And it's a great city, even Americans think so. Denver came in at number seven in a list of the best cities in America. I am gutted I have only one day here before I join my cycling trip in Aspen. The great news is there's a Chihuly (fabulous glass sculptures) installation at the Botanic Gardens so I make that my priority. As it turns out the Denver Botanic Gardens are probably the best I've ever seen anywhere in the world, and that includes London's Kew Gardens.
But I'm in Colorado for the cycling. A six day ride in the Rockies, about which I may have had just a few quiet misgivings. I rely on VBT's (the tour company) assurance that there is van support. Now it's not just that I'm being wimpy; at least not much. After nearly a month in South America with no biking I'm not feeling fabulously fit, and at altitude it's not just the scenery that takes your breath away.
A group of 18 plus two guides, on this trip. Aside from me, everyone is American and everywhere from New York to California. We start in Aspen at an altitude of just over 8,000 feet (2,400 meters) with a ride up hill to Maroon Bells. These are twin peaks of over 14,000 feet and appararently the most photographed scene in Colorado, if not America. The two peaks reflected in the lake make a nice picture, but a it's bit over hyped.
All of the mountain towns are ski villages by winter and biking and hiking towns by summer so there are quite a lot of vacationers around,and it turns out it is also US school holidays. The architecture tends to the Swiss chalet flowering window box style especially in Vail, which to my surprise is a new ski area developed in the early 1960s. Our riding over the six days covers riding paths in many of the ski resort names you recognise, such as Aspen, Vail, and Breckenridge.
We are almost always on purpose built and sealed recreational paths which make for easy-ish riding. The longest day we ride 42 miles (67 kilometres) down the Roaring Fork Valley from Aspen to Glenwood Springs. As we lose 2,100 feet of elevation over the distance it is a really enjoyable and picturesque ride with the Roaring Forks river on one side and with the mountains on the other. We stop for lunch at Carbondale, a one horse town and home of Senor Taco, a great little hole in the wall restaurant, and for $3.50 Senor makes a great mahi mahi taco!
Unfortunately the next 10 miles is in the heat of the day (now 32 degrees C) with a bit of a head wind. By the time I arrive at our hotel my face is scarlet and I feel like I am about to have a heart attack - or at the very least collapse of heat stroke. However it's back in the saddle, or in this case grab the paddle, and we are off rafting the Shoshone Rapids for the afternoon, down through the Glenwood Canyon (which we cycle the next day), and it is spectacular. I am not tempted by the hot springs after dinner. I've had enough heat for one day.
We also cycle the Ten Mile Canyon National Recreational Trail from the top of Vail Pass - thank God the shuttle has brought us up to the top - it is 10,662 feet! We ride down a fairly steep (read smoke coming off the brakes) path on the east side to Copper Mountain village, then a more gradual path to Frisco then on into Breckenridge which is a lovely historic old mining town and lacks the whiff of elitism you sense in Vail and most especially Aspen.
It transpires there is not a drugstore (ie cannabis not pharmacy) on every corner in Colorado, and the state does not reek of weed. Not every town has a cannabis store. However Breckenridge is where I get to ask the question you don't get to ask much: do you sell marijuana here? Even though the store looks suitably hippie-ish the reply is a genuinely heartfelt: I'm so sorry, we only sell pipes. But she directs us down the street to the Breckenridge Cannabis Company.
It turns out these stores are very carefully run professional places, even if they only deal in cash! You wait in a waiting area until a room comes free. When its your turn you have to show your ID or you are not allowed in the room. The sales dude (there is no other word for a guy with waist length dreadlocks, multiple piercings and a riot of tattoos ) asks what you are looking for: eg an 'amped' high, or more mellow, or a heavy stone - that's the brownies apparently - and makes recommendations. There's all kinds of weed and varieties of edible product. Any purchases (since I am in America I'm pleading the 5th) are placed in a childproof ziplock bag - who knew such a thing existed.
After the cycling I return to Denver to meet up with my dear old friend (the expat living in Milwaukee). We pick up our rental and embark on a Thelma and Louise road trip - sadly without the convertible or Brad Pitt and happily without the finale. We do have scarves, sunglasses and lipstick.
We are heading south through the mountains and canyons in the South of the state and then on to Albuquerque.
Yes folks, we're Breaking Bad! More Rocky Mountain highs to come....
(Sorry for the lack of photos - having trouble loading them by iPad)
ATM cash only, ID requires, one at a time