market for the prairies, Denver outflanked Central City and Golden to become the state capital in the 1860s. When the first railroads bypassed Denver in the late 1860s the death knell for so many other communities the citizens banded together and built their own connecting spur. This in turn drew ranchers, who used the rail lines to get their product off to market. By the 1880s, cattle became as, if not more, important than mining, and within fifty years gigantic stockyards dominated much of the landscape.
In the first half of the twentieth-century Denver consolidated its reputation as a quintessential cow-town, replete with the pool halls, saloons and flophouses that Jack Kerouac so enthusiastically wrote about in On the Road. The city polished itself up somewhat over the next few decades largely thanks to the attentions of the oil and gas industry, whose drilling operations in the region were profitable until the mid-1980s oil recession. Nonetheless, the citizens of Denver continued to strive to improve their city, electing the charismatic Federico Peña as mayor in 1983. He in turn embarked on an adventurous program of investment in the city persuading citizens to pay more taxes and developing some extravagant infrastructure, including the foundation for the $5 billion, ultramodern Denver International Airport. But it wasn't until the city's 1990s high-tech boom that money became available to really modernize its downtown. Now rejuvenated, Denver's main pedestrian mall bustles with the city's huge, young graduate population. Downtown building work also produced a superb and atmospheric ballpark for the major-league Colorado Rockies to play their baseball, and with two 1990s Superbowl victories under the belts of the fanatically supported Denver Broncos football team, the city has begun the new millennium burgeoning and optimistic.
Arrival, information, and getting around
The colossal, high-tech Denver International Airport ((T) 303/342-2000 or 1-800/247-2336, (W) www.flydenver.com) lies on the plains 24 miles northeast of downtown, its dramatic tented roof of Teflon-coated fiberglass fashioned into peaks resembling the nearby mountains. Shuttle trains connect its three vast concourses with the main terminal and the baggage-claim areas, sensibly located alongside the numerous transport options heading downtown.
The cheapest way into the city is on one of Skyride's buses, which run to both downtown's Market Street Station (55min; $6/$10 round-trip) and over to Boulder (75min; $8/$13 round-trip). Both services run daily from 7am-11pm and depart from just outside exit 506 at the eastern end of the Central Concourse and from exit 511 at its western end. Slightly more expensive are the shuttle-buses heading to a number of locations downtown (45min); two of the best are Super Shuttle ((T) 303/370-1300 or 1-800/258-3826) and Denver Airport Shuttle ((T) 303/342-5454 or 1-800/525-3177). These run around $15 per person, though the price can double for door-to-door services, becoming similar to taxi charges ($40).
All the major car rental companies (see p.27) are located within the terminals near baggage claim, but it's worth noting that it can be considerably cheaper to pick a car up once in town. Some less expensive local firms that don't have spots in the terminal will pick you up if you phone ahead. The airport's only road connects with C470, which heads south to the I-70, the main interstate that runs past downtown before continuing west into the mountains. When heading downtown, stick to I-70 until it intersects with the I-25 and take the latter south into the city. There's plenty of paid parking downtown (typically around $12 a day) in both open lots and parking garages.
Amtrak ((T) 303/825-2583 or 1-800/872-7245) trains arrive at the grand nineteenth-century Union Station at 1701 Wynkoop St ((T) 303/534-2812), within easy walking distance of downtown Denver. Amtrak's famous California Zephyr travels a scenic route across the Continental Divide and through Glenwood Canyon linking Denver to Salt Lake City and, eventually, Oakland, California. In the winter months, the Ski Train ((T) 303/296-4754, (W) www.skitrain.com) to Winter Park also departs from here, leaving at 7.15am and returning at 6.15pm (2hr each way; $40).
The Denver Bus Terminal ((T) 303/293-6555 or 1-800/231-2222), from where Greyhound buses operate, is every bit as close to the action, at 1055 19th St (at Arapaho). A twice-daily service to Wyoming and Montana, operated by the Powder River Coach company ((T) 1-800/442-3682), also leaves from here.
Numerous direct bus services run from Denver airport to many of Colorado's most popular resorts, making it unnecessary to rent a car if you plan on being based in only one place. For services to Aspen, see p.239; Boulder p.91; Colorado Springs p.107; Estes Park (for Rocky Mountain National Park) p.268; Steamboat Springs p.298; Summit County p.212; Vail p.227; and Winter Park p.207. Note that these should be booked as far in advance as possible, and many of the shuttle companies have desks in the airport itself near baggage claim.
