Thanks to my friend, I didn’t have to book any special tours to visit the sights in the area around Denver. There are more than a few places to visit that are within an easy day trip away.
One thing that was made clear to me as we headed west was that we’d be going nowhere near the actual Rocky Mountains – just the foothills, as it were. You could easily tell which mountains were part of the Rockies – they had snow on them. No snow; not the Rockies.
Our first visit was to Idaho Springs, a tiny little town in Clear Creek Canyon. There’s not much to see or do there – except for the massive Argo Mill that dominates the hillside. It’s a huge processing plant for the gold ore that was mined out of the hills in the first half of the 20th century. There was some work being done around the Mill when we visited. Looks like they’re improving the access road and parking area.
A short film that is shown at the start of the tour explains the history:
It’s probably the only National Historic Site that you can tour that is also an EPA Superfund site. Water is still seeping through all those mine shafts and cracks, picking up all manner of toxic heavy metals along the way….
I noted that the design of the Mill meant that gravity helped a lot in the processing. Rough ore got dumped in at the top, and was ground up and treated as it basically slid down to the next level. I was interesting to see how gold was mined and processed at an industrial scale – in ways that would violate so many worker safety regulations today.
At the end of the tour, we got to try our hand at finding gold the old-fashioned way – panning for it. We each got a pan and a bag of sand, and stood over water-filled troughs to try it out. I have to wonder how they knew each bag had some gold flecks in it…. There’s a little trick to jerking the pan just the right way to get the lighter sand out, leaving the heavier stuff – and gold flecks – behind. I couldn’t get the hang of it. But I still fished out a few tiny bits of gold. Maybe about a dollar’s worth.
We also went to Boulder, to check out the Pearl Street Mall. Boulder has the vibe of a college town, with a lot of little shops, brew pubs, and boutiques. Which isn’t surprising, as it’s the home of the University of Colorado. Pearl Street is the heart of downtown Boulder, and is for pedestrians only. It’s one of the few places around that actually allows for and encourages street entertainers.
That’s a sort of lost art. Sure, many cities will sponsor street musicians. But entertainers like Peter Irish? Sure, they could perform in a club somewhere. But up close interactions with the audience is what makes the whole thing worthwhile.
Speaking of performers, the Red Rocks Amphitheater is also a short way away. An internationally known outdoor concert venue stuck in the middle of some massive outcrops of red sandstone. They were getting ready for a concert when we came by, so we could only visit the gift shop / Colorado Music Hall of Fame. The land formations in the area are really weird. You’ve got the blobs of red sandstone, all pitted and gouged into strange shapes from erosion. Tall, steep-sided rocks called “The Flatirons” that look like something stabbed up from underground. All set in gently rolling hills, that get higher and higher to the west. Plenty of hiking trails, if that’s your thing.
On the way back from the Red Rocks Amphitheater, we stopped at The Fort for dinner. A replica of the “Bent’s Fort” trading post that got turned into a restaurant so the owners could pay off the construction loan…. If you’re a meat eater, Denver is a great place for you. They have access to not just really good beef, but things like bison, quail, and elk.
By the way, Rocky Mountain Oysters taste like their breading and sauce….
A bit more on dining in Denver as I wrap this all up in the next post.