Chuck Thompson writes, in Smile While You're Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer, some negative things about Colorado. He casts the entire Centennial State onto his list of travel destinations that don't live up to their hype. He describes it as a Midwestern state masquerading as the West. Based on what I saw between the state line and Denver, I drew the same conclusion. From that stretch of I-76, Colorado looked like Nebraska.
The next day, after a morning exploring the city, my impression of Denver was that it was hot, dry, and crowded. The streets had traffic. We had difficulty finding a place to park. All lunch recommendations in our Let's Go book were expensive. After so much time in empty places, so much time driving on the open road, a real city seemed frustrating and exhausting. I was not crazy about Denver.
We left Denver and headed toward the mountains, planning to stop for lunch in Boulder. The small part of Boulder we drove through on our way to Estes Park looked very suburban. Nowhere did I see the hippie college town I'd heard about.
When we got to Estes Park, it was full of tourists. We saw a lot of things for sale. Things being sold to tourists, who were crowding the streets.
I am now about make a confession. This was something I felt needed to be kept secret, and with even more urgency when I began dating a man from Colorado. Until five minutes ago, I hadn't even told him.
The first time I went to Colorado, I did not like it.
Our experiences traveling from Denver to the mountains even colored my perceptions of Rocky Mountain National Park. At the time, I was disappointed that it wasn't as nice as I remembered Montana.
Why am I writing this, despite the fact that some of my readers are members of my boyfriend's family from Colorado? Because I can admit when I was wrong. When I visited Colorado for the second time, with MBF, I was met with pleasant surprises every day. Colorado is nice! The part of Colorado that we visited was not at all like I remember Denver...and now I'd like to give Denver a second chance. When I returned to Colorado in 2010, I loved it. But this post is about 2009, not 2010, and now that I've gotten all that off my chest, I'll resume the story of the day I went to Colorado and wasn't too thrilled with it.
One thing I loved about Denver was its neighborhoods with old, colorful houses.
The first site we visited was the Black American West Museum. It was interesting, but more than the exhibits I saw and signage I read, I remember the strange experience we had there.
When we walked into the museum, which is in a house like the ones pictured above in the neighborhood pictured above, we passed a boy, probably about ten years old, walking through the doorway out of the building. He looked at us, but did not say a word. We continued into the museum, and for the remainder of our visit, we did not see another living soul. No one was at the reception desk. We waited for the receptionist, whom we were sure was just on a bathroom break, to tell us how much to pay and collect our money. Time passed; we gave up and put some money in the donation jar. After spending an hour or so exploring the museum, we started to think it was strange that we had seen no one else in the building aside from the little boy on his way out. I wanted to use the restroom before we got back in the car, but when I saw that I couldn't get there without walking down a staircase into the basement, I chickened out. We saw no one walk into the museum as we left and walked to the car. We saw no sign of the little boy we had seen on the way in. I still wonder what was happening that day.
Oh well. We moved on to the city center, where we stood at the mile high step.
Then we set out for Rocky Mountain National Park.
A storm moved in.
It chased us out of the park, to the giant gift shop where we bought mugs, shot glasses, and more postcards. Have I explained yet about the postcards? As if collecting shot glasses wasn't enough, when I travel, I compulsively buy post cards. I have a long list of post card recipients. Every time I consider thinning the list, I think about that recipient whose name I am about to cross off and how happy they'd be getting real mail that isn't bills or junk. Even with such a long list, I overbuy post cards. Then I don't know what to do with them. So I have them in my hanging file drawer, in the "Travel" file, and they are paperclipped together by destination. When I returned to Colorado in 2010, I brought with me postcards from 2009 to write and send. (And I still have to buy more.) If I go to San Francisco this month, as planned, I will bring with me post cards from my 2008 trip to that city.
I'll end with one more picture. Can you believe I was grouchy and comparing this to Montana?
For more pictures of my trip, including Rocky Mountain National Park, check out my Flickr page.