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27 Reasons to Love Colorado in the Summer

Everyone knows about our famously beautiful winters, but Coloradans know that our summers are equally stunning—and, dare we say it, maybe just a little bit sweeter.

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Colorado’s white-washed winters are the stuff great travel brochures are made of: rosy-cheeked skiers schussing down powdery runs, frosted pine trees swaying in the wind, frozen lakes glistening in the afternoon sun. But Denverites know that our state’s glorious summer is every bit the equal of those famous winters—and, dare we say it, maybe even a little bit sweeter. For 12 weeks (and sometimes well into late September), the thermometer hovers somewhere around perfectly comfortable; the air smells of forsythia, lilac, and freshly cut grass; and we revel in an all-too-short season full of hiking, camping, fishing, cycling, patio dining, festival-going, and flat-out sun worshipping. So sit back, kick your feet up with one of Breckenridge Brewery’s 471 IPAs (#6)—or lace up your hiking boots (#13)—and enjoy.

No. 1

Because there’s always a new, kick-ass way to enjoy our prodigious geography
The latest summertime fix for Colorado adrenaline addicts? Check out “canyoning:” descending a plunging mountainside stream—the more waterfalls the better—by wading, rappelling, and jumping into deep pools. Local challenges include Wolf Creek near Pagosa Springs, Booth Creek near Vail, and half a dozen different gorges near Ouray. (A guidebook to Ouray canyoning from local author Mike Dallin is due this month.) The descents require a few hours to a full day, and wetsuits, neoprene socks, ropes, and safety techniques are mandatory for dealing with deep pools and icy waterfalls. It sounds cold and scary, but Charly Oliver, a Boulder-based guide and board member of the American Canyoneering Association, says the sport is easy to learn and “allows you to venture into surreal landscapes that few people get to see.” San Juan Mountain Guides (www.ourayclimbing.com) is offering a canyoning course August 16 to 18, 2010, in Ouray. Meanwhile, Canyoneering.net is the place to hook up with Colorado mentors and guides. —Dougald MacDonald

No. 2

Because watching movies outside is way better than in a stuffy theater
It’s not that we don’t like to cozy up on a rainy afternoon at the local cinema. It’s just that on a gorgeous summer evening there’s nothing more American—or sweetly reminiscent of our disappearing drive-ins—than an outdoor film session. Bring a blanket, a snack, and a relaxed attitude.

Stapleton Under the Stars

Movie Night on the Founder’s Green
East 29th Avenue Town Center (shows begin at dusk)

No. 3

Because a pickup game of “kegball” is easy to find in any Denver park
Pick a summer evening and a Denver-area park—Washington Park is always a good bet—and you’re sure to find a half dozen teams engaged in a mockingly competitive game of kickball. The twist? Every player will have an adult beverage in hand—and they’re expected to kick the ball, run the bases, and drink without spilling. For $5 in beer money, most groups will let you join the fun. For more organized—and competitive—matches, check out the World Adult Kickball Association (www.kickball.com) or Denver Sport and Social Club (www.socialandsportsclub.com) for kickball leagues that wait until after the game to hit the sauce.

No. 4

Because you never know what Mother Nature has in store for you
{ ESSAY } It’s a Wednesday morning, early July, and I head out for a hike along the Tonahutu Creek Trail above Grand Lake. A slow creek and thicket of willows on my right, lodgepole pines on my left, my mind chattering the way it always does when given free rein. I should have left earlier. I should have brought water. I should hike every week. Why don’t I hike every week? Perhaps I’ll find a nice warm rock and write in my journal about why I’m going to start hiking every week. Wow…the curve in that creek is so pretty, and that split-rail fence—why didn’t I bring my camera? I always forget my camera. Why do I always forget my…oh dear…what’s that? ? Branches crunch very close by. Not little snaps, but major footfalls crashing through the underbrush. Probably a mule deer. Maybe another hiker. I stop and peer through the trees. Something brown—and large—moves among the foliage. I catch sight of a huge, overdeveloped snout and four spindly, knock-kneed legs. A cow moose. ? I’m frozen. I try not to breathe, wanting to watch her forever. Until a separate movement catches my eye. There’s something behind her. A calf. This is so not good. Quick: What do I do? Stand still? Make a loud noise? I can never remember. Without a plan, I simply stare at them with equal parts awe, fear, and appreciation. Mama seems to be doing the same with me. ? I read recently that moose are not indigenous to Colorado. I’m not either. But in this particular moment, the moose and I both seem to belong nowhere else. Together, we’ve been shaken out of our habitual routines long enough to wonder, just a bit, about the larger world that surrounds us. —Shari Caudron

