Depart: Los Angeles US (LAX) Terminal 7, 11th May 2013 12:50 Pacific Standard Time (GMT-8) Arrive: Denver US (DEN), 11th May 2013 16:06 Mountain Standard Time (GMT-7) 848 miles (2 hours 16 minutes)
Having flown on United Airlines on previous family visits to the US I found them very disappointing. Domestically they seem to have adopted all the worst aspects of budget airlines back home with a vengeance - $25 charge for checking bags in even though I was well within the allowance specified on my around the world ticket and if you wanted to watch any inflight entertainment you had to pay extra for it using your credit card which nobody did.
Many people I spoke to blamed this on United Airlines' recent merger with Continental Airlines but this seemed to depend on which of the former airlines used the airport as a hub, the blame expressed was the other way around at former Continental Airline hubs.
For the first few days of my stay in Colorado we travelled up to my cousin's mountain house at Keystone in Summit County high up in the Rockies. On the way up into the mountains we stopped to visit Mother Cabrini's Shrine near Golden just off the I70 Freeway. Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini was born in Italy in 1850 and originally planned to do missionary work in China but the Pope asked her to go to the USA instead. The religious order of nuns she founded provided a lot of support to Italian immigrants and after her death she became the first American citizen to be canonized a saint by the Catholic Church.
The main building at Mother Cabrini's Shrine at Golden
Inside the Chapel of the Mother Cabrini Shrine
Mother Cabrini is credited with founding 67 religious institutions across the USA and Americas. Her national shrine is in Chicago where she was based with this smaller one on a hill top on the edge of the Rocky Mountains. It amused me seeing my name in large white letters on a nearby hilltop although I am sure they should have spelt FRANCIS the female way with an 'E' rather than the male way I do with an 'I'.
The steps up to the big statue at Mother Cabrini's Shrine
Close up of Mother Cabrini's Statue at Golden
'ST. FRANCIS' written on the hill on the way up to the shrine
Bison (also known as American Buffalo) roam right up to the fence beside the I70 Freeway out of Denver. We didn't seen any last time I visited a few years ago so I was keen to try and see them again as we made our way up into the mountains. At first it looked like I would again be disappointed but just as we decided to give up looking any further - there they were! Then a bit later it was bonus time as we passed some Bighorn Sheep on the hard shoulder, again something rarely seen.
Bison grazing on a hillside next to the Interstate 70
Bighorn sheep on the hard shoulder of the Interstate 70 on the way up into the mountains
We then passed through the 1.7 mile (2.7 kilometre) long Eisenhower Tunnel to go under the Continental Divide and entered Summit County. Summit County with its well developed ski-resorts such as Breckenbridge and Keystone is the busiest of Colorado's mountain areas. Although the local ski season had largely ended with spring just around the corner there had been a heavy fall snow only the week before I arrived so we weren't quite sure what conditions to expect.
Entering the Eisenhower Tunnel under the Continental Divide
Lake surrounded by mountains in Summit County, Colorado
Mountain view over Breckenbridge with the Colorado Flag flying above a building in the foreground
Mountain view in Summit County, Colorado
The epicentre of Summit County is Lake Dillon (a reservoir which supplies Denver with fresh water) which was still largely frozen. Avalanche tracks could be seen on the nearby mountains where they had crashed down flattening trees in the forests below. Unfortunately there were a lot of felled trees since the last time I visited that had been lost recently to a pine beetle infestation which will take decades to recover but many had been saved by spraying. One thing that hadn't changed however was the beauty of the alpine meadows.
High mountains and a frozen lake in Summit County, Colorado
Avalanche tracks on the slopes of Buffalo Mountain near Dillon, Summit County
Alpine meadows in Keystone, Summit County, Colorado
While in Keystone we went for a ride on the Georgetown Loop Railroad from Devil's Gate Station to Silver Plume and back again. The railroad was originally built during the local silver mining boom of the 1880s but closed down in 1939 before being re-opened by railway enthusiasts in 1984. During the summer the railroad runs 1920s steam trains which would have been a sight to see but unfortunately we were several weeks too early in the season to ride on one of them.
Train crossing the High Bridge on the Georgetown Loop Railroad
Our train makes its way over the High Bridge on the Georgetown Loop Railroad
At the back of the train there was an open boxcar
We were in one of the comfortable parlour cars instead of the open boxcar and had a very enjoyable ride through the mountains as the track gained more than 600 feet (183 metres) in elevation over a distance of 3.5 miles (5.6 kilometres) twisting and looping through trees and across several bridges to cope with the steep gradient. On the return trip to Georgetown we stopped at a small halt for a visit the Lebanon Silver Mine.