Negotiating downtown Denver on foot is pretty straightforward, though the free buses (daily 6am-1am) that run for a mile up and down the pedestrian 16th Street Mall at the heart of the city's grid-like street pattern are hard to pass up. RTD, Denver's excellent public transportation network ((T) 303/229-6000, (W) www.rtd-denver.com), also runs the regular bus service ($1.25 during rush hour; 75¢ at other times); frequent services to the various sports arenas and airport leave from the underground Market Street Station at Market and 16th. The city's well-developed bus network is supplemented by a light railway running from Littleton in the southwest, across the 16th Street Mall and up to Five Points in the northeast (same local fares as buses). From mid-May to September, you can also buy a day-pass for the Cultural Connection Trolley (every 30min; 9.30am-10pm; $3), which links Denver's main points of interest; passes can be purchased on the trolleys. The green route links downtown with the City Park area and the red route loops around downtown and runs to Cherry Creek Mall, via the Capitol Hill area. All RTD services are designed to carry bikes (free) and accommodate wheelchair users.
For a walking tour of the Denver's downtown, pick up a self-guided booklet from the visitor center (see below) or join one of their free two-hour-long walking tours that leave from the clock tower on 16th Street and Arapahoe on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at 10.30am ((T) 303/571-9456).
Denver's main visitor center is conveniently located in the Tabor Center, directly off pedestrian-only 16th Street at 1668 Latimer St (Mon-Sat 8am-5pm, Sun 10am-2pm; (T) 303/892-1112 or 1-800/233-6837, (W) www.denver.org). Besides running an accommodation reservation service, the center offers some useful magazine-style visitor guides as well as The Mile High Trail, good for a self-guided walking tour of Denver's historic downtown. There's also an information booth near the airport's baggage-claim area (same hours, though printed information is always available).
Denver has a good selection of downtown accommodation, ranging from simple hostels and motels to homey B&Bs and grand historic hotels. The Denver visitor center (see above) can help with reservations. Some cheaper options, particularly motels and hostels, cluster around the somewhat seedy but relatively safe Colfax Avenue, within walking distance of downtown. More motels, mostly franchise operations, have located further out on Colfax and alongside many of Denver's major cross-town highways, and northeast of the city, around the defunct Stapleton airport with many of these offering free shuttles to the airport and downtown. Highway 6, the most direct route from downtown to the mountains, has also attracted a few motels. If you're desperate to camp, the drab Camping Denver North, I-70 exit 229 ((T) 303/452-4120 or 1-800/851-6521; $16), is the most central option but you'd do better heading twenty miles out of town to Boulder, Golden, or further into the mountains.
Denver International Youth Hostel 630 E 16th Ave (office hours daily 8-10am & 6-9pm) (T) 303/832-9996, (W) www.youthhostels.com/denver. Located in a not-entirely safe area four blocks from the capitol, this is the city's cheapest option. You certainly get what you pay for as the $9 dorm beds are cramped, grotty, and worn out. No curfew. Hostel of the Rocky Mountains 1530 Downing St (T) 303/861-7777, (E) firstname.lastname@example.org. Institutional and unfriendly hostel a fifteen-minute walk east from the State Capitol down seedy E Colfax, with the usual array of dorm accommodation ($12) as well as a few pleasant doubles ($40 with shared bathrooms; three-night maximum stay) in neighboring buildings. No curfew. Melbourne Hostel 607 22nd St (T) 303/292-6386, (W) www.denverhostel.com. Located in a stylish but run-down former hotel, this hostel is an easy if not all that safe walk northeast of downtown. Beds in clean dorms (sleeping up to six) cost $15, with a three-night maximum stay in summer, when reservations are advised. Many of the rooms are private ($30), some with their own bathroom. There's no curfew and free email.
YMCA 25E 16th Ave (T) 303/861-8300. Clean, secure and comfortable, with plain private rooms ($46 for an en-suite room) in a prime downtown location. Staying entitles free use of the excellent fitness center, which includes an indoor pool, running tracks, exercise equipment, and handball and racquetball courts. Weekly rates available and reservations advised.
Excerpted from The Rough Guide To The Rocky Mountains by Alf Alderson, Christian Williams and Cameron Wilson. Copyright © 2002 by Rough Guides/Haymarket Customer Publishing. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.