For years, opening day at Cheyenne Frontier Days has been "Colorado Appreciation Day." But on Saturday, not a single appreciative Colorado official returned the favor by joining in the parade of cowboys, baton twirlers, Shriner cars and Minuteman missiles winding its way through downtown Cheyenne. Even if he didn't ride a horse, like Wyoming governor Jim Geringer, former governor Roy Romer at least walked the route when he was in office. So where was Governor Bill Owens?
On vacation with his family in the mountains, says gubernatorial spokesman Dick Wadhams, who hastens to add that no slight was intended. "We have not amassed national guard troops on the border," he explains. In fact, Colorado is particularly interested in keeping relations with our neighbor to the north friendly, now that it looks like Wyomingite Dick Cheney could be the next veep.
Although no Colorado bigwig was in the parade, plenty were spotted around town, thanks to the Denver Post train that brought in three private cars' worth of movers and shakers conspicuous in their ill-fitting boots and pressed, non-official jeans (real cowboys wear Wranglers). To honor the VIP passengers, that day's rodeo featured several bulls named for prominent Coloradans, including Post owner Dean Singleton and United Airlines regional vice president Roger Gibson -- whose airline, like his namesake bull, has lately been one wild ride.
Perfect daze: If you've flown on United, you've undoubtedly seen Hemispheres, United's ubiquitous in-flight magazine, tucked into the seat pocket in front of you. And if you've read the magazine -- say, while stuck on the tarmac for three hours before your plane actually takes off -- you probably know about "Three Perfect Days," the award-winning series that gives travelers an ambitious 72-hour schedule to follow in such world-class cities as New York, Tokyo, San Francisco and London. This month, Hemispheres finally got around to reviewing Denver, one of United's biggest hubs and, lately, one of its biggest problems. The article includes most of the Mile High City's usual suspects -- but these are very unusual days for United and its would-be passengers. For them, we offer the Westword alternative to Three Perfect Days in Denver.
Day One:You're booked at La Quinta Inn near Denver International Airport. You weren't planning to visit Denver at all, but your United flight from New York to Los Angeles connected here, and the second leg of the trip was first delayed by six hours and then canceled altogether -- so you decided to make a vacation of it. La Quinta isn't exactly ideally located for sightseeing, but everything else was sold out: Your flight wasn't the only one United "reduced," to use correct airlines parlance.
Rent a car -- preferably an SUV, but make sure the rental company explains how to drive it -- and park in one of the cheaper lots behind magnificent Union Station, at 16th and Wynkoop streets. The picturesque old depot is one of Denver's most famous buildings, and you'll find tourists such as yourself taking photos of it at almost any hour. Despite its aesthetic and historical significance, however, developers have talked about building high-rises on either side of the station, blocking out views of the sky and the mountains and destroying the character of the area.
Admire the architecture of historic LoDo, grab a breakfast burrito from any number of corner vendors, then stroll up 16th Street for a few blocks until it turns into the pedestrian-only 16th Street Mall. Spend the morning shopping -- not just at the mall's cheesy T-shirt shops and gift stores, but at the trendy Pavilions and Tabor Center. And don't worry about letting your wallet flash in public -- you won't encounter any aggressive panhandlers asking for spare change. They've all been swept away by Mayor Wellington Webb's Guiliani-esque anti-bum dictate.
After lunch at any number of overpriced nearby establishments, climb into your SUV and pilot it up I-25 to I-36, which leads straight to Colorado's most internationally famous location: No, not Aspen, but the house at 755 15th Street in Boulder, which was once home to John and Patsy Ramsey and their daughter JonBenét. After solving her murder (or at least getting your picture taken in front of the infamous "unlocked window"), get back on the road and head south to Littleton, hanging a left off West Bowles Avenue onto South Pierce Street. You're now in front of Colorado's second-most famous location, Columbine High School, where an atrium is currently being built to replace the library where so many of the victims of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were killed or injured. Like O.J. Simpson's now-demolished Brentwood, California, estate, the high school has become one of the Denver area's most popular "unofficial" tourist sites.
