Farewell to the Queen City of the Plains

Today is my last day in Denver.  It's been a wonderful trip and I have no reservations in saying this was a fantastic vacation destination.  Not only did I get to see a lot of amazing sights, but got to know two friends a bit better and we shared a lot with each other.  I also got to see an old friend that I haven't seen in about a decade!

On Monday, I drove up to a small town named Longmont to see my friend Tanya.  She and I worked together at my first call center in Topeka, KS back in 2000/2001.  It's amazing how so much time changes some things drastically while other things remain completely static.  When I think back on myself at the turn of the century I see a kid with unkempt hair, poor fashion sense, and zero self confidence.  As we talked about what events shaped our lives since we last sat down together, I took a moment to appreciate how far I've come.

During our late-night diner conversation, Tanya mentioned I should go take a look at the 16th Street Mall in Denver.  It's a giant outdoor shopping pavilion right in the heart of the downtown district and, though I wasn't keen on packing my suitcase with MORE stuff, drove down yesterday to look at a few of the stores that we don't have back in Tulsa and do some people watching.

Once I was satisfied with my visit, I drove down Colfax Avenue and finally got some pictures of a building we'd passed by a few times that really called to my camera:  The Bluebird Theater.  The Bluebird was built in 1913 and was originally a movie house.  It was converted to a concert venue in 1994.  Although I wasn't in a place where I could purchase tickets and see the show, I was still pleased to take a few minutes and capture the marquee.

Today, I have no plans and am using my time to rest up for the whirlwind that is Dragon*Con.  I fly out tomorrow and will be greeted in Atlanta by my friend Rose.  I met Rose the first year I came to D*C (2010) and I am thankful for her generosity.  I will be in downtown ATL until Labor Day, enjoying the festivities and sharing in the passions of thousands of fans from all sides of pop culture along with five of my good friends from home.  It's gonna be great!


Climbing in Colorado

Sunday started with one of the worst hangovers I've ever had.  I awoke with the sun and thought my head was collapsing from within.  Thankfully, things began to clear up as Kurt returned from the airport and the three of us set out for a trio of destinations.

Our first stop was the Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater.  I'd heard about the place before but didn't really know what it looked like; when we arrived, I was awed.  Think of the jagged rocks in the old Star Trek episodes and place an amazing concert venue among them.  In the distance, the city of Denver exists as a faded matte painting.  Kurt told me of a Rush concert he attended at the venue back in the early 2000s that was punctuated by a vibrant thunderstorm over the Denver Metro.  I can only imagine the beauty.  As we walked around the amphitheater, I noticed over a dozen people running and stair climbing; evidently this concert hall doubled as a scenic exercise destination.

In fact, throughout my time in Colorado I've noticed a lot of people biking, running, and engaging in other forms of exercise.  Kurt and Sophie mentioned that Colorado has the lowest obesity rate in the country at about 20%.  I also noticed a lot of scooters on the roads.  I think most folks see Colorado as a pretty green state; not only does that count towards the environmentally-friendly nature of the majority of the populace but the dispensaries located on just about every street corner.  Back in 2005, Denver passed the Alcohol-Marijuana Equalization Initiative, which legalized possession in a variety of situations.  There are a lot of mellow people up here.

After Red Rocks, we drove to Golden, CO to visit the Mother Cabrini shrine.  Unbeknownst to me, the  shrine was atop 374 steps.  Coupled with the high altitude, I had to take a break midway through the climb and reached the top just as I felt I was going to collapse.  It was a beautiful view and, since it was Sunday, there were a lot of pilgrims there visiting and worshiping.  When we got back to the car, we headed to St. Mary's Glacier.

Located in the Arapaho National Forest, the remnants of the ice field is located 10,300 feet above sea level...the last 3/4 mile a hike up a rocky trail.  It would've been rough on my by itself, but after the stair climb at the shrine I had to take several breaks.  As we crested the plateau that held the remnants of the retreating glacier, I felt like I was transported to another world.  The small lake was clear and crisp.  The air was clean and cool.  I marveled at the sight and closed my eyes.  I could hear running water from the melting ice across the lake and the sound of a nearby dog simultaneously splashing and drinking in the water.  I walked over to the water and dipped my hands in.  It felt like holy water.  It was one of the most serene spots I've ever visited.

We celebrated our long and physically exerting day by stopping by the Tommyknockers brewery in Idaho Springs.  We had some fantastic local brews and headed back to Denver, capping the day with homemade pizza, which incidentally was the best pizza I've ever eaten, and talking boxing with Kurt into the wee hours.  I love sharing in the passion of others.  I feel tremendously blessed to be experiencing this wonderful state with some amazing people.


