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Fellow travelers

Day Two: Colorado's high altitude and arid climate will have you breathing deep through nasal passages as dry as the Sahara when you awaken. Head downtown for a few restorative Bloody Marys at Duffy's Shamrock Restaurant and Bar. After you're well fortified, rent a couple of bikes and pedal to Six Flags Elitch Gardens, where the first thing you'll want to try is the Mind Eraser. Just make sure you bring a neck brace and a bucket. Luckily, the first-aid station is nearby.

After you've tossed your cookies and the last of the Bloodies, pedal from Confluence Park -- where the Cherry Creek meets the South Platte River and the water level was artificially raised in 1996 for an Al Gore photo-op -- up the bike path to the Cherry Creek Shopping Center. This upscale mall has all the same chains you have in your town, but for some reason, it consistently ranks as one of the city's top tourist destinations. Continue on the trail for several miles to Cherry Creek State Park, where there are lots of opportunities for recreational activities, including birdwatching, volleyball and boating: It's Denver's own little beach. Don't actually go in the water, though: The disgusting reservoir closes for the occasional E. coli outbreak. To keep closures to a minimum, the people who run the park are now trying to have state water-quality standards lowered even further.

Afterward, bike back up the trail to the bite-sized burg of Glendale, a tiny city surrounded on all sides by Denver, where the residents love their politics and really love their strip joints. Check out Shotgun Willie's and P.T's Gold Club -- which doesn't have alcohol but does serve up full nudity. Later, walk to Fascinations, a massive sex shop behind Shotgun Willie's that will sell you all the stuff -- including skin mags, X-rated videos, lingerie and lots and lots of sex toys -- you need to take back to La Quinta for some hot-blooded nighttime activity of your own.

Day Three: Nothing pleases like big, fuzzy animals, and the Denver Zoo has plenty of them -- just don't mention the polar bears. What were once the zoo's most popular moneymaking machine have become a bit of a sore subject recently, with the mysterious death of mother bear Ulu and the relocation of her two youngest cuddly cubs, Ulaq and Berit, to the Cincinnati Zoo, where they will be renamed -- despite the fact that a local woman paid for the rights to name them here.

Refuel at Govnr's Park, a restaurant/bar only a five-minute drive from the zoo, where they serve very large beers and good food. The restaurant is named for the Governor's Mansion, which is just up the hill, but you won't see the governor at either place. No, the big man himself, Bill Owens, doesn't actually live in his mansion; he prefers to stay in suburban Aurora. The big city can be a scary place.

Find out just how scary by capping your vacation with a Denver Police Department ride-along. This is a very popular activity, and if you're lucky, like holster-sniffing Colorado Rockies second baseman Mike Lansing, you might get to sit in a van while the cops blow away the wrong guy -- as they did when they killed Ismael Mena during a no-knock raid last year. If you're even luckier, Denver's finest won't make you sign any paperwork, so you won't be called upon to do any pesky testifying regarding any skullduggery you may have witnessed. (Travelers' alert: The DPD is currently reviewing its policies on police ride-alongs; call the department for details.) Afterward, ask the cops to drop you off at My Brother's Bar.(Since there's no sign outside and the DPD cops aren't good at addresses -- they hit the wrong house the night they killed Mena -- you should know that it's located at 2376 15th Street, near Confluence Park.) The service at My Brother's can be spotty, but it's one of the few places in town still serving food past midnight.

Certainly you won't find any sustenance at DIA, which shuts up tighter than a drum much earlier in the evening. Fortunately, the airport's chapel is open 24-7: On your way back to La Quinta, stop by and say a prayer that you'll manage to get the hell out of Dodge -- er, Denver -- the next day.


Lots of baggage: Westword's What United Did to My Summer Vacation contest, announced in this very space last week, has inspired a deluge of sad stories. There's still time to share yours, though; see www.westword.com/unitedairlines for full details.

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