Our train makes it way around a bend in the track
We cross one of the railroad's four bridges over Clear Creek
Our train stopped at the little halt for the Lebanon Silver Mine
Work on the Lebanon Silver Mine began in 1869 and by 1876 there were 76 miners with 19 lodes under development although the really big seam it was originally excavated for 1,110 feet (335 metres) from the portal (entrance) wasn't reached until 1881. Our tour lasted about an hour and a half and took us over 900 feet into the mountain during which time we had many of the working practices and superstitions of the mine described to us and saw naturally occurring “silver pearls”, calcified hobnail boot prints and stalactites from over 100 years ago.
Me stood by the entrance to the Lebanon Silver Mine
The mine shaft into the mountain
Winch down to the lower levels of the mine
Naturally occuring 'Silver Pearls' on the mine floor
A lot of the miners came from the tin mines of Cornwall back home in the UK and I particularly liked the story about how the crusts of the Cornish Pasties they took down with them to heat up and eat were superstitiously left behind for the "knockers". Traditional Cornish Pasties were made by miners wives filled with beef, potato, onion and swede. They had thick crimped crusts which served as a means of holding them with dirty hands without contaminating the meal and were then discarded in the mine.. as an offering to the "knockers" or little people to not cause mischief and watch over the miners.
Black bleeding on the side of the tunnel indicates a silver lode (seam) close by
An abandoned drill inside the Lebanon Silver Mine
A colapsed tunnel inside the Lebanon Silver Mine
Daylight and a mine truck as we emerge from the Lebanon Silver Mine
Afterwards we looked around Georgetown itself which is an elegant little Victorian mining town that feels like it has been left behind in time. It was founded in 1859 during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush and started to grow rapidly following the discovery locally of silver in 1864. Georgetown's main shopping street is 6th Street and the whole town is peppered with heritage listed buildings many of which have painstakingly restored such as the Town Hall/Police Station with its white bell tower, the Hotel de Paris and a couple of firehouses.
6th Street, Georgetown, Colorado
Town Hall/Police Station, Georgetown, Colorado
Hotel de Paris on 6th Street, Georgetown, Colorado
Alpine Hose No.2 Firehouse and Tower, Georgetown, Colorado
The Snetzer Tailor Shop and the Grace Episcopal Church on Taos Street
The following lunchtime before we made our way back to Denver on the I70 Freeway, there was just enough time to add another brewery to my list and sample the ale at the local brew-pub, the Dillon Dam Brewery.
A visit to the US Mint was actually on my bucket list having been unable to have a look around it last time I was in Denver. Sadly I was to be disappointed as it turned out we needed to pre-book the free tours about 3 months ahead! Fortunately tours around the US Mint's other location in Philadelphia don't need to be pre-booked so this item on my bucket list can wait until I get there later during my trip.
The visitor's entrance to the US Mint in Denver
We then walked across the Civic Center Park in downtown Denver, past a copy of the Liberty Bell (the original is in Philadelphia) to the Colorado State Capitol. The building looks like a copy of the Capitol in Washington although sadly the gold plated dome itself is currently obscured by white sheeting while essential repairs are carried out. Denver has been dubbed the "Mile High City" and sure enough a step leading up to the main entrance is engraved as being precisely "One Mile above Sea Level" and I had the obligatory photograph taken of me standing on it.
Mounted Policeman in the Civic Center Park in front of the State Capitol Denver
A copy of the Liberty Bell in Lincoln Park outside the State Capitol Denver
The Civil War Memorial in front of the steps of the State Capitol in Denver
Me stood on the 'One Mile above Sea Level' step leading up into the State Capitol in Denver
A short distance from the Capitol is the History Colorado Center, an innovative new museum that first opened in April 2012. Their headline temporary attraction while I was there (and about the only exhibit we weren't allowed to photograph) was the Jefferson Bible borrowed from the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. This bible is in effect a personal scrapbook of selected verses from the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John pasted together in chronological order by Thomas Jefferson (principle author of the USA 1776 Declaration of Independence) to create a single narrative and then duplicated side by side in four languages (English, French, Latin and Greek).
The star of the museum for me however was the Anschutz Hamilton Hall with a map of Colorado for its floor on which we were able to push around a pair of seven foot high "steam punk" time machines to various hot spots on the map. The clocks on the time machines would then wind back and the video screens would tell quirky stories from the history of the location.
