Archive for April, 2019

Denver wrap up and stray observations

April 30th, 2019

16th St Mall in the evening
Denver’s 16th Street mall in the evening

Now that I’ve left Denver I thought I’d reflect on some of what I noticed there, both big and small.

Let me get the two big ones out of the way first:

  1. Yes, the rumors are true: Denver is a very hipster city. Food halls, tiny concert venues, third wave coffee roasters, fancy men’s barber shops, small-batch breweries — it’s all there.
  2. The elevation wasn’t as noticeable as I thought it would be. I walked a lot more than usual while I was there too; perhaps it helps that Denver’s a relatively flat city?

Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception

From the top of the capitol building I spotted a striking neo-Gothic church. I asked the tour guide about it and he said it’s called the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.

I tried visiting a couple times to look at the interior but on both occasions the door was locked. The sign said it was open for other activities both earlier and later that same day — is it just me or is it a little weird for such a grand looking church to lock the doors during the middle of the day?

C Squared (cider brewery)

While perusing a Whole Foods for breakfast options I came across the beer aisle, suddenly craving an apple cider. I couldn’t find any, so I asked an employee where I could find the ciders. She sighed and explained that in Colorado, grocery stores couldn’t even sell beer until very recently, and they still couldn’t sell wine — and for whatever reason cider is considered wine. Apparently you have to go to a liquor store to buy any alcoholic beverage other than beer.

Keep in mind, this is a state where marijuana is legal.

Anyway the next day while taking photos of street art in RiNo I noticed a big warehouse-looking building with a sign that said C Squared Ciders. I went in, walked upstairs, and found myself in their tasting room, overlooking their cider production facilities. I ordered a cider flight, as seen in the above photo. That really hit the spot.

Transamerica non-pyramid

The offices of Transamerica in Denver are in a boring looking office tower, but at the top there’s a sign with their Transamerica Pyramid logo. It seems funny to me for a company to be so closely associated with a building that they’d attach an image of it to other, much less iconic buildings.

Coors Field

Oh and speaking of buildings that reminded me of San Francisco, Coors Field — home of the Rockies baseball team — looks awfully similar to AT&T Park Oracle Park. As it happens, Coors Field was built only a few years earlier and both share the same architects.

The design aesthetics have a reason for looking so similar. The brick facades of both ballparks reflect the prevailing architecture lining both Downtown Denver and San Francisco’s SOMA, where old brick shipping warehouses have been repurposed for new uses.

Washington Park

Although Washington Park is not a very interesting neighborhood in general, its namesake park features two lakes, a boathouse, a large picnic area, and a huge path around the park that’s only for biking, walking, and jogging.

A few blocks from the park is “Old South Gaylord Street,” where one block of an otherwise residential street is lined with restaurants and boutiques. Unfortunately for me I just wanted coffee and the one thing unexpectedly missing from Old South Gaylord Street is a cafe.



Although I’d already seen On Cinema Live a few months ago in San Francisco, I had no doubt I wanted to see their live show a second time.

I was pretty bummed when I was halfway through planning this trip and realized I’d have to miss their live show in Chicago — so when they announced a Denver show that lined up with my plans perfectly, I jumped at the chance. Turns out I wasn’t the only one interested; for a live show based on a web series that’s barely promoted at all, the place was packed.

That wraps up Denver; next time I’ll begin posting on my adventures in Salt Lake City.

Guided tours of Denver

April 29th, 2019

Tattered Cover Book Store

Downtown Denver’s Best Walking Tour

This two hour downtown tour covers a lot of ground, both historically and physically. It was the first tour I took in Denver and proved to be a good jumping off point for my stay there. The tours are led by Austin, a local guide with significant experience who was quick to offer suggestions of what else to see and do in the area.

The photo above is the inside of Tattered Cover, an indie bookstore with a huge selection and a small cafe. It’s an early stop on the tour — and one that I returned to because I wanted to browse their vast magazine section.

What makes this tour special is the limited group size. In fact I was the only one who booked the tour that morning so it was just me and Austin walking around and chatting.

Book this tour on Airbnb Experiences.

RiNo street art

Denver Graffiti Tour, aka Tour Denver’s Best Street Art

The more detailed info in my post on the street art in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood is largely from the expertise provided by a guide on this tour.

Everything on this tour is free to see on your own, the reason to go on the tour is to learn more about the artists and how the vibrant street art scene works in RiNo.

