Top Ten Weird and Wonderful Attractions in Colorado

Get happy in Nederland.EXPAND
Get happy in Nederland.
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We asked Erin K. Barnes, author of the just-released Easy Weekend Getaways from Denver & Boulder,  to embrace the chaos and describe her top ten attractions in Colorado.

Even if most Coloradans will enjoy a stay(at home)cation this July 4 weekend, we can dream, can't we? Her winners:

10. The scrappy, Victorian mining-town charm of Leadville
Barnes loves the stories behind how many of the mountain towns were created, by “people who came here to strike it rich, and were really bold and adventurous, committed to their own stubborn dream.” Although about three-quarters of the gold-seekers returned home, the people who stayed created a “sinful, bold, adventurous vibe.” Another favorite? Central City.

9. The rush of the Arkansas River near Buena Vista
“It feels different there, like you’re near the ocean,” Barnes says. “The rush of the river is big and calming, and the people are super-cool.”

8. The Carousel of Happiness in Nederland
While serving in Vietnam, a Colorado soldier dreamed of creating a carousel...and when he returned to Nederland, he did just that. “There’s the history, and I love to take my kids there,” she explains. “It’s old-timey Americana, and it just feels good.”

7. The free-thinking, Hunter S. Thompson version of Aspen
“I hadn’t gotten to really explore,” Barnes says of this period and part of Aspen. “It was a place for free thinkers and a lot of cool cultural institutions. Really influential people spent time there.”

6. Bishop Castle
“Sometimes I think that’s my favorite place. Just going there is such an experience,” she says.

A weird and wonderful experience in Wetmore.
A weird and wonderful experience in Wetmore.

5. The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park
This landmark exemplifies the “ultimate Colorado stubbornness for a dream,” Barnes notes. “Imagine building a hotel so grandiose when there were barely any people in the town.” The Stephen King tie-in just adds to the allure.

4. The Black Monarch and the town of Victor
Yes, Barnes does publicity work for the revamped hotel and the old mining town, but she took the job “because I was so drawn to them,” she explains. “They embody the weird.”

3. Red Rocks
“Don’t ignore the amazing things we have here just because you’re a native,” Barnes reminds us. “This is the most Colorado place ever: You can watch live music, do yoga, drink beer.” When it reopens, that is.

2. San Luis Valley with the UFO Watchtower and the Great Sand Dunes
“It’s a hot spot for the spiritual. I like hot spots for everything,” says Barnes, who particularly likes the Great Sand Dunes. “I’m not a huge mountain person; I’m more of a beach person. I had this intense connection the first time I visited. It feels like the magic of the Sand Dunes inspires people to do really extraordinary things.”

The neighs have it!EXPAND
The neighs have it!
Erin K. Barnes

1. Blucifer
Yes, she knows that “Mustang” at Denver International Airport is “kind of a weird choice,” maybe even a controversial one, since making the sculpture killed its creator, Luis Jiménez. “But for an airport to choose that is really inspiring and cool, especially since airports usually have bland art, hotel art,” Barnes notes. “It’s one of the first things to welcome people to Colorado. That’s amazing to me. I love it as a piece of art. It’s terrifying, and when you gaze into the eyes, you feel its power. It feels like Blucifer is alive.”

And since her book is all about getaways, does she have a particular favorite way to spend a weekend in Colorado? (Assuming everything is open, of course.

"My favorite weekend getaway is really hard to narrow down," Barnes admits. "It would either have to be Marble Distilling Co. in Carbondale; Strawberry Park Hot Springs in Steamboat, because there's also so much other stuff you can do (everyone loves Steamboat!); wine tasting in Palisade or mountain biking in Crested Butte."

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