No. 5

Because this isn’t heaven or Iowa—it’s Colorado
{ ESSAY } It was 1988 and my youth baseball team from Parker was chosen to play several games in Louviers (pronounced, Lou-veers), a former dynamite-manufacturing town a few miles northwest of Castle Rock. To get there, my mom had to drive her midnight-blue Trans Am for 40 minutes on a dirt road and then crumbling asphalt, back to dirt road and, finally, to Main Street, where the park stood alone at the edge of town. ? In the impenetrable darkness of northwestern, rural Douglas County, DuPont Park was something out of Field of Dreams. Standing at home plate, the lights—low-hanging and intense—made me feel like I was on a stage. In the distance, shadows of trees and prairie scrub loomed over the left-field fence, the edge of the Earth seemingly just beyond center field. The rest of Colorado always seemed to melt away as I strode to the plate. On particularly warm nights, moths clustered around the light poles and I’d find myself marveling between pitches at how their flapping wings looked like confetti fluttering toward the dirt infield. ? I was never a power hitter, but I could slap the ball through the infield on command. A few times that summer, I pushed the ball between first and second and split the outfielders. As the ball rolled, threatening to fall off the edge, all I could see was the reflected whiteness of the players’ jersey numbers as they turned and ran into the darkness. ? More than 20 years later, I drove out to Louviers with my family. My two kids and I got out of the car and raced headlong for the dugouts. The field was frozen in time, unchanged from how it looked in my memory. We played for a half hour on the greening outfield grass. Then dusk fell, and the field’s old lights flickered and clicked on. We ran the infield. And then I stood at home plate and looked out at the vastness beyond center field. I pretended to slap a ball up the middle, and then I ran, my kids in tow, dirt kicking up behind us. Between first and second I looked toward the outfield fence, and for a second I could see those outfielders’ numbers glowing in the dark. —Robert Sanchez

No. 6

Because we don’t wait until the fall to celebrate beer

No. 7

Because Denver has become an ice cream mecca
In the past few years, top-shelf ice cream has come to the Mile High City in a big way: Little Man Ice Cream in LoHi, Red Trolley in Highland, and Sweet Action Ice Cream on Broadway have exploded onto a market that had, until recently, been cornered by the citadel of all Denver sweets shops, Bonnie Brae Ice Cream.

Bonnie Brae earned its spot on high over the past two-plus decades, with owners Bob and Cindy Pailet and Judy and Ken Simon at the helm. And the foursome is still enjoying the wild ride that has become one of Denver’s most iconic landmarks.

They’ve, of course, had some help along the way. Their kids have worked at the shop. They’ve employed up to 50 staffers at a time during the busy summer months. They have a longtime manager, Kerry Jacobucci, who trains their people on proper (yes, there’s a correct way to do it) scooping techniques. And they have a secret weapon in their ice-cream mastermind, Richard Brown, who has been with the shop for 23 years and has created more than 130 recipes for ice cream flavors. (One of his most recent inventions is a grapefruit-and-peach-swirl sorbet.) But it’s the tried-and-true flavors, like mint-chocolate chip, Rocky Road, and French vanilla, that find a regular spot on the shop’s constantly rotating lineup of 28 tubs of goodness. According to both Bob and Judy, their party line has always been “don’t look at the price of an ingredient, find the best ingredient.” The philosophy has obviously worked, attracting some seriously long lines of people who are all waiting for a taste of Denver’s most famous dessert.