Book this tour through their official website or on Airbnb Experiences.

Boozy Bites Tour

Boozy Bites Tour, aka Craft Beer, Cocktails, & Savory Bites

This tour combines some of Denver’s downtown food, cocktail, and beer hot spots into one tour. The food’s enough for a light meal and there’s enough alcohol to leave you a little tipsy by the end.

It’s a two and half hour tour, which sounds long but there were a couple moments that felt a little rushed. That said everything I tried was excellent and they graciously accommodated my no-meat diet.

Book this tour through their official website or on Airbnb Experiences.

Getting around Denver via RTD public transit

April 29th, 2019

Denver streetcar

Denver’s public transit system is called RTD (or “Regional Transportation District”… how creative) and it makes getting around the city a snap. It integrates seamlessly into Google Maps, so much so that I found Google’s arrival estimates more accurate than RTD’s own displays.

RTD has three types of vehicles: buses, light rail, and commuter rail. For the most available transit options I’d recommend staying downtown or nearby.

You can buy tickets in cash on buses or with vending machines at some stops, but I used the RTD Tickets phone app. At least on iPhone you have the option to purchase tickets with Apple Pay for extra security.

The basic standard adult tickets are currently $3 for a three hour pass, or $6 for an entire day. There are multiple fare zones most tourists won’t have to worry about except for one: the dreaded “airport” fare zone ticket costs a whopping $10.50. For up to date fare information check here.

Side note: ever wondered why so many cities have nearly identical RFID card payment systems for transit? They’re all using the same provider. Not in Denver though.

Downtown there’s also two free bus options: the 16th Street Free MallRide along the busy pedestrian shopping corridor, and the Free MetroRide which is aimed more at local commuters. Both go between Union Station and Civic Center but do so along different routes.

It’s not obvious from how slowly it inches along downtown, but the light rail has a right of way with no cross traffic in the southwest part of town and quickly speeds between stations. Lines that compete with mixed traffic aren’t so lucky.

I was surprised to find an entirely new commuter rail line opened up during my stay in Denver, the G line. Hopefully that’s a sign of more to come.

I think the longest I had to wait for an RTD bus or train while in Denver was about 12 minutes. That’s not bad in spring weather, though I’d probably feel differently if I’d visited Denver during the winter months.

If you’d like to go beyond Denver check out Union Station. Aside from RTD’s commuter rail and Amtrak at the ground level there’s also an underground bus station. I found out about this way too late for my own trip, if I’d known earlier I think I might have factored in time for a day trip to a nearby city, perhaps Boulder? Point is you can venture beyond Denver pretty easily on a bus if you plan for it.

Street art in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood

April 28th, 2019

RiNo street art
Love this city

There’s street art all over Denver, from the murals hidden under bridges to the sculptures in the alleys along the 16th Street Mall. But there’s only one neighborhood that’s famous for its street art: River North, also known as RiNo.

Walking to RiNo from downtown is a pretty reasonable 20 minutes or so. The main street in the area is Larimer Street, northeast of Broadway if you’re approaching from downtown.

Like many rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods it’s a mix of all types of restaurants and bars, brand new condos, and small older homes. What makes the neighborhood unique though is a block or two away from the busy Larimer corridor are several mid-sized beer and cider brewing companies.

RiNo street art RiNo street art RiNo street art RiNo street art RiNo street art RiNo street art

Many of the larger murals in RiNo are commissioned pieces painted as part of a yearly festival called CRUSH. Still others were commissioned by the city to spruce up abandoned storefronts. And then of course are those back alley murals that may not technically speaking be entirely legal.

The artists behind the murals in RiNo are everyone from local art school students to internationally recognized artists. I suspect even the most amateur street art enthusiast can spot the mural in this blog post by Shepard Fairey.

RiNo street art RiNo street art RiNo street art RiNo street art RiNo street art RiNo street art

Aside from the above galleries, I wanted to point out a few of the more unique murals I spotted in RiNo.

RiNo street art
RiNo street art RiNo street art

Local artist Jeremy Burns took a blank wall with “fins” protruding from it and turned a single wall into two murals. Depending on which way you approach the wall you’ll either see a cartoonish boy or girl figure. From head on across the street it doesn’t look like anything at all!

RiNo street art

What strikes me about this painting is how hyper-realistic the two girls’ faces look, and yet it’s spray painted on an uneven brick wall. There’s some serious skill at work here.

