Lots of states claim to be home to the mythical Springfield of Simpsons fame, but only Colorado can brag that it's the site of that other great cartoon capital of the world: South Park, the setting of the subversively impertinent Comedy Central animated series of the same name. South Park's creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, grew up in Colorado and attended the University of Colorado in Boulder; when they thought up their controversial yet critically lauded show ten years ago, they based it in their home state, and they continue to infuse it with many an impish nod to their roots.
While this distinction isn't mentioned in many state promotional materials, South Park could well be the most comprehensive — and ultimately loving — ode to our fair state and all its quirks anywhere in pop culture. So if you're ready to embark on a pilgrimage of bigger, longer and uncut proportions, grab a bag of Chef's Chocolate Salty Balls, stock up on Cherokee hair tampons, and steer your tricycle through this tour of real-life South Park landmarks. And as Towelie says, "Don't forget to bring a towel!"
Although there's no town of South Park — that mythic mountain burg where Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny frolic with talking sexual-harassment pandas and jakovasaurs — on any Colorado map, there is a Fairplay, an old gold-mining hamlet in Park County that appears to be the model for South Park. Need proof? Fairplay's about forty miles west of Conifer, where Parker grew up, and is located in a high grassland basin that's named — get this — South Park. Fairplay doesn't have fictional South Park attractions like Big Gay Al's Big Gay Animal Sanctuary or Dr. Mephisto's South Park Genetic Engineering Ranch, but it does feature a historic reconstruction of a mining town called South Park City and a 29-mile burro race that takes place every July. And don't forget to say a "Hidey-ho" to Mr. Hanky, that lovable Christmas poo from the show's holiday episodes, who's hanging out in front of a house on Front Street.
The Aspen that the boys and their parents visit in the episode "Asspen" is disturbingly similar to the real thing: It's full of psychotically steadfast timeshare salesmen and moronically snooty ski snobs who are living in a perpetual campy '80s flick. There is no mighty K-13, the "most dangerous run in America" featured in that episode, but Aspen does offer a plethora of summer and winter activities, from skiing and mountain biking to paintball and paragliding. To get in shape for it all, you're gonna need to prepare like they did in South Park: You're gonna need a musical montage!
Cave of the Winds
When Al Gore comes to South Park in "ManBearPig," he recruits the boys to help him fight "the single biggest threat to our planet" — no, not global warming, but the dastardly ManBearPig, who's half man, half bear and half pig. And he's certain about where to find it: Cave of the Winds, in Manitou Springs. As in that episode, the real caves feature nifty rock formations — but no sign at all of a half man, half bear and half pig (or is that half man, half bear-pig?) creature. But take note: If you find fake "smugglers' treasure" in the caves, don't mistake it for the real thing and try to sneak it out by eating it. As Cartman discovers, serious gastrointestinal distress will ensue.
Cave of the Winds Road, Manitou Springs, www.caveofthewinds.com
The military base buried in the core of Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs may be able to withstand a nuclear holocaust, but in the "Trapper Keeper" episode, it's no match for Cartman's Dawson's Creek Trapper Keeper Ultra Keeper Futura S 2000, which fuses with Cartman and transforms into a giant bio-blob monster intent on absorbing NORAD's supercomputers and taking over the world. Since you probably don't have a Dawson's Creek Trapper Keeper Ultra Keeper Futura S 2000, you won't be able to infiltrate the military installation, but you can still visit the mountain by checking out the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, one of the only mountain zoos in the country. Just be on the lookout for any Dawson's Creek-themed bio-blobs.
4250 Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Road, Colorado Springs, www.cmzoo.org/
When the boys hit on a scheme in "The Tooth Fairy's Tats 2000" to get rich by putting teeth under rich kids' pillows and then stealing the money left by the Tooth Fairy, they head to the perfect place to find lots of spoiled brats: Cherry Creek, the "wealthiest neighborhood in Colorado," as a street sign in the episode proclaims. "I'll bet the kids get $10 a tooth from the Tooth Fairy," says Stan, and he's right: Upscale Cherry Creek offers some of the best people-watching around, from jet-setters slurping espressos to elderly couples walking their dogs — in dog strollers — and lots of little tykes sporting Ralph Lauren and looking forward to the old Tooth Fairy leaving a charge card under their 600-thread-count pillows.
Oh, those silly, physically impaired kids! When South Park's disabled boys Timmy and Jimmy form a club called "the Crips" — short for the cripples — in "Krazy Kripples," they hear of a similar group in Denver: the "Five Points Crips." So off they go to Five Points, one of Denver's grittier neighborhoods, and soon discover members of the Crips, a real street gang. These days in Five Points you're more likely to spot remnants of the area's rich African-American heritage, such as the Black American West Museum and the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library, than roaming gangstas, but if you do come across any, just ply them with marshmallows and ginger ale. It worked for Timmy and Jimmy.
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South Park fans can be forgiven for assuming that the larger-than-life "Disneyland of Mexican restaurants" filled with cliff divers, a haunted cave and endless sopaipillas featured in the "Casa Bonita" episode was a fantastical creation of Parker and Stone. But Casa Bonita is all too real; its cartoonish glory has enlivened West Colfax Avenue since 1974. The joint is so full of outlandish spectacle, it's no wonder Cartman nearly kills his classmate Butters so he can take his place at Kyle's birthday party at the restaurant. You'd surely do the same, all the while singing Cartman's favorite song: "Casa Bonita! Casa Bonita! Food and fun in a festive atmosphere!"
6715 West Colfax Avenue, Lakewood, www.casabonitadenver.com