Go for the Gold!

The discovery of gold in Colorado inspired the Rush to the Rockies exactly 150 years ago. Although many fortune-hunters who set off on the arduous journey across the plains to Pikes Peak territory never arrived, and still more gave up on ever striking it rich and headed back home, those of heartier stock decided to stick around and dug in for the long haul. Just like residents of the Front Range today, these pioneers discovered that you don't need to find precious metal to enjoy a solid-gold life in Colorado.

This summer, the state features a particularly rich vein of events, all designed to commemorate the sesquicentennial anniversary of the gold rush. Visitors flying into Denver International Airport can pick up historic nuggets at Colorado's New Gold Rush, an exhibit on the walkway from concourse A; other celebrations range from Colorado Springs's symposium on the Pikes Peak or Bust syndrome to Central City's annual Lou Bunch Day, with bed races down the main street in honor of the notorious madam. But even without a special birthday, Colorado is always full of things to treasure.

In addition to all the priceless scenery, there's a wealth of activities for those who like music, those who like the arts, those who like athletic events. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, the hills will be alive with the sound of not only music, but of running races and bike races and burro races, of food festivals and art festivals and wildflower festivals — just about everything under the summer sun.

Eight Weird and Wonderful Attractions

Mesa Verde, Pikes Peak, Coors Field: The big names get the most visitors when it comes to Colorado tourist attractions. But there are smaller places worth visiting, too. Off the wall, off the beaten path or just plain odd, here are some of our favorites.

Colorado Alligator Farm
Mosca
www.gatorfarm.com
Yeah, that's right: Almost a thousand miles from the nearest swamp, we got gators — hundreds of them. Turns out that when Erwin and Lynne Young moved to this Mosca outpost decades ago to run a geothermal tilapia fishing operation, they decided to throw in a few imported gators to gobble up excess fish. A few became many, and now they host alligator rodeos and gator-wrasslin' classes. Newer residents include ginormous pythons, exotic turtles, ostriches and emus. Now they're just being cocky.

Cano's Castle Antonito
In the tiny, ramshackle town of Antonito, you'll find Donald "Cano" Espinoza's self-described "Jesus Castle," which is sheathed almost entirely in flattened beer cans and hubcaps. Legend has it that back in Espinoza's partying days, his mom demanded he do something with all the beer cans lying around the front yard. Well, he did. And now, Espinoza, who has since sworn off the sauce, collects cans from local bars to add to his shrine. You can't miss it, since there isn't another three-story building in town — at least not one that gleams in the sun.

World's Largest Rocking Chair
Penrose
You'll find what was once the World's Largest Rocking Chair in Penrose, perched behind a fence near the now-closed Doxey's Apple Shed Mercantile. It stands an impressive 21 feet tall. The problem is that other, larger chairs have since grabbled a share of the title, including one in Lipan, Texas, that's almost six feet taller, and another in South Dakota. Even more reason to visit the original, because whoever buys Doxey's and the surrounding land just might send Ol' Roxy to the wood chipper.

The Wonder Tower
Genoa
719-763-2309
Standing about sixty feet tall and looking sort of like a neglected lighthouse, the Wonder Tower is amazing. The owner claims you can see six states from the top deck, but there's even more to look at inside, where you'll find a two-headed calf, a petrified walrus penis and jars filled with eight-legged pig embryos. There are also life-sized scarecrow people hanging around. And all those old cars parked outside? They haven't moved in years. A wonder, indeed.

Museum of Colorado Prisons Cañon City www.prisonmuseum.org
Gas chambers, whipping racks, electric prods and isolation units: You'll find them all at the Museum of Colorado Prisons, a little gem of torture and punishment. There are even creepy animatronic characters that tell absurdly detailed stories and a gift shop filled with stuff made by real live convicts! Homemade files, anyone?

Baldpate Inn
Estes Park
www.baldpateinn.com
This handsome, 92-year-old bed-and-breakfast near Rocky Mountain National Park is supposedly home to the world's largest collection of keys — nearly 20,000 of them. Visitors have been bringing them to the owners from all over the world for decades. Keys to the White House, the Pentagon, Buckingham Palace, Hitler's desk, Edgar Allan Poe's dorm room — even Fort Knox. Interestingly, though, the Baldpate's front door doesn't have one.

UFO Watchtower
Hooper
Basically a raised platform surrounded by a beyond-awesome gift shop and a mystical healing garden filled with donated peace rocks and magical junk from visitors around the planet, the UFO Watchtower is the spot to check out alien spacecraft. And not only is it an inter-dimensional vortex of mysterious occurrences, but it's also a popular spot for weddings, receptions and family gatherings.

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