Denver – Colorado, USA

After our little venture down south last night to meet up with Nancy & Bill we realised Denver is a lot bigger than we thought.  The population of the metropolitan area is about 3.4 million.  The city area alone has a population of about 700,000.  We had planned to go into the city to do a walking tour but decided we really didn’t want to drive right into the city.  I researched the public transport options and found one that worked via google maps.  We were going to walk to the Park n Ride which was about 2km from where we were staying and then catch the train into the city.

After going the wrong way to start with we soon got back on track using the little blue dot on google maps : ). We could see the train tracks to the right of us which was a good sign.  We then reached our destination but there was no train station?  We had found the Park n Ride carpark and were right where the map said the train station was – this was a bit weird.  We saw a girl sitting at the bus station so went over to ask her where the train station was.  She looked strangely at us and said there was no train station in this vicinity.  I said but google maps had come up with this itinerary for me and we were here to catch the 8.32am train.  She said there was an 8.32am bus.  I suddenly clicked, just because Google maps uses a train symbol as the public transport option doesn’t mean it is a train!

Now that we had established it was a bus we were supposed to be catching the next mission was to buy a ticket – my understanding was that you needed to have a ticket before you got on the bus or train.  This girl confirmed my understanding and said we would need to go back to some supermarket to buy the tickets – time was of the essence!  She then pulled out these two tickets and said we could use them but we would need to pay USD2 each to the bus driver as well. As you can imagine we were very grateful.  We got chatting and it turns out she was studying at the culinary school.  I also learnt that she hailed from Washington State but had shifted to Denver because her sister said she was bludging off her father, her sister was married to a transgender male wanting to be a female (not a particularly pretty one at that), she had a super cute nephew, her sister is growing dreadlocks, she has lost a lot of weight due to having to walk everywhere because she can’t afford to get her licence or a car and she works two jobs – one at McDonalds earning USD8.55 per hour and one at a care home earning USD10.40 per hour.  This was all in the space of 10 minutes.  She had saved us from a sticky situation so I was happy to listen to her : )

The bus arrived and our tickets plus USD2 worked.  Our journey into Denver city had begun.  At the next stop a girl got on the bus and paid for her entire ticket with cash – hhhmmm.  When we got to the city about 45 minutes later and as we were getting off the bus we asked if we could just pay cash for a ticket on the bus and he said yes.  Our informant was obviously misinformed!

Next mission was to find the starting point for our walking tour which wasn’t too far from where the bus dropped us.  We got the iPad out and used good old Google maps again.  We were just working out which direction we should go in when another helpful citizen came along and told us to use the Maps APP rather than google maps as you can go 3D.  Anyway he set it up for us and pointed us in the right direction.  We got to the Veterans Memorial ready to start our free walking tour – the free walking tours offered in some of the cities we have visited have been fantastic.  

Our tour guide turned up – her name was Janine and she was a Denver local.  She was lovely and so informative and bubbly. This was only the second walking tour that she had guided but had been taking tours at the State Capitol for a while.

Speaking of which, our first stop was the State Capitol building.  Denver is nicknamed the Mile-High City because its official elevation is exactly one mile (5,280 ft or 1,610 m) above sea level, making it one of the highest major cities in the United States.  The 105th meridian west of Greenwich, the longitudinal reference for the Mountain Time Zone, passes directly through Denver Union Station.

Serving as the beginning of the Capitol Hill district, the historic building sits slightly higher than the rest of downtown Denver. The main entrance hall is open 180 feet (55 m) to the top of the dome, about the height of an 18-story building. Additionally, the official elevation of Denver is measured outside the west entrance to the building, where the fifteenth step is engraved with the words “One Mile Above Sea Level.” From this step, at 5,280 feet (1,609 m), the sun can be seen setting behind the Rocky Mountains. A second mile high marker was set in the 18th step in 1969 when Colorado State University students resurveyed the elevation. In 2003, a more accurate measurement was made with modern means, and the 13th step was identified as being one mile (1.6 km) high, where a 3rd marker was installed.

In a lot of the cities we have visited in both Canada and the US they have a lot of public artworks.  Little Horse, Big Chair: Sculptor Donald Lipski claimed he “wanted to give kids something that would really be a cause for wonder.” He succeeded, while also giving the rest of us something to wonder about.  “The Yearling,” located near Denver’s Central Public Library. A six-foot tall pony stands atop a 21-foot bright red chair, watching over the road. 

Next stop was the Denver Art Museum or DAM as the locals call it.  The museum is one of the largest art museums between the West Coast and Chicago.  It is known for its collection of American Indian art, and its other collections of more than 70,000 diverse works from across the centuries and world.

