Eighteen Hours in the Mile High City

Denver, the Mile High City

Denver was a destination decided on suddenly after planes to Portland, Oregon filled up. That’s part of the joys of flying standby. It turned out to be a good choice.

It was dark when we arrived, so there wasn’t much chance I was going to see the blue fiberglass mustang by Luis Jimenez. I suppose if I had been keenly aware, I might have seen its glowing red eyes locals refer to as creepy. It seems iconic to me, but efforts are still underway to have the sculpture removed. Asking about it on the hotel-airport bus got everyone talking. It probably doesn’t help the creepy factor that the artist died when part of the sculpture fell on him, severing an artery. Removal would be unfortunate. Love it or not, it’s iconic and eerily magnificent.

Luis Jimenez Mustang Sculpture Denver Airport

In the morning we rode the bus back to the airport so we could take the new RTD train downtown. We were sure to sit on the left side of the bus so we could see the sculpture. Even though it is technically now off my bucket list, I wouldn’t mind a closer look some day. There is a smaller version at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum in Norman, Oklahoma.

RTD Train Denver Airport

We had debated whether it was better to take an Uber downtown or the RTD. The cost seemed similar, and Uber could be a little faster, so that may be better for the return trip. The bus driver told us that the $9 RTD fare included the return trip and included unlimited rides on public transit in-town, so that sealed the deal.

The space between downtown Denver and the airport is mostly barren with some light industrial uses scattered about. You don’t see much in the way of neighborhoods, so I have to wonder where those are. In a way, it’s a treat compared to the space between Dallas and DFW airport, which is filled with car lots, malls and the like.

After a little more than a half hour ride, Union Station becomes visible. The train pulls into a cavern walled with apartment high-rises which make Denver appear to be a city of considerable size and density.

Any city that has a historic train station remaining from the golden age of railroads is fortunate. Denver has one of the better stations and has made excellent use of it. The lobby was busy with activity, not just from commuters, but because the upper floors of the station have been converted into a hotel. The space serves as a hotel lobby and a living room for the city.

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I had been in the city once before, although very briefly. I stepped outside the station during a stopover on a transcontinental train ride in 2001. This time, it was daylight and a farmer’s market was set up outside. From this vantage point, you can see many of the city’s historic brick buildings, some still used for their intended purpose. Hotels make sense outside of a train station.

16th Street in Denver is a pedestrian-only road with the exception of buses, which are free to ride and take you to the State Capitol. The weather was gorgeous, however, and with many things to see there was no reason to get on a bus.

We zig zagged around the downtown to see several sites including the Daniels & Fisher Tower and the Opera house. The tower remains from a department store by that name built in 1910. The opera house is now integrated into an aesthetically-challenged arts complex.

We made it passed the state capitol to the art museum which sits beside one of the best post-modern buildings I have ever seen, the Denver Public Library. It turns out it was built in 1995 and designed by Michael Graves.

Denver Public Library Michael Graves

Across a plaza with several sizeable sculptures is the Denver Art Museum. There’s no mistaking the building and while the odd shape seems so from the outside, it makes for exciting vistas inside.

If there was a primary reason to visit Denver, it was the Women of Abstract Expressionism show at the museum. Organized by the museum, the show covers unexplored masterpieces of the period and is complimented with a variety of historical materials and interviews which provide welcome context. There’s even a playlist on Spotify to bring to life the jazz of the era, which is important to understanding the climate that produced the art.

Leaving the museum, we took a more leisurely stroll around the Capitol building, which a tourist brochure had claimed was similar to the U.S. Capitol. If you’ve been around the U.S., you know that many of the state capitol buildings look alike and the description wasn’t really helpful. I’d venture outside the color, it most closely resembles the Texas Capitol in Austin that the U.S Capitol in Washington.

bicycle lanes in DenverI’d like to make a few notations that don’t really fit well into the timeline of the article. Coming from Dallas, I was really jealous of all the bike lanes, the bike share system and the general presence of people on bicycles. Denver is known as a healthy and outdoorsy city, and from my small glimpse of life there, it would seem that is true.

The note is about the stores on the 16th Street walkway. While the retail district appears to be thriving, many of the stores were along the lines of discount retail chains like TJ Maxx. It is remarkable they survive fronted to a pedestrian thoroughfare. It would be nice, however, to have more local flavor in the mix.

No report would be complete without the mention of food. There were several options on the route back to Union Station including eating at Union Station. The one with the best rating was Appaloosa Grill on 16th Street. It was a little on the pricey side but had a nice selection of vegetarian options, as well as healthy offerings of the best treat to tap off the day: beer.

About Eric Miller

Rick and I started this web magazine as The New Colonist back in 1999. I was in San Francisco, and he was in Los Angeles. We had a common interest in sustainability and city life. We're still at it. Today I am happy to have lived in both New York, San Francisco and Pittsburgh and to now reside in Dallas. Find more at ericmiller.me