Mile-high magic

Above: The vibrant 16th Street Mall stretches the length of downtown Denver.

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New attractions in Denver make a trip to the
mountains a must this year.

S T O R Y   A N D   P H O T O S   B Y   J A C K   O L S E N

here’s a new gold rush in Colorado, but those aren’t covered wagons heading west; it’s a host of sedans, SUVs, campers and travel trailers on their way to find out what’s been going on in the Mile High City.

In the last decade–and even the last couple of years–there has been dizzying change, and it hasn’t stopped yet. Take a look at just some of the reasons why you might want to stop in Denver for a while before heading up to those gleaming mountains.

Score a variety of sports

Sports fans may know that Denver has seven professional teams, something for almost any fan, and the teams play in or near downtown Denver. Plan ahead to secure tickets. After a game, grab a bite to eat or something to wet the whistle in LoDo, home to many restaurants and bars.

Museums and a zoo

There are now new reasons to visit the popular Denver Museum of Nature and Science in City Park. A major renovation was completed in 2003 and the changes are striking. Interactive exhibits have visitors, especially children, scampering for that section of the museum. The Gates Planetarium is wholly reconstructed and now takes visitors on realistic voyages to the stars.

Other areas of the museum not to be missed are Prehistoric Journey and the IMAX Theater. Finally, there is a viewing terrace at the museum, from which you can enjoy a spreading landscape over the park and downtown, all the way to the distant Continental Divide.

Also in City Park, don’t miss the redesigned Denver Zoo. A savanna-like African plain will open in summer 2004. Visitors will experience a nature preserve, home to lions, zebras, giraffes and other African wildlife.

Smaller museum gems include the Black American West Museum that interprets the contribution of blacks to the development of the West. The Butterfly Pavilion and Insect Center is a delight for children and adults. The Molly Brown house, home of the heroine of the Titanic, offers daily tours. There’s also Colorado’s Ocean Journey Aquarium, Children’s Museum and the Colorado Railroad Museum for further exploration.


Everyone loves a dinosaur. Some of the first discoveries of dinosaur fossils in America were made in Colorado in the early 20th century. View dinosaur bones and tracks in place on Dinosaur Ridge near Morrison just west of Denver. There’s a museum and a walking trail with many interpretive signs along the way.

Denver is known nationally as a city of parks. More than 200 parks grace the city, but several lie outside the city limits.

Perhaps Denver’s most popular outlying park is Red Rocks at the edge of the foothills. The jewel of the park is Red Rocks Amphitheater, built into towering sandstone upthrusts and able to seat up to 9,000 people for concerts and the annual Easter sunrise service. An amphitheater renovation was completed in 2003 with a new visitor center and museum describing the geology of the rocks and the history of the amphitheater. Whether there’s a concert or not, a visit to the amphitheater is bound to be rewarding.


Denver’s Performing Arts Complex is the nation’s second-largest. At any time of year, there will be concerts, plays, musicals or revues for most any taste.

Just about any time you arrive in Denver, there will be a cultural festival to entertain and inform. The Cinco de Mayo Festival, held the first weekend in May, is one of the nation’s largest and most colorful portrayals of Denver’s Mexican heritage.

The oldest structure in Denver is Four Mile House, center of a living history park, which also hosts special events. The old-fashioned Independence Day celebration has arts and crafts, music, wagon rides, gold panning and free fresh-baked cookies. The Harvest Festival in fall features pumpkins, music and hayrides.

Shopping and dining

Many visitors love a trip to Denver mainly for the shopping. Enjoy shopping and dining in downtown’s Larimer Square, a full block of historic structures. Just a block away from Larimer Square is the pedestrian-friendly 16th Street Mall that stretches the length of downtown. A free bus shuttle keeps shoppers on the move, from one end of the mile-long mall to the other. Denver Pavilions opened in 1998 and features restaurants and shops.

On the way

Important developments are underway which will further transform Denver’s cultural and architectural landscape. An outstanding expansion to the Denver Art Museum is on its way to completion in 2006. This structure will feature rising shards, reminiscent of the petals of a flower opening.

A major expansion of the Denver Convention Center will be completed in late 2004. There has never been more to do or see in Denver. “Pikes Peak or Bust” is part of Colorado’s storied past. “Mile High Magic” is here and now.

Jack Olson is a contributor from Denver, Colo.

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