No. 8

Because we consider learning to fly-fish crucial postgraduate educat?on
Living in Colorado necessitates a certain skill set. It’s expected that every Coloradan can make it down a ski slope in a reasonable fashion. We all have to know how to set up a two-man tent in less than 10 minutes. And, when the occasion calls for it, each of us should know the basics of fly-tying and casting. Of course, it’s easy to find someone to teach you to ski—and tents come with instructions—but grasping the basics of fly-fishing really requires some formal training. And that’s where Evergreen’s Sage Fly Fishing School comes into play. With three class options—Fly Fishing 101, Fly Fishing 201, and Advanced Casting School—this hybrid organization (a team effort between the Blue Quill Angler and Sage Manufacturing) teaches wannabe fishermen and advanced anglers the ins and outs of wetting a line. Rod rigging, knot tying, entomology (yes, you need to know about bugs), fly selection, casting, wading practices, and water reading are all part of the extensive, multiday courses. Classes run through September 2010. 303-674-4700; www.bluequillangler.com

No. 9

Because snow isn’t out of the question in June
After a long winter full of chilly temperatures, anything above 55 degrees feels pretty darn warm. But the Mile High City logs an average mean temperature of only 67.6 degrees in June, which means that we still get some nippy days—and even, sometimes, snow. No, it hasn’t full-on snowed in Denver in June since 1947, but it’s gotten close: On both May 21, 2001, and May 24, 2002, we got a taste of the white stuff. Of course, flakes fly well into June and July in the high country—which makes a few slushy turns at A-Basin or backcountry skiing in places like Berthoud Pass a uniquely Colorado summertime activity. www.arapahoebasin.com; www.berthoudpass.com

No. 10

Because Todd Helton never quits
When he muddled through an injury-filled and comparatively unproductive 2008, many wondered if Todd Helton’s career—with the Rockies, and in general—was winding down. Instead, the Goateed One attacked 2009 with an enthusiasm renewed by the promise of a young team and his obligation to lead them. Although his power numbers have dipped in recent years, this 36-year-old baller has aged like a fine wine. Helton still gets on base with the best of ’em, and provides the steady defense, work ethic, and indefinable presence that, day after day, reminds us all of his true legacy: the greatest Rockie ever. —Luc Hatlestad

No. 11

Because no one else’s skin has seen the sun in months either
Hey, it’s been cold since mid-October 2009. It’s not your fault that your belly is blindingly white or that you can actually trace blue veins down your arms and legs. Embrace your pallor with these trappings of summer.

No. 12

Because afternoon thunderstorms always catch you off-guard, even though you know perfectly well they’re coming
{ ESSAY } A few summers ago we went camping by a lake just outside of Rollinsville—my husband and me, and another couple and their dog. We arrived at the campsite and pulled out the rods for some fly-fishing. More correctly, the three of them fly-fished; I caught tree branches on the bank and cursed. As a bluebird morning stretched into afternoon, we missed (or, more accurately, ignored) the signs of a changing weather pattern: cool bursts of wind, gunmetal-black clouds creeping eastward, the humid smell of rain. The dog was doing a let’s-get-the-hell-out-of-here dance; we were thigh-deep in lake water, hoping to pull in a shiny brown. ? Of course, that’s usually the plotline of a good old-fashioned Colorado rainstorm story. You disregard the signs and plug onward. I’m gonna catch just one more fish. Ten more minutes on this trail, then we’ll turn back. Let’s just ride over that last ridge. We can totally summit before that front gets here. If you’ve lived here for even a short time, you already know the end of the tale. An afternoon thunderstorm is inevitable; it’s part of the rhythm of life. And unless you have a tent, car, or building to dive under, crouch beneath, or duck into, you’re going to get wet. Real wet. ? Out at the lake that summer, it ended like it always does: the four of us sprinting to the tents, half-laughing, half-screaming, while bomber raindrops and hail the size of nickels pelted our backs. We wiggled out of our neoprene waders (no easy feat) and into our tents, but it was too late—we were soaked down to our skivvies. But within 15 minutes, the sun was out and our foursome was headed back to the lake to find that fish that got away. —Cheryl Meyers

No. 13

Because there’s always another trail to hike, another mountain to climb
The great mountaineer George Mallory once said he wanted to climb Mt. Everest “because it’s there.” Seems like most Coloradans agree. Our foothills and Flatirons and thirteeners and fourteeners may not reach the lofty heights of the Himalaya, but we still clamber up them—mostly in the summer months—for the sheer glory of doing so.