I regret that I couldn’t find any signature on this one. I assume it’s signed one way or another, but there were cars parked too close for me to make anything out.

RiNo street art

On the more whimsical side there are tiny paintings of construction workers all over RiNo. These are from street artist Jaune who came all the way from Belgium.

The tiny construction workers find themselves in various situations, such as descending from a window in the above photo to climbing on gas meters.

RiNo street art

Lastly is this corner mural from a local street artist known as Gamma. It depicts a black woman with some kind of skin condition; perhaps vitiligo. From the opposite corner it seems she’s staring at you.

Getting closer a few more things pop out, especially the details on her eyes and lips that seem impossibly intricate for a spray paint mural.

And then there’s her skin condition, which is a map of the world.

My recommendation: If you’re into street art there’s plenty to see all over Denver, but if you want to see the most world class works head over to RiNo. Of course there’s no guarantee you’ll see any of the works I’ve photographed on your visit as they change all the time due to the ephemeral nature of street art.

International Church of Cannabis

April 27th, 2019

International Church of Cannabis
International Church of Cannabis International Church of Cannabis International Church of Cannabis International Church of Cannabis

As a Pink Floyd song ended, the psychedelic animation on the interior walls and ceilings faded into a rotating star field, and the audio of Steve Jobs’ “Here’s to the crazy ones” played. Then a song by The Doors came on along with more trippy visuals.

It was easy to forget I was sitting on a church pew as these visuals filled with room accompanied by 1960’s hippie rock music. This wasn’t your typical church: it’s the International Church of Cannabis.

Most of the information online about the place is wildly out of date, but essentially if you’re not a church member you can pay $15 for the 30 minute Beyond guided meditation and light show. This takes place during the public hours on Fridays and weekends. There’s no free entry to the church space anymore for non-members. Hey, everyone has to pay their bills.

After the show you can take photos of the colorful murals lining the walls and ceilings of the main space seen in the photo gallery above. Even though the visuals are projected over these murals, for the most part they’re not visible during the light show.

Members of the church are called Elevationists and you can read more about their beliefs here. The tl;dr version is they treat marijuana as a sacrament but have no strict dogma. No marijuana consumption is allowed inside during public hours.

Despite the name there’s nothing “international” about this church, they only have a single congregation. It’s very much something you’d only find in Denver.

The church is located in the sleepy Washington Park (aka “Wash Park”) neighborhood, a short walk from the Alameda light rail station.

My recommendation: While I can’t tell you if the religion of Elevationism is right for you, if you want to see a light show timed to 1960’s music and see some amazing murals all in one place, pay a visit to the International Church of Cannabis while visiting Denver.

Millennium Bridge and Confluence Park

April 25th, 2019

Millennium Bridge

A short walk from Denver’s Union Station is an unusual pedestrian suspension bridge: Millennium Bridge. From certain angles it looks like the mast of a sailboat.

Millennium Bridge is tiny by suspension bridge standards, it only exists so people can walk across the train lines below. The unusual tilt in the tower is part of the design, accentuated by the fact that it’s dwarfed by significantly taller and straighter buildings on either side.

Denver Millennium Bridge

On top of the bridge the train lines are visible below. On one side the passenger trains serving Amtrak and regional trains are visible at the Union Station platforms. On the other you’re more likely to see freight trains.

The above photo shows two freight trains carrying coal. Not the cleanest source of power, though there’s a good chance that train will pass a wind farm or two on its way east.

Confluence Park

Just across the bridge to the east is a series riverfront parks. These parks feature paved pathways for joggers and bicyclists, play areas for kids, and local wildlife. (Who knew that Denver has so many wild rabbits?)

One small section of the park is known as Confluence Park — the merge point of two natural water streams: the smaller Cherry Creek flows into the larger South Platte River.

Which brings us back to energy. Early western settlers had limited sources of energy, and one of them would have been water (think old wood waterwheels, not hydroelectric dams.) I don’t have much verifiable history here but supposedly waterwheels were built along the South Platte River in Denver.

It’s hard to imagine powering anything off such a modest river these days, though it might have made sense in an era when Denver was a small farming town with grain mills as the only consumer of energy.