Moving the time machines around the Map of Colorado on the ground floor of the History Colorado Center
Close up of one the time machines in the History Colorado Center
On the same floor as the time machines was Destination Colorado, a hands on recreation of life on the Colorado prairies in the 1920s. Here you could milk a virtual cow (the bucket lights up as you squeeze the teat!), drive a Model T Ford or visit a General Store - really something aimed more at school children than ourselves so surprisingly we didn't stay there long. A lot more interesting though was Colorado Stories on the top floor.
Me milking a cow in 'Destination Colorado' at the History Colorado Center
Colorado Stories contained galleries highlighting aspects of the history of about 8 localities around the state. I found the gallery on Bent's Fort, a prairie trading post from the mid nineteenth century, particularly interesting as included amongst the sample of goods from around the world it traded with local Indians was Stroud Scarlet from back home in Gloucestershire in the UK (Stroud Scarlet was the red cloth used historically for British Army redcoats).
Bent's Fort in 'Colorado Stories' - and amongst the goods being traded is Stroud Scarlet Cloth from back home in Gloucestershire!
Amongst the other exhibits in Colorado Stories were galleries on silver mining in Silverton (which reminded me of my trip down the Lebanon Mine a few days earlier), life in the WWII Amache Relocation Center for people of Japanese ancestry and the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre of Indians by local militia (probably one of the more tragic stories from Colorado's history).
Explosives ready to be set in the Silverton Mine gallery of 'Colorado Stories'
Re-creation inside 'Colorado Stories' of a WWII relocation center for people of Japanese ancestry
We then escaped the museum and went for afternoon tea at the Brown Palace Hotel which is considered the landmark hotel in Denver. Originally opened in 1892, my guidebook describes it as an "Italian Renaissance-style structure with elegant dining rooms and a common area based around a sunlit eight story atrium lobby with tiers of iron railings." Famous former guests at the hotel include the Beatles, various US presidents and the 'unsinkable' Molly Brown from the Titanic. Before making our way home we had afternoon tea with scones and finger sandwiches served on a 3 tier silver pedestal tray washed down with Earl Grey and Kir Royale - cousins that lunch!
The Brown Palace Hotel in Denver
The eight story atrium lobby inside the Brown Palace Hotel
Afternoon tea being served in the lobby of the Brown Palace Hotel
Sidewalk plaque commemorating the Beatles getting struck in a lift at the Brown Palace Hotel in 1964
I do enjoy watching live baseball and have been kindly taken to games on my last two visits to the USA. Earlier in my trip I had seen the LA Dodgers beat the Milwaukee Brewers in double quick time while in Los Angeles but it was now time to see if I was going to be a good luck charm for the Colorado Rockies as well. So the following day we returned to downtown Denver to Coors Field, the home of the Colorado Rockies Baseball Team, with me dressed in a purple Rockies "Dexter Fowler 24" shirt (Dexter is a Rockies centerfielder) to watch them play the San Francisco Giants.
Coors Field - home of the Colorado Rockies Baseball Team
Dexter Fowler at the plate for the Colorado Rockies
The game started well with the Rockies taking a 5 run lead including a grand slam home run (i.e. a home run with all 3 bases loaded) but then the Giants came back with the Rockies eventually winning 10-9 in a nail biting finish (am I beginning to sound like I know what I'm talking about?). After the game we went looking for an Irish Bar in Lower Downtown (universally known as LoDo by the locals) to celebrate and found Scruffy Murphys, coincidentally exactly the same name (although no connection) as the Irish Bar I found in Sydney, Australia.
Grand Slam Home Run for the Colorado Rockies
Pablo Sandoval (aka Panda) at the plate for the San Francisco Giants
Scruffy Murphys Irish Bar in Denver where we went to celebrate (didn't I visit its namesake in Sydney?)
Three days later I had another opportunity to see the Colorado Rockies play at home, this time against the Arizona Diamondbacks. By now it had dawned on me that US baseball fixtures are described the other way round to sports fixtures back home i.e. away team @ home team rather than home team v away team; trust the Americans to be different!
Me posing with my ticket by the player statue outside the stadium before the game
Everyone stands as the USA National Anthem is played before the game
Me enjoying a 'Rockie Dog' while watching the baseball
Although the Arizona Diamondbacks attracted a smaller crowd than the San Francisco Giants a few days previously it was no less exciting and I witnessed my first Major League Baseball game go into extra innings with the two teams tied at 4-4 after the usual 9 innings. We had to leave but listened to the game on the radio on the way back as the Rockies went on to win 5-4 in the 'bottom' (i.e. while the 2nd team is batting) of the 10th.
Another Home Run for the Rockies - perhaps I am a lucky charm at the baseball after all?
'Dinger' - the Colorado Rockies Mascot - up to no good again outside the away team's dugout