Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Denver, Colorado - My Hometown

Recent posts over on An Exacting Life and Everyday Life on a Shoestring got me to thinking that maybe I should do a post about Denver, Colorado, the beautiful city in which I live.

Denver, Colorado view from City Park - Photo by Matthew Santomarco

I've lived the vast majority of my life here in Denver, nestled at the feet of the Rocky Mountains. My family of mostly Italian and Slovenian immigrants has lived in Colorado for several generations, settling in Leadville, a mining boom town, near the end of the 19th century. The Italians worked in the silver mines and the Slovenians owned a saloon. See, I come by my rowdy nature naturally!

Leadville, Colorado ca. 1904
Colorado has a very colorful history. Gold was discovered here in the mid-19th century, and by 1859 the Colorado gold rush was in full swing.

Cities and towns literally sprung up overnight, and many were quickly abandoned when the frenzy was over, leaving the mountains dotted with ghost towns, which are scenic and beautiful, though they're also an ecological disaster with open tailings pits and the like - but that's a rant for another day.

Irontown - Colorado Ghost Town - photo by Matthew Santomarco
Today, tourism makes up a large chunk of the state's economy, with many former mining settlements converted to ski towns.

Breckenridge, Colorado - Photo by Nate Zeman
In 1991 voters passed a law allowing limited casino gambling in a few mountain towns. In a way, this has returned the towns of Central City, Black Hawk and Cripple Creek to their former "glory days," though, not without a fair bit of controversy.

Black Hawk, Colorado lit up with casinos

But our mining heritage is not the only interesting thing about our beautiful state. Colorado is also home to ancient Native American Anasazi ruins.

Mesa Verde National Park
We have dinosaur fossils galore.

Dinosaur Footprints at Dinosaur Ridge just outside of Denver

Colorado also enjoys a rich farming and ranching tradition highlighted by the National Western Stock Show held every year in January.

And, of course, our state is home to many natural wonders.

Great Sand Dunes National Park
Black Canyon of the Gunnison
The Garden of the Gods - Photo by Matthew Santomarco
The Maroon Bells - Photo by Matthew Santomarco
Hanging Lake - Photo by Matthew Santomarco
Cave of the Winds in Manitou Springs, Colorado

Denver, which is the state capitol, was founded in 1858, and the gold leaf (yes, it's real gold) covering the dome of the capitol building pays tribute to our mining history.

Denver is often referred to as the Mile High City because we actually sit one mile above sea level. The fifteenth step of the capitol building has an inscription at the exact spot which reads "One Mile Above Sea Level," although subsequent surveys placed the actual spot at the 18th step, and later the 13th.

Denver sits at the confluence of the South Platte river and Cherry Creek, a site where gold was once found that is now a park enjoyed by hundreds every day.

Confluence Park, Denver, Colorado
Throughout my lifetime, Denver has been undergoing a period of tremendous renewal. There was a massive flood here in 1965, after which the city built three dams for flood control, each of which now serves as a major recreational center making camping, boating and hiking available just outside the city limits.

Chatfield State Park just south of Denver
There was also a major effort undertaken to clean up the city's rivers and streams by lining them with a system of parks and bike trails known as the Greenway. This effort received a major boost in 1983 when voters approved the Colorado State lottery and determined that the proceeds should go to support parks and open space. I can literally hop on the greenway about 5 blocks from my house and I have hundreds of miles of bike path at my disposal!

South Platte Bike Path outside of Denver, Colorado
Downtown Denver has also undergone a transformation in my lifetime. In the early 1980's Denver decided to convert one of its main downtown streets to a pedestrian district known as the 16th Street Mall. Today the 1.25 mile stretch is the heart of downtown, lined with shops and restaurants, complete with a free shuttle bus.

16th Street Mall in Downtown Denver
But the renewal wasn't limited to 16th street. Major efforts were undertaken to reclaim areas that had fallen into decay, and today the city boasts any number of beautiful shopping districts, art galleries, brewpubs, and even a baseball stadium in neighborhoods that formerly housed only abandoned buildings, street gangs and drug dealers.