Colorado State Capitol building and the mile high marker

April 25th, 2019

Colorado State Capitol Building
Colorado State Capitol Building Colorado State Capitol Building
Colorado State Capitol Building Colorado State Capitol Building

Denver is the state capitol of Colorado and their capitol building is free and open to visitors during normal operating hours. It’s a beautiful late 19th century building with a gold-leaf dome. Best of all you can get there for free on either the MallRide or MetroRide buses by hopping off at the Civic Center terminal.

During my visit both the state house of representatives and state senate were in session. The photo in the gallery above is the representatives who were going through some dry procedural issues like scheduling.

I also got to see part of a press conference downstairs where the governor was speaking. Only recognized him thanks to finding his photo on Google on the way over.

A somewhat unusual feature for a state capitol is a gallery of painted portraits of every US president. They were all painted by the same artist except for Obama, as the artist passed away by that time. There’s currently space for Trump once the portrait is completed.

The capitol building has a free guided tour running every hour. More information here.

I went in and asked at the information desk about the tour. As it turns out that’s where you sign up for the tour — this isn’t mentioned on their website — and although the next tour was minutes away from starting I was lucky enough to be able to join in. If you visit during peak tourist season it’s recommended to get there much earlier.

The tour goes through most of the public spaces in the building, covers some of the art honoring the historic figures of Colorado, and finishes in a fantastic place most tourists aren’t allowed to visit: the dome’s balcony.

Colorado State Capitol Building Colorado State Capitol Building

At the top floor visitors are allowed to enter on their own is a small exhibit on the history of the building and Colorado’s government. The exhibit walls feature windows where you can see the large attic space between the building’s roof and interior ceilings.

On the tour the guide unlocks a door leading into this “in between” attic space and directs everyone to a utilitarian metal staircase. At the top of the stairs is a narrow walkway on the interior of the dome.

The real treat though is walking out to the exterior balcony where there’s an amazing view of the city. I was lucky enough to visit on a clear day where the snow-capped Rocky Mountains were visible in the distance.

Many of us on the tour had questions for the guide about what we were seeing in the distance and down below, and he happily answered every question.

One mile above sea level

Outside the building on the steps to the west entrance (not a public entrance) there words “One Mile Above Sea Level” are engraved into the steps. Denver is known as the mile high city, after all.

As it turns out measuring a mile above sea level is a bit of a fool’s errand when the sea is nowhere in sight. In fact there are two different medallions embedded in the steps claiming to be the one mile high mark — one on a couple steps above the engraving, and one a couple steps below. More information on why these measurements differ can be found on Atlas Obscura.

My recommendation: If you want to glimpse a state government in action, you enjoy American neoclassical architecture, you want to know more about American history, or even if you just want a nice view of Denver, it’s all there at the Colorado State Capitol building and costs nothing. The tour itself is 45-60 minutes. You’ll have to locate the mile high marker on your own but it’s pretty easy to find and the tour guide can point you in the right direction if you ask.

Denver Botanic Gardens and Cheesman Park

April 23rd, 2019

Denver Botanic Gardens
Denver Botanic Gardens Denver Botanic Gardens Denver Botanic Gardens Denver Botanic Gardens

Arriving early this morning in Denver I stopped at a cafe to figure out what I wanted to do before my Airbnb was ready for check-in. Not everything I had down on my to do list was open yet, but I noticed the Denver Botanic Gardens was about to open for the day.

While taking the bus there I looked up the associated park behind the gardens, Cheesman Park. I’ll get to that part in a moment.

Unlike other botanical gardens I’ve visited, the Denver Botanic Gardens is enormous. The outdoor area is broken down into sections, focusing on plants from different climates and parts of the world. Each part of the garden looks different to reflect its theme, for example the section with native plants from Colorado looks like a rocky desert, whereas the Chinese/Korean section is decorated with a stone pathway and wood gates.

The Japanese part of the park was a little lacking on my visit as it was too cold for the bonsai trees so they’d all been moved indoors to a greenhouse inaccessible to guests.

The tropical greenhouses are accessible to guests though, and the largest of them is an egg-shaped building with a “treehouse” you can climb around in to view three levels of plants inside the building.

Statues are present throughout the park, some of which at least are part of a rotating exhibition.

All of this could have been a nice peaceful stroll through a collection of plants, but it was not to be. Multiple field trips were making their way through the park. One group of high school art students kept to themselves and their watercolors, but a much, much larger group of shrieking little kids kept running around, ignoring the staff who kept politely asking them to knock it off.