There are two parts to the DAM – the Hamilton Building emulates the sharp angles of the nearby Rocky Mountains, as well as the geometric crystals found at the mountains’ base near Denver. Architect Daniel Libeskind said, “I was inspired by the light and geology of the Rockies, but most of all by the wide-open faces of the people of Denver.”

The Duncan Pavillion is joined to the Hamilton Building by a bridge.  The Duncan Building looks like a castle from the outside with minimal windows giving much bigger spaces for the art.  The two-towered “castle-like” façade has 24 sides, and more than one million reflective glass tiles, designed to take advantage of the many beautiful, clear sunny days Denver has. 

Next stop was Food Truck Alley in the Civic Center Park – this is a new initiative on Tuesday’s to Thursday’s as there are very few food options for all the office workers at this end of town.  You also get a good view of the downtown area.  Steve was licking his lips and picking where he wanted to come back to for lunch.

Food Truck Alley

Denver County Court

Meanwhile while Janine was busy talking about the Denver County Court, Steve had made friends with some of the guys on the tour and two of them had decided to take advantage of the activities on offer in the park.

The Civic Center Park was a lovely park and they had blankets spread around on the grass where you could take some time out.

Next stop was the US Mint – apparently you can take a tour in the US Mint but you have to book weeks in advance.  The US Mint has six locations throughout the country but only two of them mint coins that are used day to day – these are in Denver and Philadelphia.  To work out where your coins were minted you will see either a D for Denver or a P for Philadelphia under the date on the back of the coin.

When the United States government began minting coins in 1792, the original United States Mint facility in Philadelphia was hard-pressed to produce enough currency for our small country.

As the country grew and the demand for coins increased, it became necessary to expand Mint facilities. This expansion was further fueled by the discovery of gold, first in the Southeast and later in the West, and the need for hard currency which caused people to mint their own gold coins. In the mid-nineteenth century, additional mints were opened in Charlotte, North Carolina; Dahlonega, Georgia; New Orleans, Louisiana; and San Francisco, California. In 1870, the Carson City, Nevada Mint opened, and in 1904 the Denver, Colorado Assay Office became a mint facility. Today, in order to keep our economy flowing smoothly, the United States Mint maintains facilities in Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco, and West Point, and a bullion depository in Fort Knox, Kentucky.

The number of coins minted today is astounding. Denver and Philadelphia can each produce tens of millions of coins every day. Manufacturing the coins to meet the needs of the United States requires a tremendous amount of natural resources. That is why the United States Mint had embarked on projects to reduce our energy, water and material use during coin production. 

The functions of each US Mint are as follows:

Headquarters, Washington, D.C.:  Policy formulation and central agency administration; program management; research and development; marketing operations; customer services and order processing; business unit management, all website services.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:  Sculpting-engraving of U.S. coins and medals; production of medal and coin dies; production of coins of all denominations for general circulation; production of regular uncirculated coin sets; production of commemorative coins as authorized by Congress; production of medals; and conducting of public tours.

Denver, Colorado:  Production of coins of all denominations for general circulation; production of coin dies; production of regular uncirculated coin sets; production of commemorative coins as authorized by Congress; and the conducting of public tours; and storage of gold and silver bullion.

San Francisco, California:  Production of regular proof coin sets in clad and silver; production of commemorative coins as authorized by Congress.
West Point, New York:  Production of all uncirculated and proof one-ounce silver bullion coins; all sizes of the uncirculated and proof gold bullion coins; one-ounce platinum bullion coins; the 24-karat one-ounce American Buffalo Gold Bullion Coin; and commemorative coins as authorized by Congress; and storage of silver, gold and platinum bullion.

Fort Knox, Kentucky:  Storage of U.S. gold bullion.


The Denver Firefighters Museum is located in a historic firehouse, Historic Station No. 1, built in 1909 by the Denver architect Glenn W. Huntington.[2] Historic Station One is actually the second station one. The original Station One was located at the corner of 15th Street and Broadway. It was torn down in 1909 to make way for The Pioneer Monument.

Our next stop was the Colorado Convention Center (CCC) which is a multi-purpose convention center.  The center opened in June 1990; the first event being the NBA Draft for the Denver Nuggets.  The Colorado Convention Center underwent a $340 million major expansion that was completed in December 2004. The expansion doubled the size of the facility which now consists of 584,000 square feet (54,300 m2) of exhibit space, 100,000 square feet (9,300 m2) of meeting rooms, and 85,000 square feet (7,900 m2) of ballroom space. The expansion of the facility also included the spectacular 5,000 seat Wells Fargo Theatre. The CCC is now 2.2 million gross square feet.