No. 14

Because concerts sound better on the Rocks
It’s little wonder that Colorado’s most sacred music venue was once called the Garden of Angels—after all, Red Rocks Amphitheatre’s heavenly acoustics make even the most earthbound voices sound like they’re channeling a higher power. But when experienced musicians and superior vocalists take the stage between Ship Rock and Creation Rock—the 300-foot monoliths that create the walls of the venue—magic happens.

A Sampling of Red Rocks 2010 Concerts

No. 15

Because the arts community comes alive
Denver’s art scene is a far cry from the highfalutin cultural centers of the coasts. Most Denver-area galleries—eminently accessible and welcoming—are open throughout the year, but the crowds mobilize during the warm months and enjoy walking from one artsy hotspot to the next.

No. 16

Because gondolas are standard transportation to summer weddings
How’s this for dramatic presentation: Colorado wedding guests cruise up the mountainside in glass-sided gondola cars. These high-altitude chariots—all of which afford jaw-dropping views of ski slopes, mountain ranges, and sunsets—unload guests at on-mountain ceremony and reception sites, where they’re greeted with even more spectacular scenery (and hopefully a glass of champagne).

Wanna say “I do” on high?
High-elevation venues abound. Here, a handful of favorites.

No. 17

Because we have alpine lakes instead of swimming pools
{ ESSAY } When I was a kid, my long blond hair turned a noticeable shade of green from early June through late August—a victim of the chlorine in the neighborhood pool. I grew up on the East Coast, where every ‘hood had a large community pool with lane ropes and diving boards and lounge chairs and teenage lifeguards. The smells of sunscreen, chlorinated water, and hot, wet cement combined to make the heady aroma of summer. And I loved it—the splashing, the squeals of children, the hours spent perfecting a back dive. It was the first real freedom I had as a teenager. My mom would let me walk to the pool by myself, spend hours there with friends, and come home when I was exhausted from exertion and the heat of the day. That pool is where some of my best memories from childhood live. ? When I moved to Denver at 22—just months after finishing up my last summer of lifeguarding—I scanned the city’s neighborhoods for signs of unnaturally blue water and black lane lines. Save for a few in city parks, I was shocked and horrified at the dearth of community pools. Where do kids hang out in the summer, I wondered. How do they cool off? Where do they go to be teenagers? ? For years I worried about Colorado’s kids; I was sad that they might miss out on something that was etched in my mind as a rite of passage. I fretted until last summer, when I hiked into Colorado’s backcountry, and set up a tent near the edge of an unnaturally blue-green alpine lake. The sun was high in the sky as I wandered to the water’s edge. The air smelled of freshwater and sun-baked pine needles and wildflowers. Three kids—probably in their late teens—had just arrived at the lake after a three-mile hike. I watched as the two girls and one boy stripped down to their swimsuits and slipped into the lake. The water was cold. The girls squealed; the boy dove in without hesitation. They laughed and flirted and splashed around—until they couldn’t take the cold any longer. They toweled off and fell, exhausted, onto a nearby grassy area. ? I watched them intently as I tiptoed into the water. They were talking, giggling—having the time of their lives. And then they packed up and headed home, a full day spent in the sun and water. As they disappeared, I waded farther, almost waist deep, into the lake. The water was as clear as could be. Had there been lane lines I could’ve followed one straight across to the other bank. Goose bumps rose on my arms and legs—but they weren’t entirely from the cold. —LBK

