Off Limits

Spaced out

What does $50 million look like? If it's the Denver Museum of Nature & Science's new Space Odyssey exhibit, which opened last Friday to a crowd of 1,200 after many years and $50 million in the making, it looks like a lot of, well, empty space.

Skeptical -- and requesting anonymity -- museum employees had predicted as much last year, when the museum announced that its proposed intergalactic journey would be scaled back to about half of the projected 40,000 square feet ("A Spaced Odyssey," September 19, 2002). "The original idea was that you'd take a trip through space," one employee said at the time. "Now what we have is a mishmash of whatever could be fit into the budget. There are going to be a lot of questions when it opens. People will see a beautifully renovated building with very little in it."

The renovation is indeed beautiful, particularly the new 18,460-square-foot west atrium that boasts what could be the best view in Denver. But, as predicted, the exhibit itself has "very little in it" -- just a dozen interactive displays, albeit very cool ones. After exiting the "Space Odyssey entry corridor" -- a hallway that's bare save for a few pictures of the cosmos and some blinking lights overhead -- the first exhibit you encounter is "Martian Dust Devil," a $100,000 gift from U.S. Bank. One little boy included in the ranks of 700 VIPs (gee, and here we thought John Elway and Shagman were it for celebrities in this town) treated to a sneak preview two days before the official opening tried to get interactive with the dust devil, tirelessly pulling its cord. But it wasn't until a museum volunteer stepped in and gave the cord a few hard yanks that the dust began swirling in a display about as exciting as what you get at home when your vacuum's still running and the bag becomes unattached.

For more adult entertainment, there's the twenty-minute play Living in Space, starring local actors Melanie Cruz, Misha Johnson, Andy Bock and Erin Pennington, and a space news program produced daily that features, among other things, insightful interviews with museum-goers dining in the T-Rex Cafe.

"I think the thing that's really fun is finally having it open," says museum spokeswoman Julia Taylor. "People are really connecting with the exhibits."

A good thing, too, since the museum even changed its name from the century-old Denver Museum of Natural History in order to cash in on the space craze. Plans for that identity switch were guarded as though the Space Shuttle depended on it -- and close enough, as it turns out.

For those who still haven't forgiven the museum for putting an end to its laser-lights show, the highlight of Space Odyssey is undoubtedly the renovated Gates Planetarium, now showing A Cosmic Journey. As one astute teenager pointed out, however, the virtual tour of space is very Earth-centric, skipping right over Mercury and Venus on its way here. The snarky high-schooler was none too thrilled with the narration, either. Indeed, the cheese was thick as the familiar voice of KBCO Morning Show host Bret Saunders described how Earth's atmosphere is in perfect balance for animal and plant life: "As Goldilocks said, it's not too hot, not too cold; it's just right."

The asphalt jungle: With the Vans Westminster Skatepark closing this Sunday, June 22, suburban mommies will have to find a new place to send their kiddies for the summer -- maybe even the Denver Skatepark (the horror!).

In its most recent quarterly report, Vans Inc. indicated that it was considering closing one or more of its twelve skateparks, having lost nearly a million bucks in the previous quarter because of increased competition from municipal courses. But just two months ago, manager Jason Craver swore that things were going just skatingly at the Westminster facility he'd been brought here to run, even though the skatepark charged a $50 annual membership fee plus $5 to $7 more per two-hour session ($11 to $17 if you weren't a member), while many other area skateparks are free (Off Limits, April 24).

Wipe out! Turns out that Westminster is the only Vans park that's closing -- for now. And only company headquarters can talk about why. "You have to talk to corporate," Carver says, "but I guess there was no business. It's just a bad area, bad location."


Chile today, hot tamale: The sign above the Blue Bonnet bar is hopeful but cryptic. "I met my wife here 10 years ago," it reads. "Maybe you could find a wife at the Blue Bonnet."

Hmmm...was there something we didn't know about the venerable Mexican eatery on Broadway, which celebrates its 35th anniversary this summer? Should lonely men ask for the "special" menu? Was that one really hot tamale inside the corn husk? We had to know.

Exhaustive, Sauza-fueled research led us to the sad conclusion that, aside from the standard margarita-swilling population, the Blue Bonnet has no surplus of brides-to-be. Nope, just some guy named Larry Johnson, who met his future wife at the bar a decade ago -- tacos, side of beans, life partner: $19.35. Every year, the Johnsons celebrate their anniversary at the bar, and every year the restaurant's staff switches out the number of years on the sign they made in Larry's honor.

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