Cheesman Park

Around the back of the Botanic Gardens is Cheesman Park, named after a 19th century Denver businessman. The park is mostly lawn with paths for walking and jogging. The only major structure is the pavilion seen in the above photo.

It seems like a fairly uninteresting park — and it would be if not for its morbid history.

Previously the land that’s now Chessman Park was a cemetery shared by people of many religious and ethnic backgrounds. By the time the 19th century was wrapping up it had fallen into disuse, and since it was in a wealthy part of town there was pressure to clear the land for new uses.

They started by reaching out to families and churches to see if they could get the bodies moved. That worked to an extent but what to do with the rest of them? The city hired an undertaker to dig up and bury the bodies elsewhere. The undertaker didn’t have enough adult-sized coffins, so he simply chopped the bodies up and stuffed the remains into child-sized coffins.

When the city found out about this they cancelled the contract, leaving the rest of the dead bodies buried. The park was built on top.

Cheesman Park: come by for a jog, stay forever because you’ve been possessed by the souls of the dead.

My recommendation: The Botanic Gardens are worth a visit though drop by on a weekend to avoid large groups of children on field trips. There’s not much to see in Cheesman Park — unless you’re searching for ghosts.

Omaha wrap up

April 23rd, 2019

Omaha after dark

I left Omaha late last night with one thought on my mind: two days in Omaha is one day too many. 24 hours would have been fine. Perhaps I would have had a different opinion if I hadn’t been carrying my luggage around in 80 degree weather, but there’s just not that much there for tourists.

The main reason I stopped in Omaha in the first place was to break up the train journey between Chicago and Denver, and Omaha was one of the few places in between where I could imagine spending any time at all.

That said there’s a few attractions I skipped out on because they seemed oriented more towards kids, namely the Durham Museum and the Omaha Zoo.

It’s a shame because I think there’s some interesting regional history adults might enjoy in a museum setting. I mean the place was bombed by Japan and all they have to show for it is one lousy plaque? Come on, guys.

I think my favorite part of visiting Omaha was a chance to spend time walking along the Missouri River. It’s a very fast moving river and quite the sight to behold. Just wouldn’t want to be there when it floods.

Heartland of America Park, Lewis and Clark Landing, and the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge

April 21st, 2019

Heartland of America Park

There are a few spots to see on the Omaha side of the Missouri River, all of which are connected via a pedestrian/bike trail. It’s a bit of a hike; there’s a very reasonably priced bike share program in Omaha that you may wish to take advantage of if you choose to visit these locations.

Just south of Old Town is a campus of buildings primarily housing offices of food conglomerate Conagra Brands. East of those buildings is Heartland of America Park which has an enormous lake with a water feature in the center, which continuously sprays water straight up into the sky at alternating heights. When it reaches its highest peak the wind tends to sweep mist across the park — a refreshing treat on a hot sunny day.

Heartland of America Park

Heading north through the park there’s a series of World War II memorials. Even after reading the plaques I wasn’t exactly sure why these memorials were located here, they just felt… out of place?

So I wasn’t too surprised to learn there’s already a plan to move these to a dedicated memorial park.

Heartland of America Park

Continuing further north there’s a long wooden bridge that goes over a train line and under a freeway overpass. Some parts of the bridge feature covered sections, which are a bit redundant since the bridge itself is partly covered by the overpass. I assume this is more of an homage to America’s past than a functional aspect of the design.

On the other side of the bridge is a red and white paved area called Lewis and Clark Landing. During my visit this was partly under construction and not very active aside from some joggers using the space.

Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge

Continuing north along the path you’ll head under a curvy suspension bridge named after former Nebraska governor and senator Bob Kerrey. He’s somewhat of an albatross as a successful Democrat politician in a red state — his views on abortion seem a particularly touchy subject among the locals.

The bridge itself is only open to pedestrians and bicyclists when weather permits. So what makes the bridge interesting?

Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge

In Omaha the Missouri River is the border between Nebraska and Iowa. This is marked on the bridge’s pavement and is a popular photo spot. Indeed, I had to wait a while to take the inevitable “standing on a border” photo myself.

My recommendation: I think there’s three key reasons to see these three attractions: exercise, seeing the Missouri River, and going over the Bob Kerrey bridge to stand in two states at once. It’s a pleasant way to spend an hour or two outdoors if you’re in the area.