There's so much to do in Colorado during the summer, it's almost paralyzing. There are the always-popular but always-sold-out concerts at the Denver Botanic Gardens, the KBCO World Class Rockfest, the Shakespeare Festival, the Taste of Colorado, the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival, the Grand Prix, the ever-expanding number of farmers' markets, Red Rocks, the Cherry Creek Arts Festival . . .
Not to worry. We've done the heavy lifting with a week-by-week guide to this season's greatest hits. All the usual suspects are in our Thirteen Weeks of Fun listings starting on page 52, but if you lean toward the quirky, the off-the-beaten-path, here's a few you won't want to miss. So pull out your Treo and make a plan. There's no reason to lose another summer to indecision.
Culinary Classic and Wedding Cake Competition, Beaver Creek, June 10-13
Unfortunately, wedding-cake smashing is not part of the competition held on Saturday, June 12, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. After all, humiliating your spouse with gobs of sickly-sweet frosting is all those monstrosities are really good for, right? The bakers competing for the $10,000 purse would beg to differ. But they're just one part of the culinary delights happening this weekend. On Thursday night, there's the Chef's World Cup Challenge, featuring dueling Vail and Beaver Creek chefs trying to make something -- anything! -- out of their baskets of mystery ingredients, and on Sunday, a "pastry extravaganza." Let's just hope there are no red-velvet armadillo cakes. For more information, visit www.beavercreek.com.
La Piazza dell'Arte, Larimer Square, Denver, June 19-20.
The streets of Larimer Square will be transformed into a vivid palette of explosive colors at this weekend's second annual La Piazza dell'Arte event. Attendees can enjoy Italian food, drinks and entertainment while watching more than 200 professional, amateur and student artists create chalk masterpieces on the pavement. The free artsy fun goes from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Just be sure to watch where you walk. For more information, visit www.larimerarts.org.
Red Bull Divide and Conquer,
Silverton, June 20
If rushing over extremely challenging, expert-only terrain is your idea of fun, sign up for the rugged Red Bull Divide and Conquer. You and three other mates will kayak, trail run, mountain bike and paraglide through the Animas River Valley from Silverton to Durango Mountain Resort -- that's Continental Divide territory -- and there's only one rule: The fastest team wins. The whole thing will air on Fox, minus Survivor-esque quibbling but including a $6,000 prize and a trip to Austria to compete in the European version. Register at www.redbulldivideandconquer.com.
Big Wheels, Brews and Chili, Vail, June 26
Prepare for a good laugh at the annual Big Wheels, Brews and Chili, where dozens of wacky adults drag race down Vail Village's Bridge Street on decorated Big Wheel tricycles, hitting speeds of up to twenty miles per hour. Once everyone's worked up an appetite, more than twenty Vail restaurants will compete for bragging rights to the city's best chili in the Vail Chili Cookoff and brewfest. Judge for yourself for only $20 at the all-you-can-eat-and-drink competition. For more information, visit www.vail.com or call 1-970-477-0111.
Slacker Half Marathon, Loveland Ski Area, June 26
For those of you who are not super athletes, the third annual Slacker Half Marathon -- the highest downhill half marathon in the country -- is just the race for you. The race begins at Loveland Ski Area (10,630 feet) and travels a meandering descent that ends in Georgetown (8,400 feet). If that's still a little too much athletic activity, sign up for the two-person Half Marathon Relay or 5K race. Advance registration is available at www.active.com.
Week Four: July 1-7
Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, Antonito, July 4
Why spend another Fourth of July packed into a park, straining to see the few pathetic fireworks displays still allowed during drought conditions? This year, head down to Antonito and take the narrow-gauge Cumbres & Toltec steam train into Chama, New Mexico, just beyond the Colorado border. The whistle blows at 10 a.m. for the 64-mile ride that lumbers over the 10,015-foot-high Cumbres Pass, stopping briefly in Osier for a picnic lunch. Once you're in Chama, stay the night at one of several charming bed-and-breakfasts, and enjoy the full-scale fireworks display in Gallegos Park. There's also great horseback riding in this tiny town on the cusp of the Colorado Rockies and the New Mexico desert. If you can't make the trip this weekend, the train runs every day except Fridays from May 29 until October 19. For more information and pricing, visit www.cumbrestoltec.com.
National Bank Hot Air Balloon Rodeo, Steamboat Springs, July 10 and 11
Soar to new heights at this weekend's 24th annual Community First National Bank Hot Air Balloon Rodeo, where spectators can watch more than 45 billowing balloons soar over the majestic mountains surrounding Steamboat Springs -- and compete in an airborne rodeo. If you're looking for something more grounded, check out the wide variety of eclectic artistic creations at Art in the Park, Steamboat's annual art festival, held downtown in West Lincoln Park. We just hope it's more than an eight-second ride. For more information, visit www.steamboat.com.
Week Six: July 15-21
Shakespeare in the Park, Parker, July 21-24
Summer-reading diets tend to lean toward mind candy such as Bergdorf Blondesand The DaVinci Code, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't strive for a balanced meal. Pick up Shakespeare's easy-reading classic The Taming of the Shrew early in the season, then see Theatreworks of Colorado Springs perform the comedy live this week during four evening performances and one Saturday matinee. Tickets are free, but it's first-come-first-served starting at 6:30 p.m. -- so arrive early for a spot in line and enjoy the pre-show market. Sometimes you've just got to eat your greens. For more information, visit www.parkeronline.org/cultural.
