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Not since the halcyon days of coach Sonny Lubick have the CSU Rams been so much fun to watch. During an NCAA era when small-conference schools are supposedly irrelevant, the squad was impossible to ignore, thanks to signature performances like a hard-fought road win over Boston College. Major credit is owed to quarterback Garrett Grayson, who went from being a virtual unknown to a hot NFL prospect over the course of a few short months. But the team as a whole was the football equivalent of the Little Engine That Could, and even though its bowl defeat to Utah was disappointing, it couldn't ruin the gridiron memories that preceded it.
Readers' choice: University of Denver Pioneers Hockey
We call it the Tumbleweed Tour. Visitors who want to experience Denver old and new in just half an hour should head to the 1600 block of Wazee Street. On one side of the street is Rockmount Ranch Wear (1627 Wazee St., 303-627-7777), the classic Western-wear company run by the Weil family since Jack A. Weil created the snap-button shirt in 1946. The turn-of-the-last-century warehouse building has been lovingly restored, and today holds a retail outlet full of boots, shirts and Western accessories; there's even a museum of classic Rockmount designs. If this shop is good enough for visiting rock musicians, it's definitely good enough for you. And from a historic look at how the West was worn, you can cross the street to see what's winning the West today: recreational marijuana. The LoDo Wellness Center (1617 Wazee St., 303-534-5020) looks like a Banana Republic store inside — except the stock is all pot-related, right down to the thoughtful bottles of Visine — and on the outside boasts a fading mural by artist William Matthews. After a visit to both spots, you'll be drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds.
Last year, Visit Denver closed up its old visitors' center on the 16th Street Mall while it outfitted a spanking-new Tourist Information Center just off the mall, one outfitted with B-cycle bikes hanging overhead, a big screen filled with images of Colorado, old-school brochures, and touch-screens to tell you about the latest attractions. But the real draw is the shop in back, which offers all-Colorado products, including T-shirts that are actually made in this state (thank you, Coloradical) and miniature versions of the Big Blue Bear. This is one-stop shopping — for both info and souvenirs.
A day at Four Mile Historic Park is sort of like a day of time-traveling — except there's no DeLorean required, and you don't have to leave this urban oasis smack in the middle of Glendale in order to be transported back to the 1800s. The park is open year-round, and visitors can explore Denver's oldest standing structure, a former stage stop, as well as other authentic cabins and barns, a covered wagon, a tepee and a chicken coop. There's also an orchard and gorgeous swale beyond a peaceful meadow, often the site of special festivals on the holidays.
History tours of Boulder and Denver, brewery tours all over, nighttime ghost tours: Banjo Billy delivers the goods with funk and flair. Patrons can pick their seats on the hicksterish bus (try the recliner, the couch or, uh, the saddle); they also get to vote on just how much they want to hear about various attractions along the route. The knowledgeable guides breeze through the ninety-minute tour with field-tested patter, and it's all over before anybody can quiz you on your expanded knowledge of local culture and trivia. 0x000A
Like an unofficial historian of local commercial lore, Tom Lundin offers a daily dose of Denver in pictures via The Denver Eye. Photographs of Googie-style signs, mid-century-modern motor hotels and Victorian-era theaters share space with vintage restaurant menus and now-defunct department-store advertisements as the page pieces together the Mile High City's past. Though the project started out as a full-fledged website, Lundin moved The Denver Eye to Facebook so that folks could pore over photos and share their own stories inspired by his massive collection of images from Denver's past century-plus.