Larimer Square in Denver, Colorado
Coors Field - Home of the Colorado Rockies
First Friday Art Walk at the Santa Fe Art District in Denver, Colorado
Denver has a vibrant music scene ranging from opera to hip hop with everything in between

Ellie Caulkins Opera House
The Soiled Dove Underground in Denver Colorado
Red Rocks Amphitheater - scene of many a rock concert during my ill-spent youth!
Also where my high school graduation was held

And, of course, Denver is home to four major league sports teams, including my beloved Denver Broncos

Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium

John Elway finally won us our first Super Bowl in 1998.
He also happens to be a great down to earth guy
who even helped coach the Pop Warner team that
my friend's son played on.
The climate here in Denver is semi-arid, with temperatures that can range from 20 below zero (-28C) in the wintertime to 105 degrees (40C) of sweltering heat in the summer. Those aren't extremes that I pulled off of some statistical website either, those are just numbers I've experienced over the past 5 years or so - although the 105 did tie a record. The lack of any large bodies of water nearby means we don't have much temperature moderation like coastal locations do.

However, we do enjoy one of the sunniest climates on the planet with an average of 300 days of sunshine per year. When we do get precipitation it often comes in the form of major storms - sitting at the foot of a large mountain range will do that. Blizzards that dump over a foot of snow at a time are not uncommon here, but generally the sun comes out the next day and all is right with the world.

The park a few blocks from my house the day after a big storm

In the summertime we often get big thunderstorms that can dump enormous amounts of rain and hail in very brief periods of time - "gully washers" or "frog stranglers" we call them.

Colorado is often called the "hail capital of the world" and given the fact that I've lived through more hailstorms that I can count, I'd say the title is justified. The worst I remember was the softball sized hail that fell when I was in high school, but it's a regular occurrence here in the spring and summer. It can make gardening a bit challenging though!

The remains of one of my tomato plants
after a big hail storm a few years back.
But the extreme weather certainly makes things interesting! And all in all, I have to say that I feel privileged to live in such an amazing place.

Now it's your turn! Tell me all about the place where you live!

p.s. Many thanks to Matthew Santomarco for allowing me to use so many of his wonderful photographs in this post. If you'd like to check out even more of his incredible photographs of our beautiful state, please visit his website.

Colorado Sunflowers by Matthew Santomarco
This picture has nothing to do with anything, except that I think
it's just an amazing photograph!


  1. I've only ever driven through Colorado (once) and, unfortunately, didn't have the time to explore. I'd love to go back someday and see all the sites. I think I'll bookmark this page so that when I'm able to get there I'll have so many wonderful places to visit. Thank you for sharing your home with us! :-)

    1. Honestly, there is so much beauty here that even most of the locals haven't had the time to explore it all! But please come and visit, it really is an amazing place.

  2. Very interesting read! And Matthew's photographs are gorgeous!

    You might be interested in this blog post about Colorado.

    1. Thanks for the link! That was a fun read - although their contributors gave themselves away as transplants with the "soda" thing... as a third generation Coloradan, I can say with certainty that it's not soda, it's pop!

  3. So do you work for the Colorado tourism industry? Very nice overview. I've been to the Denver airport several times and outside of Denver in the mountains for a geology field trip. But that's it. Colorado is still needs to be properly explored.

    1. Ha! OK... so you've seen a part of Denver that I haven't. I've never actually been to the airport! The last time I flew was 20 years ago, and we were still using Stapleton International Airport - which was torn down years ago and there's now an upscale neighborhood on the site. The one and only time I've been to DIA was to go to an airshow before the thing was completed!

  4. I'll bite. Following your basic outline, I can tell you a bit about Austin.

    It used to be called Waterloo, but was changed to Austin when it became the state capital.

    Texas also has its own colorful history what with having been home to many Native American tribes, first decimated by disease, then driven out of the state, and having been under the flags of six countries (seven for El Paso). It used to be its own country. It's a mix of southern (once part of the Confederacy) and western (definitely has a cowboy culture).

    We have just as many wildflowers as y'all, and we have farming and ranching like y'all plus oil drilling. Our mountains are tiny and cute. We also have some desert, some plains, and some beaches.

    Don't tell anyone, but our capitol building is pink. It's made of pink granite, but it just looks white when lit up. Austin is called the Live Music Capitol of the World - I guess we have a lot of music clubs downtown. We also have the motto Keep Austin Weird. We do not call ourselves the Allergy Capitol of the World though there is some sort of allergen available at any time of year for your sneezing pleasure. Nor do we call ourselves the Grackle Toilet Bowl of the World though we have a lot of grackles, a medium-sized black bird with a hoarse screetch and yellow eyes.

    We have three ecological zones. Two are made mostly of limestone (I forget what the difference is), and one is prairie, made mostly of clay on top of limestone. So we do not have basements because it is prohibitively expensive to dig them.