Garden of the Gods

Yesterday was a special day for me.  My 'big ticket item' for my trip to Denver was a visit south to Colorado Springs and the natural wonder that is 'Garden of the Gods'.

After my father passed last year, I was going through old photographs and noticed some rounded-edge pictures of some beautiful rock formations.  I asked Mom about them and she told me about the trip we took to Colorado when I was just a little guy.  I didn't remember it, of course, but the pictures were enough for me to know I needed to see this place with grown up eyes.

Saturday morning, Sophie gave me the keys to their Ford Focus and wished me good travels.  As I merged onto Highway 25 southbound out of Denver I was struck by the fact that not only was I heading towards a destination from way in my past, but I was driving a car very similar to my old '01 Focus.  The weather was tremendous and I drove with the windows down and the tunes up.  Seeing the mountains on the horizon grow closer made me smile, and by the time I arrived at the Visitor's Center at the Garden I was full of the same excitement I had when seeing Angkor Wat or the Colosseum.

The red rocks were jutting out of the earth, impossibly huge.  As I approached the central area, I couldn't help but gawk at their beauty.  Many climbers were up and about (including one guy dressed as Batman!) scaling the rock faces and perching atop some of the monuments.  I took one of the lesser paths and found myself in a secluded nook, higher than most of the central garden.  Looking down, I could not only see the bulk of the other tourists nearby, but I could look out over the Colorado landscape and the area near Pike's Peak.  It was easy to put myself in the mindset of settlers and seeing that this was a good land.  The warm sun and cool breeze kept me company as I sat there and listened to the sound of the earth turning.

Once I'd sufficiently explored the area, I got back into the car and headed back north, but back to Denver just yet.  Kurt had recommended a visit to the nearby United States Air Force Academy and said I really should visit the chapel.  When I arrived and saw the unique triangular construction, I sent him a text message thanking him.  The tall angular structure was stunning both inside and out.  Being on military grounds also brought an additional emotion of stoicism and respect.  The grounds were mostly quiet, but cadets in uniform were easy to find.  I sat in the chapel for a few minutes and reflected.  I'm not religious anymore, but the feeling inside that hallowed building was not unlike my recline atop the rocks back at the Garden.

Satisfied, I drove back to Denver.  Last night was a night of good conversation and old Tales from the Crypt DVDs.  Sophie is an amazing cook and has a lot of passion around hosting.  Today, Kurt returns from Pennsylvania and I think we're going to head out someplace beautiful and have a picnic.  I love this area!


To Denver

I love air travel.  Although it resembles public transportation more these days than the suit-and-fedora crowd of the 1930s and 40s, looking out the window at the clouds and squares of landscape is exactly the same.  Here I am, tens of thousands of feet in the air, speeding towards a destination that carried terrible risk throughout the vast majority of human history.  And I’m just going for a vacation.

I visited Colorado when I was a little boy.  I don’t remember it, but I have pictures to prove it.  I had a week of vacation that had been delayed several times and I decided just to GO.  When I told people I was taking two weeks of vacation, they typically responded with an allusion to my worldly travels of years past.  It was only then that I realized it had been nearly a year since I’d done any kind of traveling outside of my home state.  I must not let so much time lapse before I travel.  Sitting in the aipoirt, waiting on my flight in Tulsa brought back so many memories.

I’m staying with friends in the city of Denver.  Sophie and Kurt remind me of so many people I met abroad; free spirited, open minded, and generous souls.  I’m eager to experience their city with them.  Our conversations in preparation for my visit were also very familiar.  Eating habits, hobbies, interests, sights I’d like to see.  Honestly, the biggest appeal for me is the social aspect of learning more about my friends and just BEING in a new place.  There are places I’d like to see, sure, but I’d much rather experience a corner pub or local diner that isn’t “special.”  That’s what makes it important.

That being said, I do hope to take a short road trip down to ‘Garden of the Gods’.  It’s one of the places featured in classic Martin family photos that I’d like to see with adult eyes.  I wonder if I will be able to see the Rockies clearly. 

-Some Time Later-

So, it’s a little cloudy today.  I can barely see the mountains, but I can still see them.  The air is cool and the city feels relaxed.  Shortly after arrival, Kurt and Sophie took me to a favorite little Mexican food place and we went to the Denver Art Museum downtown.  I definitely appreciate museums a lot more these days and the setup here is pretty great.  There was a little interactive area and plenty of art that I didn’t mind taking in and discussing with my hosts.  After we finished there, we drove to a little place I read about called the Forney Transportation Museum.  None of us had high expectations, but the warehouse of old cars, trains, and motorcycles far exceeded them.  I got a lot of great pictures!

Anyway, this post is a little jumbled.  It’s been a while since I’ve written travel posts.  I hope to get back into the swing of it quickly.