No. 18

Because the mountain isn’t going anywhere
{ ESSAY } When you wrench yourself from a warm sleeping bag at 1 a.m. to scramble up a dirt path in the damp chill of darkness, you better believe there’s something worthwhile waiting for you. A beautiful view maybe. A fantastic story to tell. Bragging rights. Something. ? Take Longs Peak—the granddaddy of all Colorado fourteeners. There’s a certain amount of prestige attached to climbing a peak that’s claimed more than 50 lives. Which is why I’ve tried to summit the beast. Twice. ? The first time we attempted Longs, a couple of summers ago, my boyfriend and I reached the lower Boulder Field, about 12,400 feet up, before a ranger turned us back. Safety crews were evacuating the mountain to conduct a rescue; an unfortunate hiker had taken a plunge off the route. Our second effort, this past August, got us as far as the Keyhole, just beyond the Boulder Field. This is the make-it-or-break-it point. We were thrilled to have fought through the hail and blasting wind that had berated us since we crossed treeline. We were this close. But the threat of more nasty weather—and the certainty of defenseless exposure—loomed on the other side of the Keyhole. ? We had a decision to make: Take the risk, cross that threshold, and push for the summit we’d spent all summer—two summers, in fact—waiting to reach. Or turn around. Retrace our steps to the trailhead and leave without conquering the most notorious peak in Colorado. ? That day, we played it safe. And although I was disappointed—approaching exasperated—I realized just how lucky I am. I live here. I could hike Longs next weekend if I wanted. Or I could return the next summer. And that’s exactly what I’m doing, come August. Except this time, my dad is flying out to hike Longs with us. For him, this is it. He’s flying nearly 2,000 miles for one shot. If we have to turn around, he’ll reach the bottom and fly back to Boston without a view from the top. ? This will be my third attempt. And if we don’t make it, that’s OK. I live 90 minutes away. The mountain’s not going anywhere. And neither am I. —Julie Dugdale

No. 19

Because although we all have four-season tents, we really only like to use them in June, July, and August
Coloradans are a tough breed. We have no problem hiking 12 miles, one way, in a single day. We can deal with carrying 25-pound packs. We’re actually happy to subsist on trail mix for three days. But, honestly, it’s a rare Coloradan that risks camping any earlier than June 1 or any later than Labor Day weekend. You know why? Because crawling into your sleeping bag at night with temps in the upper 40s is nice; stepping outside your tent the next morning to 20 degrees and three inches of snow is not.

No. 20

Because our rivers run wild—really wild
If you’re looking for a real rush, check out the Browns Canyon section—a big, rollicking mess of water in a frothy, rapid-strewn gully—of the mighty Arkansas River. The Arkansas, which runs high in May and June, is the most commercially rafted river in the Lower 48. There’s nothing like bobbing your way down Browns’ bumps, but the Arkansas isn’t the only big water to be found in the state. Outfitters raft the Upper Colorado, the Blue, Clear Creek, the Cache la Poudre, and a host of others, all of which makes Colorado one of the best spots to raft west of the Mississippi.

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No. 21

Because white-water rafting guides have their own language
Colorado is a rafter’s paradise, with diverse river sizes and environments. Most people who go rafting do so on commercial trips with guides, so come early May each year, raft guides come from all around to train or be trained on what it takes to get a boat safely down the river. This rigorous guide training generally entails rowing and paddle-boat instruction, river rescue skills, medical training, and a crash course in the hospitality skills needed to be a likable guide. During the weeks of training and boating, a kind of subculture emerges, with a language all its own. Here, a few terms you might hear from the back of the boat.

No. 22

Because the heavens really are beautiful when you can actually see them
With multiple meteor showers expected to light up the night sky this summer (Delta Aquarids, July 29, and Perseids, August 12 and 13) we hunted down three of the best places to watch the stars sans city lights. —Daliah Singer

Head southwest to Del Norte (4.5 hours from Denver) to hang with the locals under a starry sky. Elk Park’s open meadow lies adjacent to a ridge, 12 miles outside of town. Bump along a gravel road before laying out a sleeping bag under the Milky Way. www.fs.fed.us/r2/riogrande

Reserve a night at Piney Guard Station. The one-room hut, one hour northwest of Vail, has a wood-burning stove and a bunk bed. Grab a blanket and take a short walk into the night to discover a breathtaking spread of stars. Tip: You’ll need a four-wheel-drive vehicle with high clearance to get there. 970-827-5715, www.recreation.gov