    Austin is mostly an economy of government, education, and high-tech. It's full of Yankee Infiltrators such as myself plus a growing population of native Spanish-speakers. Each wave of immigrants laments that the city just isn't as good as it used to be when it was more laid back and there were more cool places that are now closed. It's still quite laid back (you can wear shorts and flip flops into any restaurant, for example). I'd say the biggest change is that the airport was moved out of town and they are trying to build a walkable district where the old airport was (fortunately in walking distance of where I live).

  5. Part II (your program says I'm too long-winded. If that's a hint, sorry, I didn't take it).

    My favorite things are that there are loads of wildflowers, it's a big college town, people are pretty highly educated, its casual, it's halfway affordable, and half my friends from grad school are still here. It gets crazy hot in the summer, but the winters are so mild that if we ever do get freezing rain or snow, most people don't have to go to work! We do get a fair amount of hail, though.

    We don't have very many sports, museums, or planetaria for a city our size. But we do have a wildflower center that researches and promotes planting native plants wherever you live. And some nice water features. And a park with granite magma bubbles that have come to the surface (Enchanted Rock). And a chain of movie theatres with a really good preshow (they collect related movie snippets) and a full menu. And access roads that mean you never have to get on the highway if you don't want to, plus there are lots of U-turn lanes (good for people like me who are easily lost). We also have a very high restaurant per capita ratio, so you can find all kinds of foods. And it's especially easy to find my favorite: Tex-Mex.

    We supposedly have a biking culture, but biking isn't all that easy. In fact, old bike lanes have been removed, but now the pendulum is going back the other way.

    My neighborhood was built in the 1950's and is full of small, well-built, affordable houses. With no laundry rooms, garages, or dishwasher unless they have been added. (Well, there are washer connections in the kitchen plus laundry lines out back.) The population is about 1/3 older couples who are original owners, 1/3 childless gay couples who don't need a big place (this is the group I most closely identify with) and 1/3 Hispanic families in starter houses. Everyone except me fills their backyard with dogs or the occasional chickens. (Mine is full of weeds. Oops. I could probably use a goat.)

    I'm right on a shuttle route to the local campus, an above-average bus route, and two other bus routes. There used to be an airport next to me, but I wasn't under any of the usual flight paths or flight circles, so it wasn't a bother, and I do actually miss being able to walk home from the airport. I take a bus to work and I can walk to a library and several stores and restaurants, though I still drive to grocery stores and friends' houses.

    I've lived a lot of places in my life and this is my favorite, mostly because it's the only one that's both warm and over-educated.

    1. Debbie,
      I lived in Houston for ten years and visited Austin frequently. I still have friends there. It is a great place although it has grown a lot over the years. I love the Hill Country and the wildflowers but could do without the weather.

    2. Wow! Thanks so much for the profile of Austin! The Austin music scene is legendary in my social circle - though the reports of the heat and the allergies make it sound like it could be a tad bit challenging.

      Your neighborhood sounds alot like mine... though a bit more upscale. We're probably closer to 70% hispanic with a smattering of retired and childless folk.

      Anyhow, Austin is definitely on the list of places I'd like to visit someday!

  6. I think I visited Denver as a child. I was very into rocks and fossils, so would have loved those dinosaur footprints :)

    Denver looks like a lovely place to live. In Brisbane we also have a lot of sunshine and the occasional (but becoming more frequent) flood.

    1. There's actually a whole huge park in the northwest corner of the state called Dinosaur National Monument that is full of much more extensive fossil beds than the ones near Denver. And the state really is a geologist's dream - CatMan is very in to geology and mineralogy. He's taken me on numerous mineral collecting adventures and I was amazed at what could be found so close to my home!

      Anyhow, I'd love to hear more about Brisbane - I know so very little about Australia in general. Most of what I know actually comes from watching online episodes of the show "Who Do You Think You Are." It was a real eye opener about your country and its history!

  7. Thank you for your virtual tour of Denver! I love to travel--Colorado has a lot of features (especially the Anasazi ruins, the dinosaur artifacts, and the natural beauty) that I look for. Someday ...

    The info on Austin was also fun although I see us going west before travelling south. :)

    I think there is something fascinating about ALL places (and I lived in Ohio for awhile! No offense, Buckeyes ... ).

