Denver Colorado was quite the change from the other cities I have visited thus far. I needed a break from the urban explorations, and was looking to trade tall buildings for towering mountains and rock faces. I came in with a lot of questions, most of which I found answers. The big one being whether or not I could find some good hiking trails without a car. There’s no metro train to the mountains, and chartered tour buses don’t fit my style. Renting a car wrecks havoc with my daily budget that I’m trying to stick to. Another challenge I faced was where I was going after Denver. It marked the first time I arrived in a city with no plans for where I was going next or how I would get there.
As for the hiking, I found a compromise… Boulder. Several people told me that if I’m going to Colorado, I really need to checkout Boulder. It’s a city just twenty some miles from Denver. It’s known for its progressive politics and being a popular destination for hippies in the 1960’s. It’s located in the foothills of the rockies and is home to the University of Colorado. Travel to Boulder is easy from Denver. I took a local bus from my host’s place to the Market Street Station downtown. From there, I picked up an express bus to Boulder. The whole thing was only $5, and I went on two separate days. On the first visit, I just did the Boulder Bike Trail. It’s kind of tame, but has really great views. I also checked out the Pearl Street Mall which runs through downtown Boulder. It’s a cool little area with lots of cafes, restaurants and musicians busking. Everything from guitarists, jazz musicians, violinists and even a guy playing the clarinet.
Despite the fun I had this day, I was still hungry for a more serious hike, so I posted a question about Boulder hikes on the Couchsurfing forums. Someone recommend a trail called Royal Arch. I got off at the appropriate stop on my second visit, and walked about half a mile to the park entrance for the trail. I was really glad I went back to Boulder because this hike delivered. It took me about three hours, and several stops to get my breath back, but I was rewarded with a beautiful view.
Believe it or not, the pic below is of the “trail” I was on up to Royal Arch. It essentially becomes a mix of walking and scaling rocks to get to the top.
As for Denver itself, I didn’t really spend much time in the downtown area, nor did I checkout any of the cultural sites. I had done a lot of that in Chicago and DC, so I spent some time focusing on one of Denver’s other highlights… its breweries. I read that Denver is considered the Napa Valley of beer, and found several locals who agreed. On my first day, I went into a beer and wine shop and said it was my first day in Denver, and I was looking to experience their beers. These guys are serious about their beer and really proud to tell me all about the great breweries. There’s even a walking brewery tour downtown. Unfortunately for me, this tour is booked a couple weeks in advance, so by the time I arrived, it was too late to get tickets. If you’re interested, though, here’s the site to get tickets. One of my Couchsurfing hosts more than made up for this by taking me on his own tour. On Saturday, we checked out the Denver Beer Company and sampled several different beers.
On Sunday, my host James drove me to Golden, CO where the Coors plant is located.
The Coors plant offers free tours everyday, and included with that tour is 3 free beers of your choice in their tap room. For most tourists, there’s a long wait for a tour bus. However, if you know what the locals know, you can simply go to the entrance that the tour finishes at, and request a “Short Tour” This is basically synonymous with “I want my free beer please”. You have to know about this, and there’s no sign indicating you have this option. The ticket below is your key to this version of the tour.
We checked out another brewery in Golden, and then went for a drive up into the foothills. Little did I know, Golden is also where Buffalo Bill Cody is buried.
Yet again, I couchsurfed the entire time while here. My first host, Mira, was a rarity among CS’ers. She offered me an open invitation to stay there until as she put it, “your travels take you elsewhere”. This is beyond what anyone can reasonably expect, and I was determined not to abuse or take advantage of this. Since I hadn’t planned my departure, it was a nice situation to have. Mira and I ended up clicking really well. I made dinner one night, and we shared some other meals together. I treated her and her son to sushi one night to say thanks, and we had a great evening. Mira is a certified yoga and pilates teacher. She’s also into a variety of alternative medicines. She had a really calming energy about her that I enjoyed being around. I ended up staying there 5 days before moving on to my host James. James had just moved into a house in the City Park area with 3 other guys. He was equally awesome, and took time to show me around. We went biking through the city and checked out a festival and Homemade Handmade market nearby where James’ girlfriend Abby was selling clothes she made. I was really grateful to James for taking me around to the breweries. I thought I would miss out on this completely, but spent much of my last two days in Denver drinking some good beer. Thanks Mira and James!!
Denver just might be a hidden gem as suggested by a few locals I talked to. I’m still in the first month of my travels, so it’s a little premature to say this, but Denver is a place I could see myself living once I’m done seeing the world. A part of me really wanted to go buy camping gear, rent a car, and head into the mountains. However, that’s not what this trip is really about. Next time, though.
Denver marked a real turning point in my travels. I came in here not knowing where I would go afterwards, let alone how I would get there, or where I would stay. I had reached the end of my planning, and had trusted I would figure things out. It’s nice not to have to plan too far ahead, but it’s also very expensive to buy bus, train or plane tickets last minute. In the end, I put together an excellent strategy for navigating my way around the USA that places a cap on my travel expenses, while at the same time allowing me to leave things to chance as to where I’ll go and when. I’ll fill you in on this in my next post 🙂