Five prizeworthy parts of the 2012 Denver County Fair

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During a long weekend at the new, improved, second annual Denver County Fair, one thing became very apparent: There's no way to see everything, and there's nothing you'll want to miss. We caught spelling bees and speed-knitting contests, an art gallery that seemed like an endless maze, cooking and composting demos, stilt-walkers and creepy clowns, chickens and alpacas and cavies and bears. Fair director Dana Cain calls the event her love letter to Denver, quirks and all, and that it is. Here are just a few reasons why.

Also see: - Slide show: Denver County Fair 2012 - Denver County Fair Freakshow Pavilion: "You can't call it a freakshow unless you have a freak" - County Fair Geek Pavilion: "Stormtroopers, zombies, steampunks ... it's going to be pretty dang cool" - Slide show: Freaks, friends at the Denver County Fair

Blue Ribbons Deep down inside, we all want to be winners; at the Denver County Fair, it was more than possible. Winning is the sweet secret of the fair: You can sew, cluck, bake, eat or innocently crawl and drool your way to a blue ribbon in the space of three days, and that feels great. Animals Let's just say that there were more than a few adults caught indulging in the petting zoo, communing with freakin' cute alpacas and getting bitten in the ass by the sassy goats. The sanctioned chicken exhibits were quite stunning, and we have to wonder how many parents had to spend the rest of the weekend explaining to their kids why they couldn't have a fluffy little rabbit at home. Animal dreams. Freak Show The DCF fair paid proper tribute to the dark side of the carnival, with an improved freak show, organized with a flourish by local carny Ukulele Loki. It featured antics by bona fide freaks and circus performers, including the Enigma -- he of the implanted horns and the full-body tattoo -- and Loki's former troupe mates, the Crispy Family Carnival. Considering the number of kids we saw in the tent, we're hoping they got the "don't try this at home" message. Andrew Novick's X-treme Pancake Breakfast The pancake breakfast is a mainstay of traditional county fairs, but you've never been to one as trippy as this eating orgy, devised by out-of-the-box thinker and DCF entertainment director Andrew Novick. One of the great successes of last's year's debut, the pancake breakfast is an invitation to pile your fluffy flapjacks high with every kind of topping imaginable: licorice, malted milk balls, Froot Loops, jams, syrups, marshmallows, nuts, whipped cream, cookie crumbs and more, eighty items to choose from in all. But the flavored butters are the best part. Are you listening, Andrew? Bring back the Vietnamese Coffee and Chai butters, both to die for, and next year, maybe Thai iced tea? Personalities

With everything from a farm and garden pavilion to a geek pavilion, the fair had people in overalls mingling with storm troopers and everything else in between. And though we spotted drag queens, steam punkers, gothic lolitas, luche libre wrestlers, pinup gals, creepy clowns, trailer-trash queens, mid-century cheerleaders, zombies and mariachis galore, we also saw adorable children with their mouths buried in cotton candy, hipsters and suburbanites, corn-dog-gulping hoi polloi, artists and fashion queens. This wasn't your hayseed county fair, by any means.

But then, Denver isn't just any county. On to 2013!

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