United Express SkyWest Magazine
Friday, September 10, 2004 1:00 AM
Front Range Fandango By Sabrena Suite Planning a Colorado escapade makes me feel like a 10-year-old on a Toys "R" Us shopping spree. The clock is ticking: "Whatever you can grab is yours!" Obviously, it's a daunting task. Each time I seek my own Rocky Mountain high, I am faced with the same Colorado conundrum. Where to begin? A good first stop is Denver International Airport, gateway to Colorado's Front Range with all the scintillating staples one expects at the threshold of the Rocky Mountains. Purple mountains tower. An up-close look reveals stretches of trails and scenic byways lined with golden, rust and crimson foliage. Not a bad stage for hiking, biking, rafting, fishing, camping, exploring and any other brand of "ing" you can fathom. Well, maybe not surfing, but obviouslyskiing (Colorado, hello!). More passive activities abound in the charming historic districts and mining towns. Stroll among Victorian buildings housing art galleries, bookstores and quaint antique shops, and fill the senses with nostalgia. Railroad adventures, breweries, coffee houses, tearooms and "tastings" all contribute to a compendium of culture. Here are some of my favorite places Boulder Than Ever Thirty miles northwest of Denver, Boulder is the perfect union of picturesque and peculiar. This time of year, aspen leaves transition to shades of autumn splendor, meaning a jaunt just five minutes up the mountain from the heart of this college town seems worlds away from reality. Chautauqua Park is the gateway to Boulder's signature rock formations,the Flatirons, notably named for looking exactly like (you guessed it) old-school upright flat irons. The park offers hikes ranging from an hour of power to an all-day commitment and is a great way to experience the lush colors of the country. The wildflower trails and white rocks of Mount Sanitas and the spectacular red-rock, fin-like formations offer easier hiking fare. Boulder Creek's shaded walkway is nothing shortof delightful. Don't be surprised if it's crowded; the passage is more than ped-friendly. On any given day, walkers, bikers, runners and rollerbladers will share the beaten path. The town is brilliance and beauty, from spectacular scenery and more than 30 art galleries to the Tuscan architecture and academicians of the University of Colorado. Boulder guru and guide Norman Koren explained the community as "a paradoxical mix of left-leaning politically correct environmentalism and tasteful yuppiedom." Tree hugging cyclists and new-style-socialites sporting SUVs create a synergy of intellect and adventure. Most are surprised to find Boulder home to government research labs. The distinguished National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is a modern architectural structure that offers an explorative approach to the wonders of the earth's atmosphere and was used in Woody Allen's film Sleepers. NCAR also hosts hikes to places such as Bear Peak, South Boulder Peak, Green Mountain and Trailhead for the Mesa. Each eclectic element gives Boulder a vantage point that spans the spectrum--scenic and political! Steve Hart, SkyWest vice president of market development, explains how his years as a "Buff" (as in University of Colorado Buffalo) influenced him. "You talk to any CU alum, and they'll tell you the time they spent in Boulder was special. The community itself is so diverse." His countenance is glowing. "Two of the best years of my life were spent in Boulder." Though plenty has changed since the alum played in the open places and indie-spaces of Boulder 20 years ago, the soul of the city remains vibrant. Pearl Street Mall is where the young, hip, pierced and protesting break bread alongside the pristine and privileged. (Sometimes the same individual if you count those living off parental support or familial trust funds.) Mall staples like Victoria's Secret, A&F and Banana Republic coexist peacefully among independent bookstores like High Crimes (mystery novels), Left Hand Books (left leaning literature, naturally) and the renowned Boulder Bookstore. The Boulder Co-op Market is a natural health food store for those seeking a truly organic experience. At the Boulder Arts Co-op, artists must work in the store to have their art exhibited, making the location true local art! The mall is a melting pot for entertainment, comfortable commerce and creative panhandling. "I'm trying to get a down payment for a cheeseburger," one eclectic street bohemian tells me. His remark has me laughing out loud, single handedly validating my theory that Pearl Street's most excellent adventure is also its cheapest--people watching. Back at campus-proper, the pavilion at the University Memorial Center is where to see-and-be seen. "Liberal Arts" is redefined as the place to catch a protester, or 200. Traditional scholars and students of life know there's always something happening on the Hill. The area is in a revival like Pearl Street in the '70s. Make sure to spend some time (at least window) shopping at the non-franchised gems or catch a band at The Fox Theater. Shop for university flair at any number of CU bookstores, or indulge in the nostalgic scent of vinyl at independent music stores galore. If you're hungry, check out The Sink, a Boulder staple since 1923 for burgers, pizza, salads and the like. Out-of-towners can follow in the footsteps of Teddy Roosevelt and stay at the Hotel Boulderado, easily recalled as the name is a fusion of the city and the state in which it resides. Downtown will receive a new addition in