Denver, Colorado — the “Mile High City” (Denver sits on a plateau above the Great Plains at an elevation of 5,240 feet above sea level), Queen City of the Plains, Bronco-ville and even Wall Street of the West are some of the nicknames given to this once sleepy big town/small city on the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies.
I remember with fondness my first trip to Denver… 40 years ago. Wow! In fact, it was my first trip west of the Mississippi River. I had grown up in the claustrophobic state of New Jersey and from an early age dreamed of going west to explore the natural wonders of the Rocky Mountains and beyond. In that long ago summer, I boarded a train for a cross continental journey that began at Penn Station in NYC and ended for me in Denver. The Zephyr is what the line is called from Chicago to San Fransisco, California. I settled in for a 3 day and 2 night trip across the fruited plain. On that final morning my trip I awoke near day-break and was stunned by the beauty of those purple mountains majesty as they rose high above the flat lands of Kansas.
Up to that point the Rocky Mountains were but a distant dream for me. In my youth I had read many stories in hunting and fishing magazines about great adventures in the Rockies, but until I saw them with my own eyes it was hard to fully appreciate their grandeur.
I disembarked at Union Station, in Denver down near the Platte River. From there I took a bus to the college town of Boulder and then, I stuck out my thumb to hitch a ride up to Estes Park. I had lined up a job at the foot of Longs Peak. For the last leg of the hitch I was picked up somewhere around the town of Lyons, by an old hippie who shared a joint with me as we drove up the winding canyon road from where the sandstone turns to granite.
He was on his way to his home in Allenspark, not far from where I was headed and he was kind enough to drop me off at the front gate of the resort where I would be working in the summer of 1976. Between his kindness and the stunning views it was a terrific welcome to this beautiful new place!
Cannabis was decriminalized in the 1970’s in Colorado and that was also part of the draw too. Way back then nobody got hung up if you liked to smoke weed in Colorado.
1976 was the summer of the Big Thompson Flood. I can remember the rains that lasted for days, unusual for this part of the country, and it was cause for concern for many area resorts. Bad weather like that would put a dent in their summer tourism earnings. After all that rain, the Big Thompson River flooded and cause immense damage to campgrounds, roads and power lines. Some friends and family tried to contact me but the phones were out for a couple of weeks. All the while, I was high and dry up the mountain and just enjoying the clean air and beautiful views. I did a lot of hiking that summer. This was where I met my old pal Lana and we’ve been friends ever since.
Well, many years have passed since that summer of adventure and I continued traveling the west. I worked seasonal resorts for a few years, as a chef, baker and also did some work as a ranch hand. I had plenty of opportunities to ride horses, hike deep into some rugged back country to revel in the glory of pristine forests and high mountain sunshine.
I got married and bought my first house in Denver. My son was born there as well. I have a special fondness for the city of Denver and as I cruised around some of my old walking areas, I wondered what life would be like had I not left Denver 30 years ago.
Recently, I paid a visit to an old friend who still lives in the Denver-Metro area. He had been after me to come for a visit, so I did. I was pleased to see his business success and know he will continue to prosper with the help of his two sons who are now fully involved in business operations.
The city has grown quite a bit and with growth there is always a level of unpleasantness that comes along. I noticed a seemingly large population of transient street people. Their number seemed to be disproportionate to the general population. The downtown area is substantially larger that 3 decades ago, Union Station has been converted into a boutique hotel and there is a light rail system that goes from downtown to the airport.
In 2014 the State of Colorado fully legalized cannabis for recreational use. Along the drive south on Broadway there are now an abundance of cannabis dispensaries for both recreational and medicinal use. The main difference to the consumer is that tax. Approved medical users with state issued ID pay only 7% tax, while recreational users pay 28%!. In my opinion, they did the right thing for the wrong reasons; After a lengthy process of the initiative and referendum allowed under their state constitution, the governor, always hungry for more money passed the law allowing individuals to legally buy cannabis at state licensed stores. This, of course, came with heavy regulation at the production level, the distribution level and at the retail level. Additionally, the matter of legal weed in Colorado (and other states) has created an interesting issue with respect to banking. Banks refuse to issue lines of credit or accept credit card payments associated with the cannabis trade, because under federal law Marijuana is still illegal. The banks run a risk of doing business with the cannabis trade because they are, in the eyes of the law, drug dealers. At some point the grown ups in the room will have to step forward and accept that the genie is out of the bottle and there is no going back.
Oddly, around the same time Colorado also passed a ban on certain firearms and limits on magazine size. It was a classic case of one step forward and two steps back. Guns and weed have always been fundamental issues of individual liberty. To permit one and limit the other is folly.
In the time since legalizing cannabis, Colorado has seen a tremendous up-tick in tax revenue. Bud-tenders with whom I spoke indicated that the industry employs roughly 250,000 people within the state. With the money the state of Colorado is bringing in from cannabis taxes they should have no troubles funding any sort of infrastructure spending. Tourism has also seen a boost as the state has become a gathering place for lovers of the herb.
One of the big differences between the cannabis scene in Colorado and the Coffeeshops in Holland is that Colorado does not allow for patrons to imbibe on-premise as one may do in Amsterdam. Cannabis law in Colorado is for private use by adults in their own home. Smoking weed in public is forbidden.
On my second day in town I lined up a car rental and did a driving loop that sort of retraced my original route to Estes Park and then down through Allenspark, Nederland and Canyon City. It was an easy loop but driving alone gets boring.
The weather on my drive was typical mountain weather for September. As you can see in some pics the sky is crystal clear and blue and then look at the peaks knowing you would not want to be approaching the summit in that mess of blustery clouds.
It’s always a pleasant drive though I was surprised that there were so many, middle of the week, sight-seers taking pictures of the autumn foliage.