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Colorado Adventures: Hit the Highlights of Boulder, Fort Collins, Burlington, Denver, and Golden

Colorado is a great place for adventures of all kinds. From the quirky to the sublime. From the whimsical folk art of Bill Swets and the Swetsville Zoo to the grandeur of the Rockies, with the excitement of off-roading in a genuine Hummer and the down-home friendliness of Burlington.

Burlington

For most people hurtling down I-70 between Kansas and Colorado, tiny Burlington might not even register, or if it does, only as an "easy off easy on" place for a pit stop. But that would be unfortunate. Although small, Burlington offers the wonderful Kit Carson County historic carousel and a charmingly quirky Old Town Museum.

Photo by Neala The Kit Carson County carousel in Burlington, Colorado, was manufactured by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in 1905 and is now a National Historic Landmark but just its existence makes it special. Carousels are an endangered species of Americana. Carved by craftsmen out of wood, lovingly painted and adorned, intact carousels are disappearing piece by piece into private collections as the pieces bring more money than a complete carousel.

Moreover, the city has opened the Kit Carson County Carousel Museum that describes its restoration, the Philadelphia Toboggan Company and the Wurltizer Monster Military Band Organ that provides the music that makes a carousel extra special.

The other amazing aspect is the price of a ride. The Kit Carson carousel swings you around at the astounding bargain of 25 cents. Clearly the people of Burlington just want visitors to come and enjoy their town and their treasured carousel.

The Old Town Museum is an eclectic mix, a sort of put-together of this and that into a delightful hodgepodge of buildings. The manor house could have been that of a wealthy family with furniture appropriate to that time, including a "fainting couch" upon which women could pass out, presumably when their corsets were pulled too tight. There's also a saloon which has charming can-can dancers (local young ladies in costume), and shops demonstrating the crafts of the time.

Perhaps the most unusual building is the sod house. A wood frame with two feet of actual sod used as a covering complete with a cactus growing on the roof. Sod is an effective insulator, certainly superior to plain wood, keeping these small dwellings cozier in winter and cooler in the heat of summer. They also have a collection of 40 historic wagons, and a doll house with over 100 figures both modern and historic.

With cheerful disregard for the historical constraints of time and place, the old-fashion luncheonette is next door to the old saloon. And much like the early Ford cars that came in any color as long as it was black, you can get any flavor ice cream, as long as it's vanilla. But it is very good especially with the toppings.

Denver

The capital and major city in the Front Range of the Rockies, Denver has a lot to offer. Walk along the streets, enjoy the history. Visit the house of Molly Brown, of Unsinkable Molly Brown fame, or the Black American West History Museum.

Photo by Neala B&Bs
We sampled a bit of the B&Bs enjoying the homey hospitality of Queen Anne, and the elegant surroundings of Castle Marne. Located in a tiny historic district within blocks of the main part of town, the Queen Anne B&B is actually two historic homes built in the late 1800s in the Queen Anne style of Victorian architecture. A high ceiling parlor and comfortable furniture make it warm and comfortable. My room had a whirlpool tub and canopy bed with wicker lounge. One nice touch are Colorado wine and cheese evenings.

Castle Marne, listed on the National Register of Historic Structures, is in the Wyman Historic District isn't quite as conveniently located but it is a spectacular place to stay dating back to 1889. It's architecture makes a very strong presence, softened by the colorful flowers and lovingly tended shrubs Inside was 19th century elegance with ornate historic carvings on the walls and bannisters, touches of stained glass. And the careful decor carries to the rooms each individually furnished and with amenities such as private porches and whirl-pool tubs. But you don't have to stay there to enjoy the surroundings. Castle Marne serve tea for nonguests and they'll be happy to give a tour of the house and history. And, describe the difference between high and low tea. Their Sweet and Savory Tea was simply wonderful.

McCormick's Fish House & Bar
There's no shortage of places to eat dinner, but we found McCormick's Fish House & Bar offered both delicious food and colorful history. Although McCormick's is part of the chain there is nothing mass produced about either the food or the atmosphere Located on the ground floor of the Oxford Hotel built in 1891 (and listed on the National Register of Historic Places) it has a dining room which used to be a "gentlemen's club" during prohibition. It comes complete with drop down doors which could masquerade (if no one looked too carefully) as a wall to hide the back room where the drinking took place. At the very least it gave the merry imbibers a chance to make their escape. Baseboards along the walls pulled out to make a hiding place for the bootlegged booze. The pure art deco design of the Cruise Room martini bar reproduces one of the lounges aboard the Queen Mary. It opened the day Prohibition ended.

