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  • Writer's pictureAlta's Oyster

Summer Days in Colorado

Nothing helps me appreciate Colorado's breathtaking landscape like seeing it through my loved ones' eyes.

When I drove across the state line after a five-day solo road trip from South Florida in 2019, the mountains took my breath away. The last time I'd seen such wonder was when I flew to Cap Haitian, Haiti in 2016. Colorado's mountains were majestic, and I promised myself that I would get closer. And I did. In the throes of COVID and in between traveling for work, I ventured closer when I could: to Red Rocks Amphitheater, Garden of the Gods, and the Paint Mines Interpretive Park, to name a few.

I was as eager as a tourist when I first moved, but that eventually evaporated amid surgeries, and the routine of go to work/build an exercise habit/try to cook/wonder where your energy went. Colorado became my every day, and not many people are impressed by their every day. These days, when I'm on the highway, I'm more focused on the cars around me than on the giants in the distance.

And I only planned to live here for two years, so my mind's also been anxiously fixated on deciding my next move, which adds to the penchant for taking the beauty around me for granted.

But sometimes, three times actually, I lift my head up and absorb the beauty around me. I've hosted friends and family in Colorado three times since moving here. Each time, I sift through the options (based on what I've experienced firsthand) with the goals of showcasing Colorado's best and pulling that impressed "Wow" from my loved ones.

Jennifer visited me over Labor Day weekend, and those four days gave me the opportunity to delight in the beauty of the Centennial State. I hope this inspires you to visit Colorado.

Red Rocks Amphitheater

Photo of Black woman standing across the street in front of giant red sandstone at Red Rocks Amphitheater
The iconic red sandstone at Red Rocks Amphitheater

I always start them off at Red Rocks. The (eventually) scenic drive from Denver to Morisson reels them in, and Red Rocks knocks them over. The small, open-air amphitheater is built into red sandstone that have been around for some 300 million years. This is what makes Red Rocks special. You're standing in front of, next to, on beautiful, towering rocks that have resided here for millions of years. These rocks endured the dinosaurs, and they're currently enduring us. They were molded and chiseled by water, wind, and ice, and they've witnessed the earth during periods of environmental abundance. They've witnessed the earth nourish divergent life forms and have suffered violent weather that forced them to change.

And there you are. Taking a pic. Maybe feeling small. I feel tiny in a historical sense when I visit Red Rocks. It's a comforting feeling.

Entrance to the amphitheater is free, unless there's an event happening. In which case, you won't be able to enter the amphitheater without an event ticket, but you can still explore the rocks outside. When you visit, you don't have to stop at looking. The amphitheater is part of Red Rocks Park, which has multiple hiking trails. Completing one of these trails is on my Before I Leave Colorado list. I should do it this year, before Fall starts feeling like Winter.

Lookout Mountain

Photo of Denver skyline taken from Lookout Mountain
Photo by Jennifer

By the time we got to Lookout Mountain, the sun had already set, but we still enjoyed lovely blue and lavender colors before the sky darkened completely. Originally managed by indigenous people of the Ute tribe, Lookout Mountain has a mellow vibe, with plenty of space for lookers to spread out and spark reflective conversations like, "How much farther would medicine and technology be if a people's innovation hadn't been mutilated by genocide, colonization, slavery, and subjugation?"

Lookout Mountain is free and invites you to get as deep as you want. You can also visit the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave that's on the premises. And there are hiking/biking trails, because this is Colorado.

Dinosaur Ridge Trail

Now, what kind of Colorado tour guide would I be if I didn't take my good sis on a hike?

Dinosaur Ridge is ranked by paleontologists as the number one dinosaur track site in America. The area has hundreds of preserved tracks and geological markings from the Cretaceous period. You can explore the site yourself or take advantage of the many guided tours offered.

We specifically went to hike the 3.7-mile Dinosaur Ridge Trail (more specifically, the Dakota Ridge Trail). It's appropriately labeled a moderate hike on the AllTrails app, friend, because I did this trail with a group in March and suffered accordingly. I don't be hiking, but I do go on hikes. Clock the difference. I will write a post about the hikes I've done since moving to Colorado and rank them based on level of difficulty. Don't get your hopes up, though, because I haven't done many.

Jennifer and I didn't complete the trail, because just like me, she also suffered accordingly, but we completed most of it and had a lot of fun. Note that there is a paved incline that you have to walk before you get to the trailhead, so you'll be working out right away! When you get high enough, you'll be able to see the red sandstone of Red Rocks Park, which is close by.

