The Mile High City: An Unexpected Surprise (1/2)

"Nature always wears the colors of the spirit"

Ralph Waldo Emerson

State 24: Colorado December 17, 2017


Last night, after departing Arches National Park we drove 109 miles Northeast to Grand Junction, and entered the 24th state on our cross country journey to discover America and find a new state to call home Colorado: Welcome to Colorful Colorado. This the first state slogan the Cross Country Couple has come across which welcomed us in it's motto! We both felt so very loved! In addition, colorful is an excellent way of describing the state! From heavenly sunsets over the Rocky Mountains, to sweeping panoramic views from the summit of Pikes Peak, to the largest sand dunes in the North America, Colorado is a 4 season state and an outdoorsman’s paradise. The moment we crossed over the state line, Lori and I both felt a very good energy from this state unlike any other we have previously visited! Colorado was on our short list as a candidate for our new home state, and we can’t wait to begin our week of exploration in "Colorful Colorado"!

After spending 2 days off the road relaxing, we departed for a long but beautiful 243 mile drive East to the city of Denver to tour the state capitol. The route Michele, our GPS, plotted had us crossing over the Rocky Mountains, and for the first time on our cross country trip we brought Rosie over 10,000 feet in elevation! Rosie is a tough girl, and she handled the relentless steep elevation gains with ease! Lori and I were both so very proud of her! While crossing the Rocky’s, we passed the town of Vail, which has a reputation as one of the best ski towns in the US. We pulled off the highway to briefly mosey around, but left feeling over all unimpressed. Vail appeared to be a town where the uber rich go to play, and the Cross Country Couple is clearly not their target demographic! Besides, Lori and I are both a tad klutzy, and would surely kill ourselves if we ever attempted to ski!

After safely crossing the Rocky Mountains, we had arrived at Colorado’s capitol city of Denver! With an estimated population of 693,060, Denver is one of the fastest growing cities in the US with a 15.48% increase since the 2010 census. Due to Denver’s centralized location in the country, the city has become a hub for the storage and distribution of goods and services throughout the Western US, which translates to ample jobs! Denver features over 200 parks including a massive 314 acre Grand Park, and the city boasts 300 days of sunshine a year to give you ample time to enjoy each. In 2016, U.S. News and World Report named Denver the best place to live in the United States! We had finally found a city we could not wait to explore!!!

After finding a place to park Rosie, we had a very interesting walk 4 blocks to the capitol building! We noticed the city was very clean, well maintained, modern, and the population was diverse! All very good things! As the capitol came into sight, we made another interesting discovery! Denver has a very unique approach to managing it's homeless population! Instead of the homeless huddling themselves in the shadows of the city, Denver set up a homeless camp in a grassy park the size of a city block right outside of the capitol building! Every Tuesday and Thursday, the homeless must vacate the park, so it can be cleaned and landscaped! By keeping the homeless in a park right outside of the capitol, it also keeps the epidemic of homelessness in the public eyes and helps make them feel as if they have a place to go! This is also a very good thing! While this approach doesn’t rectify homelessness, I believe it to be a step in the right direction.

After walking through the homeless park, we finally made it to Colorado’s capitol building! Completed in 1901, The capitol was designed to be reminiscent of the US Capitol constructed in a neoclassical architectural style. The external façade of the building consists of Colorado white granite, and the external rotunda is gold gilded to commemorate Colorado’s 19th century gold rush at Pikes Peak. The miners actually donated the 200 ounces of gold needed to complete the job! When the capitol was constructed, it was built at the highest geographical point in Denver. Therefore, the official elevation of Denver is measured outside the West entrance of the building, and the 15th step to the entrance of the capital is engraved "One Mile Above Sea Level.". Thus Denver has been given the nickname “The Mile High City”, and has the highest elevation of all major cities in the US.

Upon ascending the external grand staircase, we entered the capitol, and was disappointed to discover we would be searched by security at the door. Next, we made our way over to the information desk, and waited for the tour to begin. Since I had a few moments to kill, I decided to check out the capitol's central room, and what I discovered was quite unusual. The central room of a capitol is traditionally the focal point of the building. It is where press conferences occur, protests are launched, and where events are held. However, the central room inside of this capitol was dominated by a massive grand staircase to the likes of which would put the Titanic to shame. At first, I was put off by what I perceived to be an architectural oversight distracting from what should be the buildings focal point. However, as I continued my tour of the capitol I began to understand the reasoning behind the design. In the absence of what would traditionally be the buildings focal point, I was forced to focus on other aspects of the building I would have otherwise overlooked! A very clever and non-traditional design!!!