The bar in the front of the building has gorgeous Dutch-themed stained glass windows that were originally the street windows of the bar. This may be the only bar in the country with a Futures Board. This started with miners who used it to buy a drink for someone in the future, whenever that person was able to come into the bar. The regulars still use it today to buy a drink for a friend next time that friend comes in.

The food was excellent off a large menu with a staggering selection of seafood brought in fresh that day. My crab bisque with dry sherry was creamy and infused with flavor of crab and delicious hints of sherry. The Diver Sea Scallops (from Georges Bank, Massachusetts) was pan seared and served with whole grain mustard dill sauce over a risotto cake with sauteed spinach.and was bursting with flavor. Save room for the dessert, if you can. There's also a full wine list.

Red Rocks
Red Rocks is located just outside of Denver and a place where you can easily see the upheavals that have formed the mountains. Even if you don't attend a performance (and we think you'll probably want to do that), you can enjoy the huge red rocks thrusting out of the earth at angles rarely seen outside of animated shorts, and the Red Rocks Underground filled with exhibits, memorabilia and a documentary.

Fort Collins

A friendly college town with a sophisticated flair, Fort Collins could be one of Colorado's best cities to live, visit, and play. The art, and the beer are two serious reasons to visit. The First Friday Gallery Walk takes place year 'round. Learn more from the Downtown Business Association.

Swetsville Zoo -- Still Loved Although Endangered
Bill Swets started his wonderful whimsical folk art collection in 1985. "It was supposed to be a hobby, but I got carried away," says Swets, former fireman, of his 170 plus piece menagerie. His first piece was an 18-inch tall interpretation of the singer Boy George with a shovel for a spine. When we visited several years ago he had just completed a car turned dragon that may be his best. For years it was all located on a piece of semi-wild land along the water. Although he's devotes most of his time and attention to the pieces on his land, four of his sculptures grace the streets of Fort Collins and two in neighboring Loveland. But alas urban growth, the thing we love to hate in which we all participate, is endangering the Swetsville Zoo. According to the Denver Post as of March, 2009 The Swets family plans to keep the zoo open for now they still have more than 100 sculptures but with another big-box store slated to rise on the west side of the property, it might pay to call before visiting. "It's in the phone book. Mom has the answering machine set up to say 'Swetsville Zoo,' " Don Swets said. The phone number is: 970-484-9509 Still open, but it is recommended you call before showing up, just to make sure: Address: 4801 E. Harmony Road, Fort Collins - Timnath, Colorado. It's still free, although make a donation, help keep the Swetsville Zoo going.

Photo by Neala Trimble Gallery
The most fun eating and shopping area of town is Old Town. The plaza is a town square in the best sense, where people gather to meet, eat, and enjoy. And tucked away is Trimble Gallery with 100% Colorado made pottery, jewelry, wood, fabric beauty in many forms. The gallery was named after Martha Trimble, single woman who was professor at Colorado State University and very supportive of women who started the gallery. Stop by, chat, and shop.

New Belgium Brewery
Quite simply, the New Belgium Brewery is where I discovered I love beer. The brewery started modestly in the basement of Jeff Lebesch after he returned from a trip to Belgium in which he discovered the joys of the unique brewing style of Belgium beer, and began knocking out batches of homebrew. He and his wife Kim Jordan decided to go commercial in 1991 after wowing friends and family with Fat Tire and Abbey, their first brews.

What makes their beer unusual is the addition of fruit, yeast, and spices into the brewing process. They make six beers all year long but supplement this with three specialty beers available only for a few months at a time. These seasonal beers are brewed very small batch brews available only in the Fort Collins area.

Of course, in addition to the tour, there were beers to try, and I did. The Abbey beer is made with less hops (making it less bitter) and with yeast that actually gave it deliciously different banana taste. Their Loft beer has the taste of Thai brewed with kaffir leaves. There is also Frambozen, a raspberry brown beer, with a ruby red color, available Thanksgiving to New Years. They actually add the fruit to the brewing process.

