Mile High Wonder

Cedar Rapids

Anywhere and Everywhere in Cedar Rapids

I have been in the Mid West for a week now. The vast, endless, whiteness I am exposed to at Cedar Rapids made me very much look forward to the trip to Denver, fondly called as the Mile High City (due to its elevation of a mile above sea level).

It was 5 20 pm Mountain time when I landed, and being an hour behind the Central Time Zone, out of habit I looked to my watch to adjust the new time, but my Fitbit acted quicker on its own but not without giving me an annoying alert about my steps of the day (or lack of). Feeling slightly guilty, I stepped out of the plane, but little did I know that the supposed short walk to the taxi would add enough steps for the rest of the week. Denver airport is apparently the largest airport in North America and the 2nd largest in the world and you need trains to even get out (after a couple of miles of walk of course :)).

pic from train

Shot from Inside the Train in Denver Airport

When I stepped out to board my cab, I felt a familiar icy cold feeling envelop me. I chastised myself saying it was all in my mind for I was in a city which apparently has 300 days of sun in a year. That and given the fact that it was the end of winter made me laugh at my worst fears. Unfortunately for me my intuition was right when I heard the cab driver remark about the Arctic Blast which would slow him down and warned me about the longer than usual drive to the hotel. Guess what I was exposed to first thing at Denver,

Denver snow

A New Set of Vast Endless Whiteness

Denver is very well known for its beautiful outdoors (when its not snowing like there is no tomorrow of course) with its splendid Botanic gardens and the scenic Mount Evans topping the list of best attraction spots in the US. Given it was -15 degree C the weekend I was there, those options were ruled out and I was forced to check out the indoor options in Denver. I zeroed in on the Denver Museum of History and Science given my fondness for the science museums in the US. In my previous trips to the states, I visited the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia not once or twice but thrice in a span of 2 weeks(yes, that’s how much I loved it, more on that later), the Museum of Science and History in Chicago twice and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in DC (just once as I did not have enough time in DC), all of which had different things to showcase but had enough to make me fall in love with Science all over again (and again).

The Denver one lived up to all the expectations I had of it to say the least. If the realistic setting of the stuffed animals and birds in their natural habitat (again set beautifully as if in real) had me floored with their beauty, the tidbits about them had me humbled and made me more appreciative of the flora and fauna I share this world with. Some of them that I found very fascinating are – the mating techniques used by some breeds of South American birds to attract their loved ones with a fan like formation of their feathers served as a reminder that it was not just peacocks that were capable of this alluring feat and their cousins (albeit much smaller ones) were equally good at it too; Koala is not really a bear and has pouches to hold their newborns (like Kangaroos) until they are ready to take on the world; the survival tactics when attacked by a mountain tiger were quite useful too, although I hope I never find myself in one such situation where I have to deal with mountain tigers head on!

stuffed animals

The Stuffed Animals Made to Emulate their Natural Behavior

As if the inspiration offered by the land animals and birds was not enough, I found myself purchasing a ticket to the IMAX show about the Oceans. Rendered by Kate Winslet, the show in 3D showed us up close the life inside the massive oceans – the beauty and the tragedy of it all. The things that the flora and fauna both inside and outside the ocean teaches us less mortals is nothing short of breath taking.

Until that IMAX show happened, I did not know many things about ocean life;

  • that fishes can be quite persistent – one particular fish used a coral reef to help him break the shell to feed him the clams inside and it took more than 50 tries to finally break the shell
  • that dolphins communicate with each other through echos (both while discerning the location of their prey and also while detecting plants with anti inflammatory and anti bacterial properties which they use for messaging themselves every now and then)
  • that there are flourishing forests in the sea bed which provides enough oxygen for all the life inside and that the sea urchins help protect them
  • that octopuses are smart little creatures and dress up in shells to protect themselves from the predators

And that with our uncontrolled consumption – which leads to piles of accumulated garbage in the sea-we are in some way or the other contributing to the rising temperature, melting glaciers, bleaching corals (dying of algae inside the coral) and what not!

Stepping out from the IMAX theatre with a heavy heart and a new found resolve to do something about the global warming, I walked into the planetarium which had a show on the Universe rendered by Tom Hanks. While “The Oceans” made me take notice of the world below, “The Universe” made me look up at the world above. It was none the less fascinating – It reminded me that I am just a tiny part of the Earth, which in turn is a minuscule part of the Universe, which in turn is a minute part of the Cosmic world, which could probably be a microscopic part of something humungously large. Not to sound cliched, but at this juncture, I couldn’t help but wonder the significance (or the lack of) of my problems in the larger schema of things.

And a couple of hours and many hundreds of steps later (as indicated by my Fitbit beeps much to my glee), it was time to head to hotel. Although I wanted to spend more time in the museum I was bone tired and terribly jet lagged (just got to US from India a week earlier) and needed some good rest. That was a day very well spent indeed!

While the work week did not offer too many opportunities to explore the city, I was happily enjoying the beautiful downtown by foot whenever I could.

Denver downtown

Pictures from Downtown Denver

I was put up in Aloft Downtown during my stay in Denver and their breakfast options are truly worth a mention! Unlike the buffet breakfasts I usually get here in US – wherein most of the options would anyway be inedible for eggetarian, health conscious (ahem ahem) Indians – make to order breakfast bowls at Aloft were a novelty and I thoroughly enjoyed them all.

breakfast bowls

Breakfast @ Aloft

I had the brilliant opportunity to be in the topmost floor of one of the top 3 tallest buildings in Denver, and I couldn’t stop myself from clicking a picture or two of the bird’s eye view of the city. Can you make out the world famous Colorado mountains near the clouds 🙂

52nd floor

Bird’s Eye View of Denver

The 16th street mall in Downtown Denver should be a must visit if you are planning a trip to Denver. Its the most festive part of whatever little of the city I saw.

16th street

16th Street Mall, Denver

Given its one long street, I would suggest to use the “Free Mall Ride” that takes you up and down the street as many times as you want.

Capitol Building

View from 16th Street Mall – The Capitol Building and The “Free Mall Ride”

16th street mall offers innumerable options to try out different kinds of cuisines, hosts multiple branded shops, trinket shops and even offers the opportunity to pick up recreational marijuana if you would like to. Yes! Colorado is one of the states which has made marijuana completely legal. Its as simple as walking to one such store and buying the weeds or edibles.


Marijuana Shop at 16th Street Mall

And before I could realize it, much before I could get most of the city, it was time for me to head back to the white desert where I am going to be spending most of my time in this US trip. Just to emphasize how lucky (or unlucky?) I am, the day I left Denver, it was the warmest ever (probably the warmest I am going to be exposed to for the next few months). On my way to the airport, I rolled down the window of the taxi to take in as much of the city as I could and I couldn’t help click this picture the downtown skyline offered from afar.

denver downtown from airport

Parting Image : Downtown Denver Shot From Near the Airport

Denver, I am coming again soon!

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