January of 2005 with the St. Julian Hotel, the first hotel to open in the district since the Boulderado's debut in 1909. Tours of the Leaning Tree Museum of Western Art and the Celestial Seasonings Factory offer additional entertainment, but whatever your cup-of-tea, Boulder's bountiful recreation opportunities hold something for you. Where The West Lives Just 15 miles outside of Denver is "where the West lives." At least, that's what the welcome sign for Golden, Colorado, states. The West not only lives here, but it's also where the Coors Brewing Company "taps the Rockies." Not a bad slogan considering the brewery still uses natural Rocky Mountain spring water to make the not-so-local beer. Ah, delicious and nutritious! Admission is free for tours of the world's largestsingle-site brewery; and good news, brewski-aficionados, there are even free samples at the tour's end. Of course, there's more to Golden than barley and hops. The Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave showcases the famed frontier hero in posters, photos and paintings, plus artifacts from the showman and scout's Wild West Show. Visitors should also check out the Colorado Railroad Museum (it's almost like Thomas the Train traces his genealogical roots to Denver's Front Range) and Heritage Square--the charming re-constructed 1870's Victorian street, complete with ("look ma, no hands!") amusement park rides that give new meaning to the Wild West. When it comes to outdoor activity, paragliding's a Golden treasure. But when soaring in the clouds, don't forget it's a rich history of mining that keeps this town grounded. You can discover that history through the Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum. Just over the hill and up highway 285 the town of Morrison is home to a musical monolith of epic proportions. Though the town is not named after famed Door's front man Jim M., the Red Rocks Amphitheater certainly pays tribute to the gods of rock. Everyone who's anyone has played there, and if not, they've certainly wanted to! It's a 9,000-seat amphitheater carved from 70 million years of red-rocking acoustic perfection. Estes Park Extreme Adventure All right, let's get something straight up front. Estes Park is not actually a park. I mean, it certainly could be described as amusement for the mind and body--especially with the canvas of color fall brings. But let's be honest: the name is a bit misleading. It shares in the basic benefits that are standard issue along the Front Range--mountain biking, 4-wheeling, rock climbing, fly-fishing (find your own Nemo), golfing, boating, horseback riding, the thrill of viewing wildlife. Plus there are tramway rides to Prospect Mountain. But Estes Park is, in fact, a town. It's also home to the infamous Stanley Hotel, where according to local lore, Steven King wrote half of The Shining from room 217, and where the movie Dumb and Dumber was filmed. Talk about extremes! Likewise, for extreme adventure, Estes Park sits as the eastern gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. The renowned area is a vast 415 square miles of stunning mountain scenery. Nature watchers of all ages delight at the list of wildlife. The characters seem to read more like the credits for Disney's Brother Bear than a living, breathing excursion. Mule deer, moose, big horn sheep, black bear, coyote, cougar, eagle, hawk and elk are just some of the finds amongst the flora and fauna. In fact, October is a prime time to hear some elk bugling. Rocky Mountain National Park is where granite summits and forested valleys of towering trees span the Continental Divide. Over 350 miles of trails are waiting. They range in elevation from 8,000 to 14,259 feet. Trail Ridge Road is the most notable, as the highest continuous paved highway in the United States. But even in nature's nosebleed section, the view seems grander the higher you go. Minutes to Mountains of Things to Do If mountain towns were record albums, Idaho Springs, Empire, Georgetown and Silver Plume would be anthologies of adventure. The healing waters of Idaho Springs--once ancient meeting grounds for the Mountain Ute and Arapahoe tribes--now rejuvenate guests compliments of the Indian Springs Resort. While spiritual abundance is not completely lost, it certainly played second fiddle when the discovery of precious metals 150 years ago triggered the Colorado Gold Rush. The town, "made rich by gold and still rich with history," offers three major mine tours and carefully preserved Victorian architecture. Buffalo Bill Cody had his last drink here. Guanella Pass and Mount Evans Scenic and Historic Byway--the highest paved road in North America are stand-alone adventures. Continuing west, Georgetown's silver mining success of 1859 can still be seen among its 200 restored Victorian buildings, with attractions like the Hamill House, Hotel de Paris and Georgetown Energy Museum. The Georgetown Loop Narrow Gauge railroad takes you on a 600-foot climb in over just four miles to the historic community of Silver Plume. Here you can enjoy the Silver Plume Antiques and Teashop for breakfast, lunch, baked goods and afternoon tea by reservation in a turn-of-the-century storefront. Georgetown's galleries, shops and landmark attractions hearken to the height of the mining era and provide plenty of historical fun. You might say that in Empire it's a Hard Rock Life. But it's not just the Continental Divide Trail that makes this locale just off I-70 a hidden jewel. It's actually the location of the original Hard Rock Café. Will Colorado's hidden wonders never cease!