Denver Botanic Gardens

Photo of a Black woman with natural hair standing under an arch inside of Denver Botanic Gardens
The start of a whimsical adventure at Denver Botanic Gardens. Photo by: Jennifer

If you want to feel like a Photographer™, visit the Denver Botanic Gardens. The multitude of plants and flowers do all the work. You just have to choose a setting on your phone or camera and click away. I took the photo below of me in the red dress with a tripod. I'm telling you.

The garden encompasses 24 acres and has copious benches to sit and read, sit and reflect, sit and pretend, sit and look cute. There's also plenty of grass space for a picnic or lounging. And you might get followed by a cute bunny like we did, ratcheting up the whimsy factor by 30.

During our visit, we came upon the Sensory Garden, which encourages visitors to touch and smell the plants. I was battling a cold and couldn't smell a thing, but Jennifer caught a whiff of lemons (I think).

Similar to Dinosaur Ridge, you can explore the place by yourself with map in hand, or you can be accompanied by a guide. The botanic gardens are well worth the fifteen-dollar price of admission. The place is so wonderfully distracting that you won't complete all of it in one visit.

Georgetown Loop Railroad

Georgetown is a historic mining town that mainly produced silver in the late 1800s, and the railroad was considered an engineering feat when it was finished. There are two starting points, either Devil's Gate Depot (in Georgetown) or Silver Plume Depot (in Silver Plume). The railroad connects the two towns, so the hour and fifteen-minute ride consists of going from one station to another and looping back.

While listening to the histories of the railroad, Georgetown, Silver Plume, and mining life, you'll ride next to the rushing waters of Clear Creek, between statuesque trees, and over the Devil's Gate High Bridge, so called because back in the day the wind used to be so loud in this area that passengers said the devil himself was howling. As we went over the bridge, I tried to picture how ghoulish that must have sounded.

You can add a mine walking tour to your train ride to hear more history and get the chance to pan for gold (mine tour can't be done without a train ride). I've ridden this train three times, but I've never done the walking tour. There's an option to have your picture taken before you get in line for the train, and there's a cute gift shop to purchase souvenirs before or after the ride.

Georgetown Loop Railroad hosts seasonal events, so as we prepare to leave Summer behind, they're gearing up for the Pumpkinfest Train (where all children receive a pumpkin and candy to take home) and the Autumnfest Train (includes free beer samples from local breweries). I did the Santa's Lighted Forest Train in November 2021 when my sister, niece, and brother came to visit. During this time, the forest glows with Christmas lights in the shape of reindeer, snowmen, and elves. Santa boarded the train as well, but my niece was woefully unimpressed.

The video above, taken by Jennifer, captures how splendid the train ride in Georgetown is.

Denver Art Museum

Before I took her to the airport on Labor Day, we spent two hours at the Denver Art Museum. She had suggested that the museum be part of our itinerary, which was great, because that facilitated my first visit as well, and I've already gone a second time since.

We thoroughly browsed the Arts of Africa Gallery, which features ceremonial masks, sculptures, combs and picks, and paintings. I became excited when I came across the Sowei Helmet Mask, which is credited to a Mende artist from Sierra Leone (gifted anonymously). The information about it partially states: the highest-ranking members of the all-woman Mende Sande Society wear helmet masks [like the Sowei] during initiation rites for girls.

I gasped when I read this, because I did the MatriClan test from African Ancestry in 2021 and learned that I share maternal ancestry with the Mende people, a match of 100%. These masks made me wonder about the customs and traditions of my ancestors pre kidnapping and human trafficking.

We journeyed from the continent of Africa to Oceania and perused the Islands Beyond Blue: Niki Hastings-McFall and Treasures from the Oceania Collection. The most striking part of this exhibit is the mushroom cloud made of lei that represents the nuclear bomb tests conducted by countries like the United States and France in the Pacific. It took me a second to recognize the shape of the lei, but I was knocked back when the lightbulb came on.

The Northwest Coast and Alaska Native galleries also inspired rumination. I returned to the museum last Saturday for the 34th Annual Friendship Powwow and explored the Indigenous Arts of North America galleries, which, in part, showcases a giant, agonizing painting of agents of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Catholic Church kidnapping Native children from their parents to be taken to residential schools. Whew!

Snippet of a painting depicting agents of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Catholic Church kidnapping Native children from their parents to be taken to residential schools

I took a video of the painting, but my sick self is breathing way too loud, so I'm only sharing this snippet.

That was my jam-packed Labor Day weekend: a little exercise, some culture, beautiful views, and a lot of bonding. At the end of the trip, I asked Jennifer what her favorite activity was, and she couldn't choose. Mission accomplished!

Photo of two Black women, one in twists and the other with natural hair. They are smiling.
Feeling confident before the hike


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