May 5 2009, 9:25 AM
Colorado's state Capitol building is a daily site for many Denverites, but unless you work in a politically related field--or were forced to take a field trip as a student--the chances that you've been inside are slim. Now's the time to let your recession-minded tourist out to mine the gold-domed beauty for some entertainment--sans the high-school lesson in local government. There are a couple options for exploring the Capitol--and both are free. A historical tour lasts 45 minutes and takes you virtually everywhere. Because the Capitol actually contains very little private office space, visitors have access to almost the entire building. The historical tour doesn't include the dome, but a separate tour that does runs every hour from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays. Volunteers will lead you through Mr. Brown's attic (a renovated exhibit that includes photos of the underground tunnel system), explaining the gilding of the dome, and on up the 99 steps (it's a workout that's well worth the view at the top) to the interior observation level. From there, take in the panoramic views of the Rockies, 16th Street Mall, and Colfax Avenue. Off-tour, access the dome using the elevators to the third floor, then hike the steps for the photo-op. If you're more in for the architecture and design than the history, forego the tour and browse around on your own. Scope out the Colorado rose onyx, a rare material that was used to construct the building, and see if you can spot a familiar face like George Washington or the shape of a turkey in the walls of the west wing. At the end of it all, playing tourist in your own city doesn't just provide a cheap thrill. It ups your ante in local trivia as well.