Denver: Like No Place Else
There’s plenty that sets Denver apart from other big cities, but its proximity to the Rocky Mountains is what really distinguishes the Mile High City from its metropolitan colleagues. The mountains don’t exactly loom over the city. Denver sits on the prairie, and from most of the city it takes at least 20 minutes to set foot on the skirt of a mountain. But they dominate the western horizon, a long row of peaks beckoning every time the eyes drift west.
The mountain aesthetic influences the city’s vibe. The dominant vehicle accoutrement in Denver is bike/kayak/ski racks. The draw of the mountains is so strong that Denver is quiet on weekends, compared to similarly sized cities. The reason? Everybody is in the mountains, hiking with their dogs, gliding down the slopes or navigating a single-track with their muddy bikes.
The grand, mazelike REI Outdoors store along the Platte River is a popular hangout for the locals. Stocked with everything you could possibly need for tackling the outdoors (climbing ropes, head lamps, tents, snowshoes, knives, rain gear, boots), the REI is a massive testament to Denver’s love of the outdoors.
There is more to Denver than the mountains, though. This a beer-crazy town, and there are at least a dozen brewpubs in the city. Denver’s popular mayor, John Hickenlooper, owned Denver’s first brewpub before running for office and Coors Field, its baseball field, is named after a brewery. The country’s largest celebration of beer, the Great American Beer Festival, takes place in Denver every year, and the trade association for the microbrew movement is based in Boulder, a college town 30 miles from Denver.
Increasingly Denver's also an art-loving city. The new Frederic C. Hamilton building, designed by international architect phenom Daniel Libeskind, is a marvel. From the outside, the metal-sheathed building looks like a collision between a ship and an iceberg (in a good way). The museum's collection of art from the American West is one of the best in the country, including works by George Catlin, Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell. It's archive of contemporary art, too, is excellent, helped in part by the Herbert Bayer Collection and Archive, which includes about 8,000 works by Bayer, who was a Bauhaus master.
New exhibits are constantly moving through the museum. Highlights include the first solo museum exhibition in the United States of the contemporary German artist Daniel Richter; a major retrospective of Ernest L. Blumenschein, an artist best known for his paintings of New Mexico people and landscapes during the early part of the 1900s; and several exhibits revolving around major Impressionists.
The new downtown Museum of Contemporary Art is another architectural marvel, with rooms full of Damien Hirst, Jonas Burgert, Jasper de Beijer and Jane Hammond. There are the galleries along and around Santa Fe Drive, a constellation of about 40 galleries in an old, Hispanic part near downtown.