Denver: Cold, Clear, and Casa Bonita

Earlier in November, we decided to visit the lovely city of Denver. Now if you’re anything like me, you’re probably asking yourself a couple of questions: the most predominant being “wait what? Denver? Why Denver?” That’s a great question. I’m not sure, but I think it involves a great deal on airfare.

Flying in, we reviewed our options about what we know of this fair city. Turns out that the answer was “not much.” Other than something about Coors and Denver’s famous elevation, our knowledge hovered somewhat around zero. Then we were told by the pilot  to buckle up, as the landing would be a little rough. And rough it was.

This is because we were flying into an active snowstorm. Awesome.

We immediately went to the first Chipotle ever, and had a surprisingly good burrito. This is especially surprising for Chipotle, which tastes like warmed-up plastic most of the time. Still slightly unsettled by this tasty meal, the rest of the first evening was spent going to the downtown core and wandering around a bit in the foggy chill that would become quite familiar weather over the next few days. As the noise of a generally terrible Christian concert wafted through the Colorado Capitol grounds, we proceeded to freeze ourselves fairly thoroughly.


Fleeing for refuge, I naturally locate the Denver library and begin exploring this oddly designed building with half-complete floors, multiple architectural motifs, and some rather impressive reading rooms.

Western Reading Room

After catching the Husky game at a sports bar (finding the Pac-12 network was no easy feat!) we retreated to our hotel.

Here’s where I need to speak a little bit about Denver. Although it has an elevation to it and is quite literally in the mountains, the city itself is rather flat. And spread out. By now you should be thinking “oh god this sounds like suburbia hell.” You would be correct. Denver is very much the land of suburbs, strip malls, and generic everything. It was slightly terrifying in a sense that I haven’t seen such wastelands since LA.

So we immediately left all of that and went to Golden, Colorado, and the Coors Brewery.


The self-guided tour was essentially a giant advertising pitch for their products, but the facility was still impressive and we were rewarded with multiple *free* beers at the end of the 30 minutes or so we spent wandering around large brewing equipment. Although Coors Light still tastes like diluted battery acid, it’s true what they say: it’s just better in the Rockies.

We drove up a rather impressive road to a nearby peak…


And while the views were impressive…


The wind chill was not. After stumbling upon the Red Rocks Amphitheater on the way back to Denver, we prepared ourselves for the culmination of a lifetime. Where we were going to go next, well, it doesn’t get much better than this folks.







Casa Bonita has absolutely the worst food we’ve ever eaten, and here’s how the whole thing works: you enter the converted department store and immediately order from a buffet-style counter. There are only 6 or so choices of meals, and they’re all fairly basic fare. After waiting an impressively short amount of time, your “dinners” slide out from the kitchen. And you’re good to go!

I got bean burritos, and they were, literally, without any exaggeration, beans that were taken out of a can, left under some warming lights for a good solid eight hours, and then plopped into a tortilla that was treated to similar circumstances. If tortillas came out of a can, that’s what these would have tasted like. The rice was, well, how can you even mess up Tex-Mex rice? And my meal was at least edible. Brian’s looked like someone had gone to a farm, scoped up some cow pies, and then put some odd greenish sauce on top. They even messed up the salsa for the salsa and chips.

Folks, this is impressive how bad they got this food.

But the Sopapillas were surprisingly good. Casa Bonita wasn’t really rocking when we went on a Sunday night, but the facility is nothing less than impressive. They have four or five completely different environs to eat, including places by the waterfall, in the two(!) mines, in an old-timey-style ballroom, and more that I’ve since forgotten. They claim that they can have 1000+ patrons, and I believe it.

Oh yeah there’s also an arcade in case you get bored.


For our last full day, we went to another part of Colorado to take a train to the top of Pikes Peak, a 14,110 foot “mountain” accessible after about an hour-long cog railway ride. But first, we needed to acquire food before going to our deaths in the thin air of Pikes Peak. This involved stumbling upon a BBQ place that was amazingly well-smelling, and the staff were similarly amazed that I didn’t want any meat.

Me: What’s in the beans?
Staff: Oh, you know, beans, bacon, and more beans.
Me: Hmm. Okay.
Me: I’ll have baked potato.
Staff: What kind of meat?
Me: Oh, no meat.
Staff: You, uh, sure about that?

It was a great potato though.

Okay, so the railroad. Things got pretty serious soon enough.



They weren’t kidding about that thin air: running around was suddenly an arduous task, and did I mention how freaking cold it was at the summit? Because it was very. Cold. The views were spectacular though.



I don’t know who these people are.


There’s a road to the summit. Notice the lack of guardrails.


The most impressive part? There’s a race to the top every year on this road. It just randomly cuts off near the summit.


I may have been suddenly wishing for air. And heat.


Detail of the tracks:


After this adventure, we head off towards the town of Fairplay, Colorado. This is where the show of Southpark was more-or-less based off of, and is located in Park County. Specifically, in the Southern part of Park County. Or South Park. The trip there was ruggedly beautiful, and utterly devoid of civilization and other cars.


We make it to Fairplay at sunset.


And then when looking for food, notice that all of the places listed on Yelp are closed. So we stumble upon one restaurant, go through thick doors and into a room that smelled of wood smoke and decorated like a formal dining room found in the 1880s. Looking for some food? Sorry folks, the kitchen is closed on Monday. The Park Bar should be open though.

So to the bar we go. It’s decidedly rustic and had a welcoming atmosphere around it. But most importantly, it had a very powerful fireplace, veggie burgers (!), and lots of beer.

And then flew back to Seattle early the next morning.

Denver was an interesting place. It’s full of scenic beauty and friendly people, but has an odd sense of suburbia and sprawl surrounding the municipality. It builds out rather than up, mostly because it can, and while the city is nice enough, the surrounding countryside is decidedly *country*side in every sense of the word.

View the full photo album.

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