A public art collection is featured throughout the interior and exterior of the convention center. The most visible work is I See What You Mean by Lawrence Argent, located just to the left of the main entrance on 14th Street. Erected in June 2005, the 40-foot (12.19 meters)-tall polymer-concrete-clad sculpture is in the form of a lapis-lazuli-colored bear pushing its nose and paws against the glass facade, attempting to peer inside. 

We then walked down to Larimer Square.  In November 1858, General William Larimer, a land speculator from eastern Kansas, placed logs to stake a square-mile claim on the site of the St. Charles claim, across the creek from the existing mining settlement of Auraria. The majority of the settlers in St. Charles had returned to Kansas for the winter and left only a small number of people behind to guard their claim. Larimer and his followers gave the representatives whiskey, promises, and threats and the St. Charles claim was surrendered.

The name of the site was changed to “Denver City” after Kansas Territorial Governor James W. Denver, in an attempt to ensure that the city would become the county seat of then Arapaho County, Kansas. Ironically, when Larimer named the city after Denver to curry favor with him, Denver had already resigned as governor and no longer had say in naming the capitol.

As the Mile High City’s oldest and most historic block, the buildings along Larimer Square are now home to an inspired mix of independent shops, chef-driven restaurants and lively bars & clubs.

It seems every major city has a Union Station.  Denver Union Station is the main railway station and central transportation hub.  It is located at 17th and Wynkoop Streets in the present-day LoDo (lowered downtown) district and includes the historic terminal building, a train shed canopy, a 22-gate underground bus facility, and light rail station.  A station opened on the site June 1, 1881, burning in 1894. The current structure was erected in two stages, with an enlarged central portion completed in 1914.

In 2012, the station underwent a major renovation transforming it into the centerpiece of a new transit-oriented mixed use development built on the site’s former rail-yards.  The station house re-opened in the summer of 2014 as a combination of the 112-room Crawford Hotel, several restaurants and retailers, and a train hall.

Our last stop on the tour was Coors Field which is home to the Colorado Rockies the city’s Major League Baseball franchise. It is named Coors Field due to Coors beer having the naming rights.  The stadium seats just over 50,000 people.

The temperature had risen to about 33 degrees so after the tour we took solace in an air conditioned bar to plan our next move.  The Canadians on our tour had recomended having lunch at The Cheesecake Factory which apparently had a very extensive food menu besides a very extensive cheesecake menu.  They were right – they had a great menu with lots of healthy options too.

After lunch we revisited Larimer Square – there were lots of cool little shops.  As the day wore on the skies got quite dark which has become the norm on our road trip – it gets so hot during the day that the sky explodes briefly late afternoon.  We were hoping it would hold off until after we found out where we were to catch the bus back to the suburbs.  We were pretty lucky and only got a few spits before getting on the bus – no dramas getting back to the hotel : )

We were very impressed with Denver and pleased we had ventured in to explore what it had to offer.

Ten Things to know about Denver City


Located east of a major mountain range, Denver has a mild, dry and sunny climate with more annual hours of sun than San Diego or Miami Beach. In winter, Denver is dryer than Phoenix with an average daily high of 7 degrees Celcius in February. Golf courses remain open all year and have been played as many as 30 days in January. Denver receives only 14 inches of precipitation a year – about the same as Los Angeles.


In its Old West days, Denver had a performance of Macbeth before it had a school or a hospital. That performance took place in a saloon. Today, Metro Denver collects more for the arts on a per capita basis than any other city. The seven county Denver metro area has a self-imposed tenth of a cent sales tax for the arts that raises more than $40 million a year, which is distributed to 300 arts organizations and facilities.


Denver is located on high rolling plains, 12 miles east of the “foothills,” a series of gentle mountains that climb to 11,000 feet. Just beyond is the “Front Range of the Rocky Mountains,” a series of formidable snowcapped peaks that rise to 14,000 feet. Denver might not be in the mountains, but the mountains still dominate the city. The picturesque mountain panorama from Denver is 140 miles long. There are 200 visible named peaks including 32 that soar to 13,000 feet and above. State law prohibits building any structure that would block the view from the Colorado State Capitol. Penetrating the mountains west of Denver required building the highest auto tunnel in the world (Eisenhower Tunnel) and the sixth longest railroad tunnel in the country (Moffat Tunnel).


Denver grew by 30 percent in the 1990s – an average of 1,000 new residents a week, every week for 10 years. In this period, the Hispanic population in Colorado increased by 73 percent. Today, over 30 percent of the City of Denver is of Hispanic and Latino descent and 11 percent are African American. Denver’s diversity is celebrated at numerous festivals and events including the nation’s largest Cinco de Mayo celebration and the largest Martin Luther King Jr. march and rally, referred to the locals as a “marade.” Denver’s population in 2014 was 648,937, making it the 23rd largest city in the U.S. The seven county metro area has nearly 3.0 million people.