Get your morbid fill, then drive back to LoDo. It's time for baseball, and while Coors Field is beautiful, the best way to get a taste of the neighborhood is to skip the game and participate in a nine-inning pub crawl. Start at El Chapultepec on the corner of 20th and Market streets, a block over from Coors. Have a beer during the top of the first inning. At the commercial, run next door to LoDo's Bar and Grill and have a beer during the bottom half. Continue bar-hopping every half-inning, down Market for a few blocks, up Blake, down Wynkoop and up Wazee until, by the end of the ninth inning, you will have sampled the wares in eighteen LoDo establishments, ending at The ChopHouse and Fadó Irish Pub. Cry in your beer when you learn that the Colorado Rockies lost. Again.
Day Two: Colorado's high altitude and arid climate will have you breathing deep through nasal passages as dry as the Sahara when you awaken. Head downtown for a few restorative Bloody Marys at Duffy's Shamrock Restaurant and Bar. After you're well fortified, rent a couple of bikes and pedal to Six Flags Elitch Gardens, where the first thing you'll want to try is the Mind Eraser. Just make sure you bring a neck brace and a bucket. Luckily, the first-aid station is nearby.
After you've tossed your cookies and the last of the Bloodies, pedal from Confluence Park -- where the Cherry Creek meets the South Platte River and the water level was artificially raised in 1996 for an Al Gore photo-op -- up the bike path to the Cherry Creek Shopping Center. This upscale mall has all the same chains you have in your town, but for some reason, it consistently ranks as one of the city's top tourist destinations. Continue on the trail for several miles to Cherry Creek State Park, where there are lots of opportunities for recreational activities, including birdwatching, volleyball and boating: It's Denver's own little beach. Don't actually go in the water, though: The disgusting reservoir closes for the occasional E. coli outbreak. To keep closures to a minimum, the people who run the park are now trying to have state water-quality standards lowered even further.
Afterward, bike back up the trail to the bite-sized burg of Glendale, a tiny city surrounded on all sides by Denver, where the residents love their politics and really love their strip joints. Check out Shotgun Willie's and P.T's Gold Club -- which doesn't have alcohol but does serve up full nudity. Later, walk to Fascinations, a massive sex shop behind Shotgun Willie's that will sell you all the stuff -- including skin mags, X-rated videos, lingerie and lots and lots of sex toys -- you need to take back to La Quinta for some hot-blooded nighttime activity of your own.
Day Three: Nothing pleases like big, fuzzy animals, and the Denver Zoo has plenty of them -- just don't mention the polar bears. What were once the zoo's most popular moneymaking machine have become a bit of a sore subject recently, with the mysterious death of mother bear Ulu and the relocation of her two youngest cuddly cubs, Ulaq and Berit, to the Cincinnati Zoo, where they will be renamed -- despite the fact that a local woman paid for the rights to name them here.
Refuel at Govnr's Park, a restaurant/bar only a five-minute drive from the zoo, where they serve very large beers and good food. The restaurant is named for the Governor's Mansion, which is just up the hill, but you won't see the governor at either place. No, the big man himself, Bill Owens, doesn't actually live in his mansion; he prefers to stay in suburban Aurora. The big city can be a scary place.
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Find out just how scary by capping your vacation with a Denver Police Department ride-along. This is a very popular activity, and if you're lucky, like holster-sniffing Colorado Rockies second baseman Mike Lansing, you might get to sit in a van while the cops blow away the wrong guy -- as they did when they killed Ismael Mena during a no-knock raid last year. If you're even luckier, Denver's finest won't make you sign any paperwork, so you won't be called upon to do any pesky testifying regarding any skullduggery you may have witnessed. (Travelers' alert: The DPD is currently reviewing its policies on police ride-alongs; call the department for details.) Afterward, ask the cops to drop you off at My Brother's Bar. (Since there's no sign outside and the DPD cops aren't good at addresses -- they hit the wrong house the night they killed Mena -- you should know that it's located at 2376 15th Street, near Confluence Park.) The service at My Brother's can be spotty, but it's one of the few places in town still serving food past midnight.
Certainly you won't find any sustenance at DIA, which shuts up tighter than a drum much earlier in the evening. Fortunately, the airport's chapel is open 24-7: On your way back to La Quinta, stop by and say a prayer that you'll manage to get the hell out of Dodge -- er, Denver -- the next day.
Lots of baggage: Westword's What United Did to My Summer Vacation contest, announced in this very space last week, has inspired a deluge of sad stories. There's still time to share yours, though; see www.westword.com/unitedairlines for full details.