So, you’ve only one day to spend in a major US city. What do you do? That was the dilemma that faced us in regards to Denver. The trick is to pick one or two things you really want to do, then perhaps hit some highlights in between so that you’ll have an idea for when you can come back and spend more time. I think we managed to accomplish that with this trip.
After a nice breakfast we headed over to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. This was first on Laura’s list, and it made sense. Most of Denver’s initial wealth was based on mining, so the gem and mineral displays were supposed to be outstanding.
The museum is located in the Denver City Park just east of the downtown area. The large park is also home to the Denver Zoo, as well as lots of open green space. Since we were fairly early, we were able to find a close parking place and head on in.
Our first stop in the museum was the Space Odyssey Hall. This was absolutely fantastic. There were lots of hands-on activities to entertain kids as well as adults. These included physical activities and computer-generated displays. My favorite was the crater simulator, which dropped or fired steel balls into a sandbox at various angles. Once you created your crater, you could review the impact that had been captured by high-speed camera on a display monitor, and could fast forward, reverse, or even freeze the image. There was also a shuttle to space station docking simulator that was cleverly done.
The main reason we were there, of course, was for the gems and minerals, and these did not disappoint.
The oldest display in the museum is of gold nuggets extracted from the local mountains.
However, in addition to the impressive display of silver, gold, and Colorado mining, there were the minerals of every type. It was almost overwhelming. We were especially intrigued by the huge samples of brilliantly red cubic Rhodochrosite. It turns out that a large vein of the mineral had recently been discovered on a nearby mountain, and there were several displays about that find.
The other displays were just as intriguing. I think what captured our imaginations most was that they were still making discoveries and finds of these beautiful mineral resources.
From the Gems and Minerals we headed upstairs to the animal displays. Laura told me that her Uncle Dave’s brother had worked on some of the early displays, and immediately spotted a diorama with deer that she recognized as one of his. The displays have been updated, and the matte paintings now have an impressive yet somewhat unnerving 3D effect. The biggest problem with this display is that it involves actual taxidermy – these are dead animals, and that just seems a bit sad. I would like to think the days of hunting and killing animals to stuff for a museum are long gone, so these types of dioramas should be preserved as much for their history as for the information about the species that they might provide.
On the west side of the second floor is an open atrium with spectacular views out across the city skyline. The Rockies were showing, and despite the heat it looked like a picture-perfect day out across the park.
The third floor of the museum held the ancient life and evolution displays – that is, dinosaur bones. Not only were dinosaurs on display, but so were the scientists actually working on the displays and on the bones themselves.
By this time my feet were starting to hurt from a poor choice of footwear. We decided to find lunch, and perhaps do a bit of shopping. The next target was the Cherry Creek Shopping District along the banks of the eponymous creek.
The anchor to the shopping district is a huge mall with upscale shops. However, the area surrounding the mall has lots of eclectic (albeit expensive) shops. We first found lunch at a sports bar with a built-in mini bowling alley, then we did a short walk to explore some of the shops. There were lots of art shops and expensive clothing shops, but nothing really inspired me, and my feet were still not cooperating. Time to head somewhere else.
REI and Confluence Park
As many times as I’ve been to Seattle, I’ve never had the chance to stop by the home REI store. I figured it would be like visiting the original L. L. Bean store in Freeport, Maine. Denver has a flagship REI store, and I figured it probably wouldn’t be too different from the Seattle store.
The store is located in an old warehouse right at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek. One enters a large internal space dominated by a HUGE climbing wall. There was climbing gear, ropes, and everything else needed for rock climbing right at the entrance.
I headed toward the paddling gear, though. I was a bit surprised, but their selection seemed limited. They had the basic gear that I could find at any one of our local outfitters for about the same price. I did try on a cold-weather paddling jacket that I liked, though. I figured I could get it through mail-order as easily as buying it here. We quickly walked through the rest of the store, similarly uninspired.
Behind the store and across the river is the Confluence Park. A walkway runs on either side of the Platte River and a pedestrian walkway crosses over the park, proper.
The river is split into two channels by a small island. The wider channel appears to be dammed, but the eastern channel is open for kayers and tubers. We watched a few run the nice little set of rapids. It looked like it would be a great run.