    My synopsis of Michigan won't be nearly as well-thought out as yours, but here goes:

    Our state motto is "If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look around you". We are known for our great lakes. I live close to Lake Michigan and it's gorgeous. The west coast of Michigan is known for its sand dunes. Our sand is white, powdery, and when wet, your feet squeak when you walk across it. All the lakes have something fun and beautiful to offer. Because of our lakes, our temperatures are moderated and, especially on the west coast of Michigan, we have an ecosystem good for all sorts of produce--blueberries, cherries, apples, asparagus, and peaches, to name a few.

    We have national forests and inland lakes also abound--in fact, our favorite camping spots are in these areas (inland lakes are warmer for swimming, for sure!). The upper peninsula is home to many waterfalls, the largest and most famous being Tahquamenon Falls, second in size only to Niagara Falls (east of the Mississippi, that is!). You can visit old copper mines and Pictured Rocks (multi-colored rock formations on the coast of Lake Superior).

    The world's third-largest suspension bridge unites the two peninsulas. To the east of the bridge is Mackinac (pronounced "Mac-in-aw") Island, which is a well-known tourist destination. The only motorized vehicles on the island are emergency vehicles. It's charming and there is an historic atmosphere, as there is a restored fort both on Mackinac Island as well as on the mainland in Mackinaw City (yes, I'm spelling Mackinaw correctly--I don't remember why they are spelled differently).

    Obviously there are many opportunities for water-based activities and fishing/boating/camping are a big deal in our state. Lots of interesting history as well, since the waterways from the Atlantic through to Michigan were part of the original trade routes in America. The native Americans had peaceful relationships with the French but unfortunately not so with the British.

    For those more inclined to urban pursuits, the Detroit area has a good zoo and is home to the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village which are fantastic cultural opportunities (the Henry Ford houses the Rosa Parks bus, the chair Lincoln was shot in, George Washington's camping kit, and many more items). We enjoy cordial relationships with Canada and there are bridges to Canada both in Detroit as well as Port Huron. Ann Arbor is the best place to go if you enjoy an eclectic, upscale, educated atmosphere (home to U of M). Lansing is our capital city and the capital building is well worth visiting. Grand Rapids is the second-largest city and has in recent years added ArtPrize, an art competition which takes place in venues all over the city in the fall, in which artists compete for a prize and anyone who registers can vote for their favorite artists.

    Whew! Hope I haven't bored anyone--but the more I discover about my home state, the more I am amazed. I'm sure I missed some important items but hopefully that gave you a nice overview. Thank you again for this post--isn't it nice that we can learn so much about each other while sitting in the comfort of our own homes? Not QUITE as much fun as travelling, but still a good way to broaden ourselves.

  8. Oh yeah! Summer isn't the only season in Michigan--lots of winter weather and lots of snow sports as well. I'm just in the mood for summer ... can you tell???

    1. Thanks so much for your profile of Michigan. I know so very little about that state - so little, in fact, that the spell checker had to correct my spelling of it!

      It must be amazing to be surrounded by so much water - I sorta can't imagine it. I've heard much about Ann Arbor because apparently there is a big roots music scene there, so people in my social circle tend to get all misty eyed when they talk about it.

      Anyhow, I'm soooo glad to know that there is more to Michigan than urban decay and trees that are "the right height." :-)

    2. Sadly, most people think that Detroit and Flint equals Michigan, and those cities are a very small portion of the state.

      Yes, Ann Arbor would most likely be your scene.

      I'm not sure I'd be happy in a place without water, but then again, we're a little short on mountains. ;)

  9. Hi Cat,
    I love the Inter-Mountain West. It's full of so much natural beauty. I was born in Denver and lived the first 2 years of my life in Broomfield, CO. I've been back to visit several times, most of which were when my sister was at CU in Boulder.

    I've also spent a lot of time in Utah. Many of the natural sites you showed of CO remind me of Utah. My great-grandfather worked in the silver mines of Park City, UT, coming to the US as a boy, from Scotland, all by himself (I think he was 12 at the time, but lied on his documents and said he was 15). I lived in Utah myself for a few years, and just loved the dry heat and sunshine. I miss that sometimes, but I couldn't give up living close to the ocean.

    Thanks for the virtual tour.

