Colorado Dreaming

By Liz Campbell

What’s on your bucket list? Among the less attainable adventures (like seeing a ghost), mine included white water rafting in Colorado.

Swelled by melting snow high in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, the Cache la Poudre River tumbles through the Poudre Canyon, near Fort Collins. Spectacular views of crags and cliffs may be why the U.S. Forest Service has designated this one a ‘Wild and Scenic River’. How can I resist?

Dressed in wetsuit, PFD, and helmet, our little crew paddles our way along a 12-mile stretch, whose rocky outcrops create level III and IV turbulence. With rapid-fire instructions from our guide, our job is to keep our craft on a route between the rocks.

It’s exhilarating and so much fun I am almost breathless with excitement. And just like that, I have another tick on my list – and I’m on my way to becoming a white water junkie!

While Colorado undoubtedly provides some of the best rafting in America, this state offers all kinds of outdoor adventure – hiking, zip-lining, canoeing, and much more. This is not surprising in a state that boasts 300 days of sunshine each year. But Colorado is also a treasure trove of cultural, historical and archaeological delights. Here are nine more reasons to visit:

1. Denver was founded on the heels of the gold rush and the Platte River which runs through town, was once alive with prospectors panning for gold. This city was an important stop on the railway and by the end of the 19th century more than 250 trains a day stopped here. Today, there are only two daily trains and the airport connector bringing passengers into Denver. But nothing reflects its history better than the gorgeous Beaux-Arts style Union station, built in 1914 when the previous one burned down. Home now to the Crawford Hotel, its beautifully restored main level features shops and restaurants.

2. Colorado’s long history with gold includes the liquid kind. Coors, the largest brewer in the USA, started in the town of Golden in 1873, but Colorado regularly appears on lists of the Top Ten states for microbreweries. With more than 370 microbreweries, this state is third per capita in the US. Every major town has a trail of microbreweries, and beer festivals abound. The largest of these is the Colorado Brewers Festival in Fort Collins every year in June.

3. Family friendly Fort Collins has a couple of great museums – the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery which features both science and history, and the Global Village Museum of Arts whose enchanting displays of folk art are gathered from around the globe. But here’s another fun fact to share with the kids: Old Fort Collins was Harper Goff’s inspiration when he created Main Street, USA for Disneyland. While Disney’s own home town, Marceline, MO, was the motivation, it was buildings like the old Union Pacific Railroad terminal and the First National Bank building in Fort Collins that inspired Main Street’s design.

4. Denver’s museums are worth a visit. Apart from the novels of John Steinbeck, I knew little about the Dust Bowl. At History Colorado, I even experienced a dust storm from inside a small prairie home. And here I learned about the history of gold mining in this state. And take in the Denver Art Museum, which has an eclectic blend of classic and contemporary art.

5. It would have been interesting to visit Denver’s historic Five Points Neighborhood in 1914. Founded in the 1860s for the city’s wealthy citizens, it had, by the early 20th century, grown into a predominantly African American neighbourhood, even becoming known as the “Harlem of the West.” More than 50 bars and clubs could once be found along Welton St, and here, jazz musicians such as Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Nat King Cole, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie and others would perform. Today, Five Points is home to Denver’s most intriguing museum – the Black American West Museum. Located in the former home of Dr. Justina Ford, the first Black woman doctor in Denver, it preserves the fascinating history and culture of African Americans who helped settle the American West.

6. Colorado boasts America’s only tea room completely built in Tajikstan. This intricately carved and decorated building was built by more than 40 artisans – without the use of any power tools! It was then carefully disassembled, crated and shipped to Boulder, Colorado, a gift from the people of Dushanbe, Tajikistan to their sister city. The lavish menu features dishes that cover the globe – from Indian samosas and Peruvian chicken, to Mongolian beef and Greek meatballs.

7. Let’s not forget the outdoors. Breathtakingly beautiful mountains, giant pine forests, spectacular rivers and waterfalls, and well-marked trails make this state a hiker’s paradise. There are 41 Colorado State Parks, 12 national parks and monuments, and 13 national forests and grasslands, all of which offer miles of great, scenic hikes. So bring your hiking boots.

8. Those spectacular mountains were home to the earliest inhabitants of Colorado. The Ancient Puebloans built dwellings throughout the area and the remains of their culture can be found throughout the Four Corners (the area where Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona meet).

9.  Finally, a quick word about that other item on my bucket list – ghosts. Two Denver hotels I visited lay claim to spectral visitors. Both are worth a visit just to see the opulence which characterized late 19th century Denver. The oldest, the Oxford Hotel, has remained open since 1891. Unusually for its time, it had its own power plant for heat, gas lighting and electricity, and every room had state of the art bathrooms. The current public women’s bathroom downstairs was once a barbershop, and here it is that one of the ghosts is often seen.

The second is the Brown Palace Hotel built in the Italian Renaissance style, using Colorado red granite and Arizona sandstone. It opened in 1892 and offered guests European luxury. The enormous, elegant atrium is overlooked from each of the eight levels and capped with a spectacular stained glass skylight. The Brown Palace has hosted royalty, presidents, Churchill, the “unsinkable» Molly Brown”, the Beatles and apparently, several ghosts including a heartbroken socialite and a spectral string quartet who practice in the restaurant.

Alas, I didn’t see a ghost at either hotel. But stay tuned; I’m still working on this part of my bucket list.