What Else?
Stop by the Museum of Contemporary Art in an old post office dating back to 1911, and the genuine Pawn Shop with 70% of their items actual pawn. There's guns, jewelry, posters and a safe with two vaults named George and Gracie. The owner does have a wry sense of humor. Fort Collins is also home to the Town Pump, opened in 1936, the smallest bar in Colorado is tiny and tacky, and fun. And there are tours of the Anheuser-Busch brewery, and Odell Brewing Company as well.

The Fort Collins Marriott Hotel
Marriott is one of our favorite chains -- always lovely rooms, friendly staff, and an inviting lobby. The Fort Collins continues that tradition. There is no shortage of dining choices. We enjoyed dinner at Austin's American Grill, and lunch at Coopersmith's Pub and Brewing, a micro-brewery with a outdoor patio perfect for people-watching. Photo by Neala

Boulder

Boulder is another vibrant town with a walking street, Pearl Street Mall, stretching across much of downtown. Hotels, office buildings, shops, all hug the sides, with plenty of room for art, flowers, and sitting spaces. Outside restaurants abound and one delicious, friendly place we enjoyed was Bacaro.

We stayed at the newest hotel in town, the elegant St. Julien Hotel & Spa. I confess to a weakness for big fluffy robes, and great bathrooms with a stone and glass shower or big soak-in tub with nary a bit of formica in sight. So, I fell in love with the St. Julien, which met those requirements, then added an excellent restaurant, Jill's, and a view of the mountains from my patio. And did I mention the luxurious bedding?

Photo by Neala Dushanbe Teahouse
What's an authentic Tajikistan teahouse doing in the midst of Colorado? It's the legacy of the sister cities program. In Dushanbe, capital of Tajikistan, teahouses are gathering places where friends socialize over tea, discuss the world, politics and gossip. So, when Dushanbe and Boulder became sister cities, it seemed like the most logical thing to offer as a gift, especially when the people of Dushanbe discovered that Boulder lacked this crucial amenity. Not only did they send hard-carved and hand-painted ceiling, tables, stools, columns and exterior ceramic panels in 200 crates, but four of the original artisans came along to construct the teahouse.

Today, the Dushanbe Teahouse is one of the most beautiful and treasured places in Boulder which also serves brunch, lunch, dinner, and high tea in an atmosphere of Persian art. It's it is the largest teahouse outside of Asia. If a destination teahouse could be said to exist, the Dushanbe in Boulder Colorado would certainly qualify. It's a bit of Asia in the middle of the USA.

Chautauqua District
The Chautauqua are an all-but-extinct philosophical and religious movement started in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Just before the opening of the 20th century, members of the group living in Texas decided to escape the heat for the coolness of the Colorado mountains. Today many of the original buildings are available to rent. Although a bit on the austere side they have a lovely mountain 'cottage' simplicity. And it puts folks front and center for the Colorado music festival (although you still need to buy tickets), silent films for families, and intriguing speakers in an old barn-like building where you can see the sky through the cracks in the wood. Plus, there's a lovely restaurant with a wrap around porch and that wonderful mountain view.

Celestial Seasonings
The ancestral home of Celestial Seasonings remains Boulder. It's a great place to learn about teas through their free tours, and to purchase specialties that simply never make it to your local supermarket. Teas you didn't know you wanted until you found them.

Golden
Perhaps one of the more "wild west" flavored cities, Golden was once the territorial capital (back in 1859). And they have embraced that heritage with western-themed sculpture throughout the city miners, cowboys, and horses abound. Currently about 24 pieces and 15 more coming including a cowboy 1.5 times life-size roping a steer. Foss Drug, started in 1913, had the first liquor license in Colorado and its exterior walls boast the town's famous mural depicting the history of Golden. Boulder also boasts a quilt museum, a railroad museum, Buffalo Bill Museum and several historic buildings. For lodging, the Golden Hotel and Bridgewater Grill is both pet-friendly (watched over by Samantha, the Wheaton terrier of Andria and Burt Lewis) and human-friendly as well. Located right along the Creek you can sit on the patio and watch the water and the kayakers. And their restaurant serves the most wonderful breakfasts, as well as other delicious meal. I still dream about it. The rooms are spacious and comfortable with sophisticated clocks that reset themselves every night to the atomic clock.

If a state could be said to have it all, it would probably be Colorado. Design your own vacation -- visit Colorado. And enjoy.


2009