    1. Sounds like our great-grandfathers had similar histories - my Italian great-grandfather came over when he was about the same age - accompanied by the father of the girl he'd been contracted to marry. She came over almost 10 years later when she was 15 and he was 20, and the two of them didn't meet until the wedding night. According to family lore, she was quite a hot head, with a temper that was legendary. I have their wedding picture in which she looks like she's just fit to be tied, and he has this total "deer in the headlights" look that just says "Oh lord, what have I gotten myself into!" This post has that photo in it if you're curious:

      Anyhow, Utah is beautiful too. My best childhood friend moved to Salt Lake when I was in the 8th grade, so each summer after that either I'd go visit her or she'd come visit me. Did you ever go swimming in Salt Lake? It's a wild experience - you really can't sink!

  10. Wow your graduation was held at Red Rocks? That's so cool. That's on my list of places to visit. I've been to Colorado and always really enjoyed it. Boulder...and who knows maybe Denver now is in my top three places I'd consider moving to. What's holding me back is that it's a landlocked State...and I have always live next to a "coast." But other than that...

    1. Back in the 1980's I think that most of the high schools held their graduations there. I even gave the senior speech... I had this great metaphor about how we'd been caterpillars but now had turned to butterflies and were ready to spread our wings and fly. I had this great idea that I'd catch a butterfly and release it in a dramatic fashion at the end of the speech. So I spent the entire morning of my graduation running around the backyard with a butterfly net - but all I could catch was a little cabbage moth. When I went to release it, the poor thing fell dead onto the podium. I'm not sure what that said about my high school class and our chances for future success, but it was still fun to be at Red Rocks!

      Having lived here most of my life, I sorta can't imagine living near the ocean. To be honest, it kinda scares me!

  11. Thanks for the link back! I love putting blog writers in the context of where they live and have a mental map of where my fellow bloggers all are, and I thoroughly enjoyed your write up of Denver and surrounding area and the gorgeous photos. The landscapes in Colorado are on such a different scale to the archetypal cutesy green and pleasant English countryside around here! My son looked at your blogpost too and I heard him telling his Dad that "Mum has a blog friend who lives ONE MILE above sea level!" We had to get the map out to check out how high above sea level we are - a paltry 80-100 metres! Now you've inspired me to do another blog post on the town where I live (my blog post was on Bath which is our nearest city, 12 miles from home). Thanks again.

    1. Ha! I actually don't even think of Denver as being at high altitude since my family comes from Leadville, which sits at over 10 thousand feet - and I get altitude sickness every time I visit!

      Can't wait to read the post about your town!

  12. Cat, Denver sounds fantastic! I second Budget and the Beaches comment - graduation at Red Rocks would be awesome! And 300 days of sunshine - amazing! Thanks for the link-up :)

    1. Red Rocks is totally awesome, although I didn't think so when my crazy mother decided that the winding roads there on the side of a mountain would be the perfect spot to teach me how to drive. I'm seriously amazed that we didn't end up in a heap of burning rubble at the bottom of the mountain! Sorta like the "throw the kid in the river" approach to swimming lessons (which, come to think of it, is pretty much the technique she used there too!)

      A few years ago the park decided for some reason to sell off a few plots of land near the entrance to private owners. Some friends of mine bought one of them and built a beautiful home there. So I actually have friends who live at Red Rocks! It is quite beautiful, but not the best place to visit during a blizzard unless you plan to stay for a few days (don't ask how I know!)

  13. Great post about Denver! And you're one of the few Colorado natives in Denver, which is not common - and family going back several generations is very rare. I think there used to be a Colorado 'Pioneer' license plate, or something similar for those with ancestors settling Colorado. Remember the 'Native' bumper stickers? I also enjoyed the comments describing Austin and Michigan, which are both places I'd like to visit.

    1. Well... full disclosure here, I'm not technically a Colorado native since I was born during a brief stint when my father was teaching at the University of Hawaii. Of course, it's not exactly like I can call myself a Hawaiian native either - I don't think they let fish belly white red heads into that club! But hey, I was born in the same hospital as president Obama just a few years after he was... and, although this will come as a great disappointment to Donald Trump, my birth certificate looks just like Obama's does! :-)

      Anyhow, I was a few months old when they moved back, so Colorado is really the only home I've ever known. And I do remember the Native bumper stickers - I remember being pissed off as a teenager because I couldn't get one!

      I have often wondered if I'd qualify for the pioneer plates or not. Probably a moot point anyhow since I am WAY too cheap to pay for anything like that. Well, that and the fact that all of my grandmother's birth records were destroyed in a fire eons ago. I wonder if I could find my grandfather's birth certificate... I keep hoping that the stars will align so I can take a trip to Leadville for a few days to see if any of the houses they lived in are still there, and to look for more family records with the catholic church and cemetery. Maybe someday...


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