Roughly half way along our 4 day Amtrak California Zephyr San Francisco to Chicago journey is Denver. It looked an interesting place to stopover and break the journey. A stopover “jwalking” style means 2 weeks – just enough time to get the feel for a place and get lost a few times. The thin air, at a mile above sea level, may also mean that we need time to adjust and hire the services of a sherpa.
An evening arrival after our long journey meant we didn’t get to see much of our Denver airbnb hosts, Lynette and Tony, until the next day. We have a large room furnished in pink so Jon can get in touch with his feminine side. Lynette and Tony both work very long hours but, as with all hosts so far, the welcome is a warm one and nothing is too much trouble. Their apartment is on a gated complex called The Breakers. There must be 2000 or so apartments and houses all branching off from a central lake, clubhouse and pool. It feels very laid back and we love doing an evening lap around the lake as the sun sets over the Rockies in the background.
Bus to Downtown Denver (LoDo)
We had only had a glimpse of downtown Denver on arrival so it was time to explore. We took a local bus to the Civic Bus Station. This turned out to be like a dark underground dungeon – not at all as picturesque as the very smart Union Station that we had arrived into the previous day. Before we headed for ground level, we decided we needed to use the Restrooms. Jon was shocked to find no doors on any of the cubicles and more shocked to find that this did not deter some of the users. His need was great so he came into the Ladies – which had a door on one cubicle. The other two cubicles were also open plan! He decided to go for it. He asked me to stay guard to warn other users but I didn’t want to get accused of loitering around the other two door-less cubicles which were each occupied by ladies (I use the word lady loosely). Added to which, there was a “woman” doing her make up at the mirror but I swear she had a beard. Jon emerged unscathed after what seemed like a lifetime. We must say in almost a year of travelling this is our first questionable public toilet experience – that is if you don’t count the back-draft from the drop toilets at the Hoover Dam but we try to forget that one!
Colorado State Capitol Building
We could see this very impressive building across a small park once we exited the bus station. Closer to us were other things to explore first. There were a whole row of food trucks either side of a pedestrian walkway. They were highly decorated and offering a diverse mix of culinary delights. The eye-catching paintwork and delicious aromas made us sad that it was only 10am. Maybe later?
Our second encounter was with a large group of protesters. As the State Capitol Building is home to the Colorado General Assembly and Governor of Colorado it is a good place to make your point. This group were, however, strangely quiet. As we got nearer we could see why – they were signing enthusiastically to each other. It was a protest for job equality for the hearing impaired. They seemed a smiley, happy bunch who were getting a lot of waves of support from the passing traffic. They had a hearing person identifying the cars that honked their horns so they could acknowledge with a wave.
By this time we had reached the steps to the building. We had read that there was a mile-high marker on the steps to look out for. We were so busy looking for the marker that we didn’t see the two Jedi Knights arrive complete with light sabres. There they were, father and son, off to a “May the Fourth be with you” convention. What else?
Having found the step (possibly! – more to follow on that) with it’s engraving and taken some photos we headed inside. Ornate is a complete understatement. After a bit of reading, we know it was built in 1894 and the gold leaf covered dome, gold and locally sourced marble interior were all a nod to the prosperity of the Colorado Gold Rush.
We spent ages looking around the public galleries. An atrium with portraits of every president was particularly interesting (apart from Jimmy Carter’s gleaming teeth). Space is already reserved for the 44th one. Watch this space. It was around here that I read about the Mile-High step. It has moved! The engraving on step 15 was deemed to be wrong in 1969 – it should be step 18. Then to cap it all, in 2003 it was moved again to the 13th step. Goodness knows what step I was on with the Knights of the Jedi but as of May 2016 step 13 is the one to be on for mile-high status.
16th Street Mall
Next stop was the 16th Street Mall, which we had heard was the place to be. A pedestrian area full of shops, restaurants and bars running for over a mile. Even better for tired feet is the free electric shuttle bus which runs about every 2 minutes down the length of the street.
It had an impressive number of bars and restaurants and would come to life in the evening and weekends. An evening visit to check this out was highly probable. Other things top of the list for a return visit downtown are Coors Field, home to the Colorado Rockies baseball team, and another look at the very impressive restored Union Station.
Just got to add a bit about using numbers for street names here in the US of A. This seemed very alien and impersonal to us to start with but as we get more used to it we are warming to the practicality of it, although I get a bit confused when north, south, east or west is added or nearside/farside. But then again, I am easily confused and haven’t got the cartography skills of my expert travelling partner.
Armed as usual with a variety of leaflets and vouchers, we headed to the site of a former airbase, Lowry Field. It has been decommissioned and what was the runway is now a couple of housing estates. The main hangar remains and is now the Wings Over the Rockies, an air and space museum. Voucher presented, accepted and a military veteran discount for ex RAF Jonno meant double discount. Wowza. I think it helped that Jon flirted outrageously with the receptionist whose family are from Ipswich.
Loads of interesting exhibits but a little fragmented in layout and signage. One of the most interesting sections was all about the history of nose-art. This is when a figure and/or name is painted on an airplane. We also discovered that Glen Miller and his orchestra had played to US forces in the hangar in 1943.
The NASA connection with Denver is that Jack Swigert (him of Apollo 13 stirring the oxygen tanks) is from here and he also spoke the famous words “Houston, we’ve had a problem here”. He soared a bit higher than his mile-high beginnings.
Lowry Beer Garden
The veteren needed refreshment. How fortuitous that there was a beer garden neighbouring the museum. Spot on research. Two glasses of Pug Ryan Pilsner and a burger later and we were ready for the walk home.
Despite the 3 mile walk each way, we couldn’t resist one lap around our lake before heading back to plan more adventures in Denver. I hear the Colorado Rockies are playing the Arizona Diamondbacks. Have we got a voucher?
3.5 – 6.5.2016