In 1858, there was not a single person living in the Denver metro area except for some migrating camps of Arapaho and Cheyenne Native Americans. Just 30 years later, Colorado was a state with a population of almost 200,000. It was a Gold Rush that caused this boom and in a 30 to 40 year period Denver saw some of the wildest events in the “Wild West.” This fascinating period is brought to life at museums, old gold mining towns and in hundreds of elegant Victorian buildings. LoDo (lower downtown), a 26 square block historic district, has the largest concentration of Victorian and turn-of-the-century buildings in the country. Today, LoDo is home to 90 brewpubs, rooftop cafes, restaurants, sports bars and nightclubs. The History Colorado Center is a $120 million interactive museum where it is possible to descend into a coal mine, jump off a ski jump and visit other exciting moments from Denver and Colorado history.


Denver is one of only two cities (Philadelphia is the other) to have seven professional sports teams: NFL Denver Broncos; NBA Denver Nuggets; NHL Colorado Avalanche; MLB Colorado Rockies; MLS Colorado Rapids; MLL Colorado Outlaws; and NLL Colorado Mammoth. The Colorado Rockies have 11 Major League Baseball attendance records, while the Denver Broncos have sold out every game for more than 20 years. Denver also hosts one of the world’s largest rodeos – the National Western Stock Show & Rodeo. Denver was the only city to build three new sports stadiums in the 1990s: 50,000-seat Coors Field; 75,000-seat Sports Authority Field at Mile High and 20,000-seat Pepsi Center


The first building in Denver was a saloon, so it’s natural that Denver would become a great beer town. Coors Brewery is the world’s largest. Denver’s Great American Beer Festival is the largest in the nation, offering more than 6,700 different beers for tasting. The Wynkoop Brewing Company is one of the largest brewpubs in the country. On an average day in the Denver Metro area, more than 200 different beers are brewed and can be enjoyed in 100 breweries, brew pubs and tap rooms.


By an amazing stroke of good luck, the 13th step on the west side of the State Capitol Building is exactly 5,280 feet above sea level – one mile high. In Denver’s rarified air, golf balls go 10 percent farther. So do cocktails. Alcoholic drinks pack more of a punch than at sea level. The sun feels warmer, because you are closer to it and there is 25 percent less protection from the sun.

The Mile High City is also extremely dry, so it is a good idea to drink more water than usual. With less water vapor in the air at this altitude, the sky really is bluer in Colorado.


Unlike some Western cities, Denver has a definitive, exciting and walkable downtown – the 10th largest in the nation. Within just a one mile radius, there are three sports stadiums, the country’s second largest performing arts complex, an assortment of art and history museums, a mint producing 10 billion coins a year, a river offering whitewater rafting, the country’s only downtown amusement park, a world-class aquarium, more than 8,500 hotel rooms and more than 300 restaurants, brewpubs, rooftop cafes and music venues. The 16th Street Mall is a mile-long pedestrian promenade that cuts through the center of downtown lined with 200 trees and 42 outdoor cafes. Free electric shuttle buses travel up and down the Mall, stopping on every corner. After 6 p.m., the Mall comes alive with horse-drawn carriages and pedicabs. 


Denver has more than 200 parks within the city and 14,000 acres of parks in the nearby mountains, including the spectacular Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre, a 9,000 seat amphitheatre that has hosted everyone from the Beatles to top symphony orchestras. Rolling Stone has called Red Rocks the best outdoor concert venue in the world.

The city has its own buffalo herd located in the mountains with a panoramic view. Other mountain parks include Echo Lake, at the base of the Mount Evans highway – the highest paved road in North America climbing to a 14,260-foot summit, and Buffalo Bill’s Grave on top of Lookout Mountain, the final resting spot of the famous frontier scout and showman.

Denver plants more than 200,000 flowers in 26 formal flower gardens every spring. Metro Denver is home to more than 85 miles of off-street bike paths, one of the largest urban bike trail systems in the nation. Denver B-cycle has more than 800 bright red Trek bikes available for rental at 84 stations across the city. Simply swipe a credit card and pedal off.
There are 90 golf courses in the metro area that stay open all year long due to Denver’s mild winters. With all of these recreational opportunities, a federal study recently found that Denver has the thinnest residents of any major U.S. city.


This blog was originally set up to share our 9 month adventure around Europe and the USA with friends and family in 2014. On returning to NZ in January 2015 I decided to carry it on so I could continue to share any future travel adventures - it has become my electronic travel diary. I hope you enjoy and get inspired to visit some of the wonderful places we have visited.
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