Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Rocky mountain somewhere

I approve of Colorado, in general. It's full of light, the air is fresh and humidity is negligible. The water is straight off the mountains and a pleasure to drink. Historically, blacks got the vote in the 1870s and women in the 1890s - in fact, women were running for election even before they were allowed to do any electing. The governer at the start of WW2, one Ralph L. Carr, bucked the hysterical trend after Pearl Harbor and actively welcomed Japanese Americans into the state, at a time when other states were throwing them into internment camps. So I approve of Colorado.

I'm not really sure what I expected of Denver and so I'm not really sure if it came up with the goods. I was probably expecting something bigger, and I hadn't realised that by dint of high buildings and atmospheric haze it could hide one of the world's more spectacular mountain ranges right on its doorstep. My best view of the Rockies came from the shuttle bus on the way back to the airport, because the land around Denver is so flat. My second best view was from the top of the State Capitol.

From the air, Denver looks like it might be in the middle of some kind of game board. The land is divided into a grid of squares by the usual dead straight American roads, and within each square is a circular field - that being the easiest way to irrigate the ground from a central point. The circles are different colours, depending on what is being grown there, so the overall effect is of some vast and strange game of checkers.

Denver is famous for being the Mile High City (so I almost called this post "The Mile High Club" but then I grew up). The steps to the Capitol have a marker indicating that you are exactly one mile above sea level. Seen here with my foot, which because of forced perspective looks strangely dainty and definitely not size 11 ...

In fact, three of the steps have a claim to be the mile-high one as measuring techniques and instruments have been refined over the last century. But this is the most recent.

Most of Denver's commercial and social life seems to centre around the 16th Street Mall. This is, um, a mall, taking up most of 16th Street. It stretches for over a mile, free electric buses will carry you up and down it, and it's where most of the shops are. It's very clean and pleasant. In the evenings it's the place to promenade or sample the night life. There's a lot of live music and a safe, clubby atmosphere. You can dine out there cheaply and happily.

But it's a mall. The fun of exploring a new city is wandering around, poking into nooks and crannies, always finding something new around the corner. A mall has no corners, and by dint of its very existence it has sucked the life out of the rest of the city. Elsewhere, downtown Denver is mostly sterile office blocks and hotels.

I say mostly. There's doubtless much more that I didn't get to see. Even in the centre there's a couple of museums and other stuff that I didn't have time to see - and also the house of women's rights pioneer Margaret Brown, a.k.a. the Unsinkable Molly Brown, which was worth the trip on its own. What I would really have liked to do, with more time, was just get onto a tram and see what lies at the end of the line; or, even, better, rent a car and drive out to the mountains. But alas time did not permit.

There is also, of course, the convention centre, which really belongs in the next post.

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