I made my way back to the information desk just in time to catch the start of the tour! After just a few moments, it became clearly evident we had an exceptionally talented guide. He volunteers to do capitol tours to eagerly share his pride for Colorado! When our guide passed a custodian in the hall, he actually stopped the tour to thank the custodian for helping to keep our capitol clean! The emotion and passion this man exuded for Colorado was quite moving, and my greatest hope is one day I will feel similar pride for my future home!

Our first stop on the tour was a huge quilt housed behind an even larger glass case. Taking over 3000 hours to hand sew, this quilt was made to commemorate the contributions of women to Colorado. Women are rarely acknowledged in capitols, and it is always very refreshing to see when they are! Although Colorado has yet to have a female governor, the state has a very long history of women whom have left their mark! However, one famous Colorado woman stood out among all others: Katharine Lee Bates. Although you may not know her by name, you will certainly know her as the writer of one of the most famous songs in American History. In 1893, Bates took a wagon to the summit of Pikes Peak, a 14,000 foot tall mountain in Colorado. When she arrived at the summit, the beauty before her eyes was so inspirational she pulled out a notebook, and wrote down the lyrics to the song “America the Beautiful”! Wow, what an unexpected surprise! That settles it! There was no way I am leaving Colorado without ascending Pikes Peak! I must see with my own eyes the view that provided the inspiration to one of our countries most cherished anthems!

Our guide then highlighted a few of the structural details of the building. Throughout the walls of the capitol is a rare marble called Colorado rose onyx. This marble came from the only known source in a quarry in Beulah, Colorado. The capitol consumed the entire known supply of rose onyx marble, and it cannot be found anywhere else in the world! I have seen a lot of marble on our cross country trip, and the Colorado rose onyx stands out as one of the most beautiful!

Speaking of marble, the white yule marble mined from the quarries in the town of Marble, Colorado was used on the floors throughout the capitol! While we like to see a capitol building constructed with materials native to the state, there is something even more significant about this specific type of marble. The white yule marble lining the floors of the Colorado Capitol came from the very same quarry as the marble used to create the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, and the Tomb of the Unknown Solider in Arlington National Cemetery. Colorado once again leaves a lasting mark on America!

Next, we were led to the House and then the Senate. Both chambers were beautiful but otherwise unremarkable. Please see the pictures below.

Next, we were led to the central room of the 4th floor of the building. On the wall surrounding the entire rotunda were paintings of every US president! Each presidential portrait was hand painted by a Colorado artist! Although, almost every state capitol had a Hall of Governors, this is the first capitol which had a Hall of Presidents. What an unexpected surprise! Please see the pictures below!

All of the paintings are original with 2 noteworthy exceptions. At some time in the early 1980’s, someone stole the painting of Lincoln, and it is still missing to this very day! Keep an eye out for it on Antique Roadshow and at garage sales, because Colorado really would like their Lincoln painting returned. The 2nd painting not original is the one of Bill Clinton. Apparently while visiting the Colorado Capitol, Clinton liked the painting of himself so much he literally just took it off the wall, and brought it back to the White House! He was the President at the time and it is a self portrait. Seriously, who was going to argue with him? Rumor has it, the painting is currently displayed in Clinton’s Presidential Library in Little Rock, and I will have to go see it when I get to Arkansas! I noticed Trump's painting was also missing, and the guide stated it will be ready in 2 to 3 years! Since Colorado is historically a blue state, I guess there is really no sense of urgency! LOL Please see the pictures below!

The tour ended on the 4th floor, and from here, a different tour guide led us up 86 steep steps to the observation deck surrounding the external rotunda. Colorado was only the 2nd capitol having such an observation deck open to the public, so this was a real treat. (To see the 1st capitol we visited with an observation deck please click here) The weather was mild, and the sky was clear and sunny. The 360-degree panoramic view of the Denver skyline with the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop was a one of the most beautiful experiences on our cross country trip! We hope you too enjoy the view from the observation deck of the Colorado Capitol building in the pictures below!

If you have been following the blog for a while, then you know this is the point where I offer my constructive criticism about my capitol experience. However, aside from the security search at the front door, there is not much negative to say about the Colorado Capitol! It was: beautiful but not over the top, constructed using materials native to the state, had displays to commemorate women's contributions to the state’s history, displayed state specific features throughout the building, offered a guided tour to showcase the capitol's key points, and an observation deck to highlight the beauty of the region! Best of all, unlike other capitols which have burned down 3 times and rebuilt over and over again, the Colorado capitol has been spared from a similar fate and is 97% original!!! WOW! This capitol hit every nail on the head, and was our best capitol tour we have had to date! What an amazing day! Colorado is off to a very impressive start! Please see additional pictures below of our visit to the Colorado Capitol Building.

After departing the capitol we found a Walmart in Denver to spend the night.

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