Posts Tagged ‘ameritrip2019’

Natural History Museum of Utah

May 2nd, 2019

Natural History Museum of Utah
Natural History Museum of Utah Natural History Museum of Utah Natural History Museum of Utah Natural History Museum of Utah

On the University of Utah’s campus is the Natural History Museum of Utah. The focus of the museum is entirely on Utah’s geography, climate, and living beings from the time of single celled organisms up until the Ute people lived in the area.

The museum’s current location is in a building completed in 2011, relatively new by museum standards. The exhibits are largely well put together and maintained; the dinosaur portion of the museum is particularly impressive.

It seems to have been put together with a deliberately broad appeal with interactive exhibits and puzzles for kids, basic biology you probably learned as a teenager (a refresher never hurts), as well as more in-depth exhibits for adults.

Personally I went to this museum because it was my last day in Salt Lake City, and I wanted something to do where I wouldn’t have to carry my stuff around all day (the museum has lockers.) I figured the dinosaur exhibit would be the most interesting part. And while it was, their comprehensive exhibit on the adaptation and evolution of life quickly became my favorite exhibit.

They also have an interactive earthquake exhibit that I think was aimed at kids, but since nobody else was around I had it all to myself. I have to admit it’s very entertaining. The gist of it is you build a one or two story building on a special table, then hit a button on a computer screen to simulate one of several historical earthquakes and see how your building stands up — or doesn’t.

My recommendation: It’s not the largest museum of its kind, but there’s a little something for anyone interested in Utah’s natural history (including dinosaurs.) The location is pretty far from downtown though it’s a short walk from a number of popular hiking trails. Worth considering if you’re in that part of town.

3 religions in Salt Lake City, ranked

May 2nd, 2019

Salt Lake City is a hotbed for religious activities. Perhaps it’s because it’s the home of the Salt Lake itself, which is often compared to the Dead Sea.

Here I’m taking a look at three religions that stuck out at me in Salt Lake City, and ranking them from best to… least best. Without further ado, here they are.

City Creek Center

1. Capitalism

Capitalism is the number one religion in the United States, though some adherents to this fundamentalist religion also hold secondary faiths as well.

City Creek Center, located at South Temple and West Temple is a multistory indoor/outdoor shrine to capitalism. This sacred site features well manicured gardens and water features throughout.

The largest chapel, known as “Macy’s,” offers a variety of both holy and unholy garments and household wares.

Temple Square

2. Mormonism/The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Just north of City Creek Center is Temple Square. This site is the heart of Mormonism, or whatever it’s called now. This sacred site also features well manicured gardens and water features throughout.

The largest chapel, known as the “office building,” houses many floors of workers promoting Mormonism (or whatever it’s called now.)

Bonus fact: Mormonism holds the official Guinness world record as the “world’s whitest religion.”

Summum Pyramid

3. Summum

A small pyramid on the rural outskirts of Salt Lake City is the spiritual home of Summum. This religion is inspired by ancient Egypt, sort of like Rosicrucianism but with a greater emphasis on drinking homemade wine. Oh and they mummify both human and feline remains.

The religion’s philosophies are a little… convoluted, even by the standards of 1970’s American religions, which is why it’s ranked last on this list. Sorry, Summum, but you’re going to need a bigger pyramid if you want to stay competitive in Salt Lake City’s religion scene.

Gilgal Sculpture Garden

May 2nd, 2019

Gilgal Sculpture Garden

Gilgal Sculpture Garden Gilgal Sculpture Garden Gilgal Sculpture Garden Gilgal Sculpture Garden

There’s a lot of strange stuff in Salt Lake City. Something about living in a desert seems to drive people in unexpected ways. And what could be more unexpected than the Gilgal Sculpture Garden?

Created by amateur artist Thomas Battersby Child Jr., the sculptures represent his own interpretation of Mormonism. And yes, that interpretation happens to involve Mormon founder Joseph Smith’s head on a sphinx for some reason. The garden is maintained by a group of people who took over after Child passed away.

Today this unusual sculpture garden sits in an unassuming a public space surrounded by big chain stores, yet somehow feels far from civilization.

My recommendation: This is a small, backyard-sized sculpture garden that’s open to the public. Check it out if you’re looking for weird stuff to see in Salt Lake City. It’s a little bit of a trek to get there, but it’s walkable from the main Public Library or Liberty Park. It’s completely free.

Salt Lake City’s main library

May 1st, 2019

Salt Lake City main library
Salt Lake City’s main library building

Both my original plans for today weren’t meant to be; I wanted to go on a hike, but it started to rain. I had a tour lined up, but the guide had to cancel as he wasn’t feeling well. Crap, what to do?

Thumbing through my notes over lunch I found a nearby attraction I might not have bothered with on a sunny day: Salt Lake City’s main library.

From the outside it looks like a semi-circular office building with a mysterious ramp jutting out from the side. It could almost be mistaken for a small corporate campus.

Salt Lake City main library Salt Lake City main library

Yet inside it’s a completely different experience altogether. The entryway leads to a five story tall atrium with a skylight above, the library itself on one side; and on the other small shops including a friends of the library bookstore and a cafe.

I know bean-counter types absolutely despise indoor atriums since all that empty air means paying for a beefier HVAC system and all the extra costs that entails. Worse yet, the main library features glass elevators which were being wiped down from the inside by a janitor while I was wandering around. So it’s always a rare treat when there’s a big atrium open to the public in a municipal building.

One thing the Salt Lake City main library is known for is their large collection of comics, graphic novels, and zines. I think that’s great actually — the internet and smartphone era has relegated libraries to much more of a niche audience, so why not cater to those niches?

Salt Lake City main library

The real not-so-hidden secret of Salt Lake City’s main library is on top. Most of the fifth floor is offices closed to the public, but from the elevator you can walk across a small lobby to an exit on to the rooftop. Fortunately the rain took a quick break as I made my way up there.

As you can see in the panoramic photo above, from left to right is the top of the elevator shaft, the skylight, and a rooftop garden.

But the interesting part is all the mountains in the distance. Even with the clouds the snow capped mountains are visible in every direction.

Although I haven’t been here long so far my big takeaway about Salt Lake City is despite being a relatively boring town, you can look in almost any direction at street level and see vast mountains in the distance. From a slightly higher vantage point like the roof of the main library those same mountains somehow look even greater, yet somehow even further away.

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.