Short bike tours of Denver and Estes Park, 2008

Page 1: Denver - Aquarium and downtown
Page 2: Denver - Museum of Nature and Science
Page 3: Estes Park

Kathy and I have taken many bike tours over the years, and those tours have mostly passed through forest, countryside and small towns. They have not taken us through large cities, because cities are hard to navigate and they lack the natural areas that we want to see. This tour will be different: we will use a 4-day weekend to bike to Denver, our closest major city, and see the urban tourist attractions there.

By car, Denver is about 60 miles from our house, and has a lot to see - art museums, natural history museum, aquarium, zoo, U.S. Mint, pedestrian malls and more - but we rarely drive down to visit. My last visit was almost two years ago when I took Daniel to the zoo. I think we rarely visit because of my aversion to driving - I can always think of something better to do than drive to Denver and back.

On the other hand, biking to Denver creates problems of its own. Now that we have children, we can't bike to Denver and back in a single day, so we need to spend a night or two there. In cities, campgrounds are inconvenient and add expense; hotels are convenient but very expensive. Fortunately, bike tourists have another option: staying at the homes of other bike tourists. The "Warm Showers" list ( is a hospitality network that helps bike tourists connect with each other when they need a place to stay. For our 4-day weekend we've found two different hosts who will let us stay in their homes the three nights that we are in town. My employer recently awarded me two "bonus days off" in return for hard work earlier this summer, so I won't need to use my normal vacation time for this trip. We hope that this trip will be a fun, short vacation that easily fits into the end our summer schedule.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Distance: 64.9 miles
Riding time: 5 hours, 15 minutes
Average speed: 12.7 mph

One advantage of an urban bike tour is that it isn't affected much by weather. Museums and restaurants provide about the same experience regardless of whether it's sunny and warm or dark, cold and rainy. That advantage was important today since we rode in the rain for our first 50 miles. Yesterday was rainy all day too, and this is very unusual weather for Colorado's front range. As we rode along, soaked and shivering, at least we knew that we could dry off and warm up at our first tourist stop.

Dressed up for our ride on a rainy morning. I wrapped my shoes in plastic wrap to help keep them dry. The rain gear helped, but eventually I was wet all over.

Kathy takes a break near Westminster, just after the rain stopped.

As the clouds cleared, we saw that the mountains had a fresh coat of snow.

In Westminster, just north of Denver, we stopped at the Butterfly Pavilion. Here there is a tropical apiary where butterflies are hatched and released daily, and other exhibits are dedicated to other kinds of bugs, like cockroaches, scorpions and tarantulas. These exhibits are interesting to adults, and incredibly exciting to little boys like Daniel. We ate lunch at the Pavilion and took our time looking around, and eventually Daniel's cold blue lips returned to their healthy rosy color.

Daniel watches butterflies flying over a pond in the Butterfly Pavilion.


Giant mechanized ants in the insect exhibit.

Daniel and another visitor look at tarantulas in the arachnid exhibit.


After leaving the Pavilion we rode into Denver to meet our first host - Stuart, his wife Margaret, and daughter Audrey. Stuart and Margaret entertained our children while we moved our gear into the guestroom, and then we all ate dinner together. This is so much more comfortable than staying in a hotel. Dinner conversation was easy because we all have a common interest in bicycling, and by staying with a host we learned more about Denver - even little things like the history of this neighborhood and this house.

By the time that we arrived at Stuart's house, everything that we had brought with us was drenched. Our bike trailer is normally waterproof, but I guess it can't repel a full day of rain. Our food, spare clothing, and children were all soaked. We put most of our clothing in the clothes dryer tonight. Tomorrow is predicted to be less rainy, so perhaps we can enjoy a walk through downtown tomorrow.

Stuart reads Daniel a bedtime story.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Distance: 12.7 miles
Riding time: 1 hour, 26 minutes
Average speed: 8.8 mph
Maximum speed: 24.5 mph

After eating breakfast and saying goodbye to Stuart's family, we biked just 3 miles to downtown Denver. Our first stop was Downtown Aquarium, right by the Platte River bicycle trail. About half the aquarium's exhibits are dedicated to North American fish and the rest show tropical fish. Daniel has always liked watching the fish tanks at our doctor's office and at preschool, so we knew that the aquarium would be fun for him. He especially liked the river otter exhibit.

Audrey tries to ignore Daniel's constant questions while eating her breakfast.

Downtown Denver. In the 14 years that I've lived in Colorado, I don't think I've ever seen downtown Denver without construction cranes.

Watching the bubble machine just outside of the aquarium.

North American fish (can't remember the species.) When the aquarium first opened it was called Ocean Journey, and it focused on the fish from two rivers: the Colorado River in North America, and the Kampar River in Indonesia. A few years ago the ownership changed, the name was changed to Downtown Aquarium, and the exhibits became less focused. Now about half the exhibits are dedicated to North American fish (from any body of water) and the rest are dedicated to tropical fish.

Tropical fish.

Daniel watches a 200-pound grouper swim past.

A Sumatran tiger rests beside a tropical river exhibit.

We ate lunch at Confluence Park, a city park along the bike trail at the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River. Boulders have been arranged in the river to create a "kayak park" right next to Confluence Park, and several kayakers were practicing in the water.

Next, we biked down 16th Street Mall, a 1-mile pedestrian zone lined with shops, restaurants and Denver's performing arts center. Usually only pedestrians and buses are allowed on this part of 16th Street, but on Sundays bicycles are allowed also. Just beyond the south end of the mall are the capitol building, art museum and public library, each in a unique-looking building, so we took a tour around the buildings while our kids took naps in the bicycle trailer. After dinner at the Rock Bottom Brewery, we biked over to the home of our next host, Sue.

Sue was easy to talk to. Not only does she enjoy biking, but she also used to live in Fort Collins just 2 blocks from my house. Her husband, Will (who is out of town this week,) was my city council representative many years ago.

Kayakers on the Platte River in Confluence Park.

16th Street Mall. Wide sidewalks are provided for pedestrians, and just 2 narrow vehicle lanes for shuttle buses and bicycles. No other vehicles are permitted.

Office building on 16th Street Mall.

Colorado's Capitol Building.

The Capitol dome is gold-plated in tribute to the gold mines that drove most of Colorado's early economy.

The Denver Art Museum. The old "Castle" building is on the right, and the new "Metallic Outer Space Crystal Lands in Denver" building is on the left. A pedestrian bridge connects the two buildings.

Kathy stands by a sculpture titled "Clean Sweep."


Page 1: Denver - Aquarium and downtown
Page 2: Denver - Museum of Nature and Science
Page 3: Estes Park