City Park Jazz Concert Series, City Park, Denver, July 25
Get your groove on this summer with the annual City Park Jazz Concert Series, where top local artists play weekly in the historic bandstand on the shore of Ferril Lake. This free ten-concert set offers something for every jazz aficionado and highlights a wide variety of styles, from traditional big band to funk and Latin rhythms. On Sunday, July 25, at 7 p.m., check out Laura Newman and AOA. For a complete schedule, visit www.cityparkjazz.org or call 303-744-1004.
Denver Zoo Wildnights, Denver Zoo, July 28
Take the family on an international journey without leaving the Mile High City. The Denver Zoo's weekly Wildnights multicultural extravaganza celebrates the influence that animals have traditionally had on world music, stories, dance and beliefs. There will be Aztec dancers, African storytellers and Polynesian fire-dancers, along with interactive animal demonstrations and exotic food. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and $2 for children ages three to eleven. For more information, visit www.denverzoo.org or call 303-376-4800.
July 29-August 4
Boulder Outdoor Cinema, Boulder, July 30 and 31
It's a midsummer night's dream at the Boulder Outdoor Cinema series. Take in two classic comedies this week, starting with a screening of Bottle Rocket on July 30, followed by the slacker classic Ferris Bueller's Day Off the following evening. Movies start around 9 p.m. every Friday and Saturday night through August 28, so check the schedule at www.boulderoutdoorcinema.com if you're more of a Godfather or When Harry Met Sally type. Get there early for a good spot on the grass; low-backed chairs and blankets are highly recommended, but couches or other wacky furniture won't be turned away. The Boulder Outdoor Cinema is directly behind the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for kids ages twelve and under, and free for kids under three.
August 5- 11
Bluegrass & Beer Festival, River Run at Keystone Resort, August 7 and 8
Get your drink on at this weekend's seventh-annual Bluegrass & Beer Festival, an event showcasing the finest hops-and-barley blends made by more than 25 of Colorado's top microbreweries. Held at the River Run at Keystone, the weekend also offers a diverse lineup of live bluegrass music, a lumberjacking competition (seriously) and the family-friendly Kidz Zone. For more information, visit www.keystoneresort.com.
Copper Mountain AdventureFest, Copper Mountain Resort, August 7 and 8
If you're looking for a tad healthier way to spend the weekend, hit the Copper Mountain AdventureFest. Challenges include a climbing wall, fly fishing, canoe competitions, disc-golf demonstrations, bike shows and kids' activities. On Sunday, register for the Copper Adventure Sprint, a 25- to 30-mile team race that includes trail running, trekking, navigation, in-line skating, mountain biking and more. For more information, visit www.coppercolorado.com.
Wild Mushroom Festival, Telluride, August 12-15
No, no, no. It's not celebrating that kind of 'shroom. However, the festival will teach you to identify hundreds of Rocky Mountain wild mushrooms so you don't try tripping on the wrong ones again. There will be seminars on collecting them, growing them, cooking them, making tea out them -- basically anything you'd want to do with a mushroom except smoke it. But remember to bring your wallet: Each class will set you back $20 to $24. For more information, visit www.crested-butte-wild-mushroom-festival.com.
Palisade Peach Festival, Palisade,
If you've never tasted a peach from the Grand Valley, do not pass Go, do not collect $200; just drive directly to Palisade. This end-of-season festival catches the delectable fruit at its high point, when the flesh just slides off the nut and the juices slide down your arm. Celebrate this summer tradition starting on Thursday night with a good old-fashioned street dance flavored with free peach ice cream; Friday features a barbecue and buck-a-bowl vanilla ice cream topped with fresh sliced peaches. The fest culminates on Saturday, starting at 9:30 a.m. with a parade, followed by contests for the biggest peach, the best peach recipe and peach eating. Plus, the official "Town Grouch" will be introduced. You'll never buy another hard, mealy California peach again. For more information, visit www.palisadepeachfest.com.
Week Twelve: August 26-September 1
Chautauqua Silent Film Series and the Chautauqua Summer Concert Series, Boulder, August 28 and September 1
Wrap up your summer by enjoying two relaxing evenings at Boulder's historic Chautauqua Auditorium. On Saturday, August 28, at 8 p.m., listen to mandolinist/composer David Grisman and his acoustic blend of swing, bluegrass, Latin, jazz and gypsy styles; tickets range from $28 to $34. On Wednesday, September 1, at 7:30 p.m., watch a screening of the 1929 silent British crime drama Piccadilly, with live musical accompaniment by Hank Troy; admission is $6 for adults, $5 for children and seniors. For a complete schedule, visit www.chautauqua.com or call 303-442-3282.
Colorado State Fair, Pueblo, August 21-September 5
Even if you missed the PRCA Rodeo and Brad Paisley over Labor Day Weekend, there's still one last show for the 2004 Colorado State Fair season: Clay Aiken. Oh, how the mighty have fallen, from a huge Pepsi Center show in April to the state fairgrounds on September 2. But, hey, REO Speedwagon and Olivia Newton-John have made that trip, too, having performed in Pueblo earlier in the week. There's also still time to catch the Open Dairy Goat Milking Competition (September 2 at 7:30 a.m.), the Llama Costume Parade (September 4 at 1 p.m.), and the Ankole Watusi Show (September 5 at 1 p.m.). For more information and a complete schedule, visit www.coloradosfair.com.