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve offers more than sandboarding. Park in a nearby lot, snap on your backpack, and hike through the day-use area, up a 750-foot dune, and into the pitch darkness of the dune field. Pitch a tent right on the sand and lie back to take in panoramic views of the constellations. A free permit is required for camping on the dunes. 719-378-6399, www.nps.gov/grsa

No. 23

Because of larkspur, columbine, rushpink, fireweed, and tansy aster
Author Pamela D. Irwin has written the book (the Colorado’s Best Wildflower Hikes series) on where Colorado’s most spectacular wildflower displays explode each summer. She and her husband have criss-crossed the state since the mid-’90s in search of the most brilliant blooms. Here, a handful of hikes that stick out in her mind.

Elk Valley Trail in Roxborough State Park is a newer, 7.8-mile loop trail that accesses lower-altitude Carpenter Peak. During the second week of June, the areas adjacent to the trail offer spectacular viewing for wildflowers.

The Diamond Lake Trail (3.6 miles one way) shoots off of the Arapaho Pass Trail just a mile from the Fourth of July Trailhead in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. The gorgeous lake sits in a valley with a large grassy meadow to the north and east. Visit during the third week of July for the best flower viewing.

Forgotten Valley in Golden Gate Canyon State Park (hike along Burro Trail to Mountain Lion Trail to get there) is a relatively short jaunt that ends up at a wonderful little pond, with a late 19th-century homestead overlooking the water. Colorful wildflowers abound.

From the Dos Chappell Nature Center on Mt. Evans, hike up the Walter Pesman Trail to the Mt. Goliath Natural Area. This trail offers views of ghostly bristlecone pines and some very beautiful wildflowers. Once up top, take the half-mile Walter Pesman Alpine Garden Loop to see abundant and gorgeous wildflowers, from subalpine to alpine types.

No. 24

Because we hire for cool summer jobs
Colorado kids don’t have to flip burgers or spend their summers logging hours at the Gap. Nope, they have the opportunity to get outside, put in an honest day’s work, and experience some of the most stunning geography around. —Jessica Farmwald

You’ll wanna be a…

No. 25

Because getting dirty, wearing silly gear, and riding horses into the middle of nowhere are sought-after activities
Sable Mountain Outfitters, Adams Lodge Outfitters, and JML Outfitters are three of Colorado’s premier backcountry outfitters—and all of them offer alluring summer fishing trips. The multiday adventures—guests ride horses from one camp to the next or use them for day trips—often endeavor far into the Flat Tops Wilderness, known for its hundreds of lakes and more than 100 miles of fishable streams. Campers spend their days clip-clopping among volcanic cliffs and through scenic subalpine terrain to find creeks and rivers full of trout. The excursions are rustic, but with horses carrying the load, camp cooks preparing the food, and fishing guides pointing out the sure-fire honeypots, you have little else to do but revel in the fact that you haven’t been this dirty in months. www.sablemountainoutfitters.com; www.adamslodge.com; www.jmloutfitters.com

No. 26

Because it’s (finally) warm enough to use all that open space Colorado is famous for
You’ve probably heard of the state’s four breathtaking national parks, and might even be able to rattle off a number of the dozens of state parks. Don’t get us wrong—those places are well worth your time. But cities, towns, counties, and conservation organizations all over Colorado have also worked hard to preserve hundreds of thousands of acres of lesser-known (and often less visited) open-space areas. The kinds of places that are perfect for hiking, biking, camping, nature watching, picture-taking, or just escaping the city. Below, five examples of open spaces you should visit this summer. —Chris Outcalt

Get Out and Explore

No. 27

Because farmers’ markets replace supermarkets
Bring a reusable sack and a handful of cash because you’ll want to buy all of the following: Palisade peaches, hot kettle corn, fresh tamales, Rocky Ford cantaloupe, raw honey, Olathe Sweet sweet corn, grass-fed bison, locally made cheeses, Colorado-grown vegetables, cut flowers, and artisanal breads.

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