Friday, May 06, 2011


Over the month's end we spent a week in Denver, because of Siobhan having a work conference there, and extending it a few days. The first couple of days Siobhan was in her conference, and I mostly just goofed off in the hotel room -- I looked into things I could do near the hotel, but none of them were more compelling than just relaxing. I'll do a few blog posts about our adventures in Denver, on various subjects. This one will be overall impressions.

The most striking impression of Denver is that it's flat. You look on the map and you get the idea that, sure, it's in a valley, but it's in a valley in the Rockies, it's a mile up, it's got to be at least hilly, and feeling like there's mountains nearby. But it's not just a valley, it's a huge, huge, huge plateau. You can get in a car and drive for an hour and never once cross a hill of any size, or feel like the mountains are nearby. It feels like you're in Iowa or Kansas. There are distant mountains on the horizon but they are so far away that you can't see them if there's even a single story building in the way, and they don't ever seem to get closer. They feel like they're in another state. For all that you're up high in the mountains you will feel like you're on the plains. Heck, Long Island feels hillier.

I also got the impression in my head that there'd be woods, and Siobhan got that even more. Isn't that how you picture it? But when you're there what it really looks like is a midway point between the scrub-covered deserts of the southwest, and the open prairie of the midwest. It's dry, rocky, and almost entirely devoid of trees. Everywhere.

That's not to say there isn't natural beauty. Once you get out of the city, into the parks and wilderness areas, there's an austere beauty, a combination of the vast (incredible-sized red rocks, huge open vistas) and subtle (the low-key life of the arid almost-desert). It just wasn't the kind I imagined it would be.

People talk about the "Mile High City" altitude effects, and we were even warned to bring some extra painkillers for the headaches, but I never really felt it. It's hard to be sure if there was ever a time I wouldn't've been as out of breath in lower altitude; a few times I did a fairly long hike, including almost three miles to a supermarket for supplies (the second half with a backpack full of heavy stuff), once on a trail in the hills, and I don't think I got more out of breath than I would have back home. Of course, up Pikes Peak, I felt it, but that's a whole other ball game.

Another thing I didn't know about Denver was that it had a sizable Hispanic/Latino population. I suppose I didn't have any preconceptions about its ethnic mix. I didn't give it any thought, but if someone had asked, I would likely have guessed it would have the same kind of mix that most any big city would have. I didn't expect any particular ethnicity to be more prominent than any other. One of the nice things about this particular surprise was a great dinner, but I'll save that for another post.

One particularly odd thing is that, on three separate occasions, we saw rabbits. And not even out in the wilderness, in the city. Once, at our hotel, there was one on the grass who didn't even run away when we pulled up in the car and then walked past him, not more than a few feet away. Another time there was a group of three of them in a tiny patch of grass in between a giant office building and an under-construction Ikea (which of course was far, far bigger). I don't think I ever saw a squirrel, though. I suppose rabbits do fine in dry, treeless climes, but I was still surprised to find them in the city, and so much more fearless than anywhere else I've ever encountered rabbits.

Denver's people were uniformly polite, especially on the roads, where virtually no one ever sped, traffic tended to move in an almost uniform block, and it was quite rare to have trouble changing lanes or making your turn. It occurred to me that the legendary standoffishness of New Yorkers is, in a way, a sort of courtesy. When you live in a massively crowded crush of people, personal space, privacy, and isolation are valuable things, survival necessities. Not making eye contact and not being chummy with strangers, the things people from other parts of the country take as being cold and distant, are a way of respecting other people's space, not intruding. When a city is more sprawly (and good lord but Denver is sprawly, on account of that whole "huge flat area" thing I mentioned), a certain level of cordiality becomes the mark of courtesy, because no one needs to cultivate their isolation, since they can always get some if they want some.

Upcoming posts will talk about the things we did in Denver, the places we went, the travel itself, and of course the food.

No comments: