These days Denver is getting a lot of buzz as the epicenter of Colorado’s legal marijuana scene, and as such is appearing more frequently on travelers’ bucket lists. There’s more to the Mile High City than just getting stoned — for instance long before the green rush, there was the gold rush. You only have to look at the city’s capitol dome to understand. From deep fried bull testicles to a devilish horse to Denver’s connection to Barack Obama and Martin Luther King, Jr., here are 10 things you didn’t know about Denver — my adopted home city.
Don’t let the name fool you, Colorado’s most famous regional delicacy, the Rocky Mountain oyster, is not served on the half shell and garnished with lemon. Instead expect it served battered and deep-fried in a wax-paper basket. And although the chewiness is similar to that of a baked oyster, the breaded ball you’re chomping on is made from 100-percent beef. So what is a Rocky Mountain oyster exactly? It is a good old-fashioned bull testicle, seasoned and deep fried — an old western ranching specialty that never died. For the best deep fried bull balls in town you can’t beat the Buckhorn Exchange, which has been in business since 1893 and perfected the art of frying testicles.
Long before marijuana took center stage at the Colorado statehouse, Denver had already garnered its Mile High City moniker for its exact altitude, and not its cerebral state of mind. Head to the west side of the gold-domed state Capitol building and climb up to the 15th step. There you’ll find engraved the words, “one mile above sea level.” Denver really does sit at 5,280-feet — exactly one mile high.
Denver began as a gateway city in the late 19th century when folks were rushing west in search of gold and silver. On Aug. 28, 2008 Denver hosted the Democratic National Convention that helped make Barack Obama the country’s first black president. In an ironic twist of fate — the venue and date were chosen long before a black candidate won the nomination — the event took place exactly 45 years to the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Producing more beer per capita than anywhere else, Denver is also front and center of the booming craft beer industry with some 20 breweries operating in city limits alone. Many are small mom-and-pop shops that Colorado’s unique liquor laws allow to prosper, but even the governor has industry ties. Before he went into politics, John Hickenlooper was a successful businessman, starting craft breweries such as LoDo’s beloved Wynkoop Brewery, long before they became a fad. Each October Denver hosts the Super Bowl of beer, the Great American Beer Festival, considered America’s most prestigious beer competition. It draws a crowd of 50,000 strong annually to the Colorado Convention Center to taste more than 2,000 different beers from some 500 breweries across the country.
Denverites are known for being fit — although we aren’t as skinny as our Boulder neighbors, Colorado consistently ranks as the country’s skinniest state and we are its largest city. I think this is pretty cool considering we also brew more beer in our city limits than anywhere else in America and aren’t afraid of digging into a big juicy burger the way they are in LA. Denversites stay fit, probably because they spend so much time playing in the biggest urban park system in the U.S. — 205 parks to date. Denver also has 650 miles of paved bike trails, including a bicycle-only beltway that connects the downtown with points to the north, south, east and west and features on and off-ramps.
It is also easy to stay fit when you live in place with 300 days of sunshine per year, which is about 25 days per month. And even in the dead of winter temperatures can soar into the low 70s on a few good days per month. That said, the joke in Colorado is that if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. Reality check: it can also go from 70 to below freezing and snowing in the space of an afternoon.
There are all sorts of wacky conspiracy theories associated with Denver International Airport (just Google it). None is more creepily confirmed than the death of Luis Jimenez, sculptor of the electric-blue fiberglass horse whose piercing red eyes glower upon all visitors entering and exiting the airport. Standing an imposing 32-feet high and weighing 9,000-pounds, the anatomically correct “Blue Mustang” rears up on the main road into the airport. Jimenez died during the Blue Mustang’s creation, the victim of a freak accident when a piece of the sculpture fell on his leg and severed an artery. As a result it earned nicknames such as the “Blue Stallion of Death” and “Blucifer.”
Denver is famed for its manic sports fans. This is a city that paints itself orange, lighting the streets and making the government buildings glow pumpkin during the latter half of its beloved Broncos football season. But with competitive football, basketball, hockey, baseball, rugby, lacrosse and soccer teams, Denver also beats out the rest of the country for the most pro sports teams hosted by a single city.
Designed by Elijah E. Myers to resemble the nation’s capitol in D.C., the Colorado statehouse building is more than just a mile high in altitude. It was built in the 1890s from state-mined white granite. The current dome is made with 200-ounces of real gold plating added in 1908 to commemorate the late 19th century gold rush. Step inside the capitol and inspect the marble walls and floors in detail. Designs have been etched into the soft stone over the centuries including an image resembling George Washington.
Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater, one of the country’s most beloved outdoor concert venues, is set between 400-feet-high red sandstone rocks 15 miles southwest of Denver. Acoustics are so good that many artists have recorded live albums here, and the venue draws an eclectic big-name line up all summer long.