Things to Do in Denver When You’re Alive

Denver The Mile High City

The statue "Dancers" by Jonathon Borofsky at the Denver Performing Arts Center, aka "Giant Naked Aliens"

Things to Do in Denver When You’re Alive

On my way to a conference in Keystone Colorado, I had the chance to spend a day in the Mile High City of Denver. Knowing nothing about the city, other than it was close to the Rocky Mountains, I asked the hotel receptionist what there was to do in Denver. “Nothing” was his curt reply. Seeing my nonplussed look, he recommended a visit to the REI Flagship store, an outdoors shop, located over the river at the end of Downtown’s 16th Street Pedestrian Mall. Was this all Denver had to offer? Not entirely convinced and with expectations low, I set off in the direction of the river.

Denver The Mile High City

Downtown’s 16th Street Pedestrian Mall at dusk. Denver, CO

I started to notice Denver’s public art as I walked down the 16th Street Pedestrian Mall. At first glance, the street is commercial America at its best: a 1.25 mile-long street with every fashion retail outlet and US fast-food chain I’ve ever heard of. The street was still full of snow from the previous day’s massive snowstorm and, with the exception of numerous homeless people, it was disconcertingly empty for a Saturday afternoon. But it was the cold and dreary backdrop that allowed the colorful benches created by Denver artist Sandy Toland to stand out. I had to laugh as I passed by the metallic Rocky mountain sheep lining the road as they reminded me of the conversation I’d had earlier that afternoon with the Iraqi taxi driver. Talking about the rising prices in Iraq, he informed me that these days it costs over $200 for a whole sheep in Iraq whereas they go for around $150 in Colorado. Good to know for the next time I buy a sheep!

Denver The Mile High City

Rocky Mountain Sheep along 16th Street Pedestrian Mall. Denver, CO

I made my way to the historic district of Lower Downtown, otherwise known as LoDo, the oldest area of the city. It is the trendy area of Denver with lots of bars and restaurants but is best known for its turn-of-the-century warehouses. Many of the walls of these beautiful brick buildings are still adorned with the company name and wares that were sold there while others display newer advertisements, giant murals or graffiti. The Highlands District is connected to LoDo by three bridges and is definitely worth a visit for its numerous boutiques. In particular, I would definitely recommend a visit to ‘Common Era’, a lovely boutique with unique clothes and cool accessories, founded by New Yorker Debra Mazur. I wish she would come back to NYC and open a store here too!

Denver The Mile High City

Graffiti, Denver-style.

It was only when I reached the Highland Bridge and saw ‘National Velvet’, a sculpture designed by John McEnroe (not the tennis player), that I became fully aware of Denver’s public art scene. Unsure of what the artwork was supposed to be, I settled into an armchair in the Tattered Cover Bookstore, a beautiful bookshop located in one of the old warehouses in LoDo, and looked it up on my iPad. From my biomedical scientist point of view, the sculpture looked like a tall pile of internal organs, elongated kidneys mostly. But what I innocently interpreted as kidneys, has been considered a “mound of psychedelic crimson phallic symbols” by some Denver residents. Between this and its overall phallic shape, it seems that ‘National Velvet’ has caused quite an uproar, especially at night when it’s lit up like a Christmas tree!

Denver The Mile High City

'National Velvet', a controversial sculpture designed by John McEnroe

With the few hours that I had left, I decided that I wanted to see as many of Denver’s statues as possible. Passing by the convention center, I discovered the giant blue bear who stands peering into the glass building, seemingly curious as to what could be going on inside. On the other side of the center, which has a great view of the mountains, the city’s giant naked aliens were dancing gleefully in the snow. According to a website discussing ‘Denver’s Ugliest Public Art‘, it seems that I may be the only person who actually likes this statue!

Denver The Mile High City

Giant Blue Bear at the Denver Convention Center.

Many of Denver’s more bizarre sculptures are located in the Golden Triangle Museum District. This is home to the Denver Art Museum, a jagged titanium building meant to reflect the peaks of the Rockies, that was designed by Daniel Libeskind. An impressive building, the adjacent sculpture called ‘The Big Sweep’, which consists of a giant dustpan with a broom, is slightly less awe-inspiring.

Denver The Mile High City

Denver Art Museum, designed by Daniel Libeskind.

A week later, on my return to Denver airport from the mountains, I spotted what had been termed Denver’s Ugliest Public Art Statue #6: the Evil Robo-Horse! Driving by in the bus, I didn’t have much time to form an impression of this huge black horse with red eyes but I was happy to have caught a glimpse of it nonetheless and felt that my journey to Denver was complete.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Pat
    Feb 23, 2012 @ 04:17:31

    Nice photos! I’m a New Yorker, but I’m a frequent visitor to Denver. I always find interesting things to do there and find that it is a family oriented town.


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