May | June 2005
Volume 79 Issue 3
About This Section
Colorado is a gold mine of intriguing places and things to see and do. With Colorado Explorer, we highlight some of the well-known but we also dig deeper-to present unique and lesser-known ideas to AAA members.
Readers may notice that Colorado Explorer is free of advertising and does not include AAA Diamond ratings with the hotels and restaurants mentioned, nor identify which attractions are AAA Gems. What's featured in this section is not related to advertising or promotion-just great ideas from people who know and love this state.
Cinco de Mayo
Cinco de Mayo (May 5) is the day to celebrate Mexican heritage-or just to have a great time enjoying the food, art and music of Mexico in a fun, fiesta atmosphere.
Although Cinco de Mayo is often mistaken for Mexican Independence Day, it commemorates the Battle of Puebla in 1862, 40 years after Mexico won freedom from Spain. A small and ill-equipped Mexican force defeated an invading French army which outnumbered them almost two to one-and showed the world that the newly independent nation could stand on its own terms.
Today Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in most U.S. cities with a large Hispanic population. Ironically, it is not a major holiday in Mexico.
Here are just a few events to add some south-of-the-border spice to your May 5 weekend:
* Denver hosts the largest Cinco de Mayo celebration in America. Highlights this year include a Mariachi Mass; salsa, Latin jazz, Nortena, Tex-Mex and R&B performers; a parade; and 350 exhibitors. More than 400,000 visitors attended last year.
* For a more small-town experience, try Holyoke. This town of 2,000 people annually attracts as many as 1,500 to its Cinco de Mayo FunFest on May 14. Events help fund scholarships for local kids. 970-854-5211.
* Greeley will host a concert by eclectic rockers Los Lobos, with local band Poquito Maz opening. 970-350-9454.
* Pueblo marks its 6th annual celebration with a three-day Weekend Fiesta, including a car show, chili cook-off, carnival attractions, and two nights of concerts.
* In Grand Junction, hear top vocalist Gonzalo, along with Grupo Crossroads from Albuquerque. The Latin-Anglo Alliance plans plenty of other entertainment, including rap and hip-hop performers and possibly a car show. 970-248-3658.
* Durango's festivities at Santa Rita Park will include folklorico dancing, mariachi, and lots of stalls. Kids can enjoy free games and prizes. 970-382-9693.
* Fort Collins kicks things off with its 12th annual "Cinco-Cinco" fun run on Saturday: 970-491-4847. Then there's music and dance from Aztec and mariachi to classic rock and Afro-Caribbean. Other highlights include fashion shows, a magic show, and a special film screening.
* Loveland comes to the party with a Cinco de Mayo lowrider car show, boxing matches and live music-all on the weekend of May 14 and 15. 970-278-1900.
Mancos: where the Old West lives
If you're looking for that Old West of Louis L'Amour novels, set your sights on Mancos in southwestern Colorado. It's west of Durango and east of Cortez, perched near the famed ruins at Mesa Verde National Park and Ute Mountain Tribal Park.
In Mancos, you can see the sun rise over the La Plata Mountains, and set over Mesa Verde. "Mancos is a nice blend of the old and new West," says Betsy Harrison, a member of the chamber board.
Here, you can hop aboard a real stagecoach and take a ride the way early travelers did-bouncing, dusty and with a close up and personal look at the scenery. Though it's a lot of fun, you'll sympathize with those who did this for days on end.
In the fall, there are sometimes cattle drives right through town-a sight that takes you back to the Western movies and television shows we all loved as kids.
Western writer Louis L'Amour lived here for many years. Fans can visit locations he used in his exciting frontier tales; the landscape remains remarkably unchanged.
There are a few things, however, that have changed with the times. L'Amour might be surprised today to see a dozen or so motels, lodges, guest ranches and bed-and-breakfast inns. One B&B, the Sundance Bear Lodge, is just a few miles north of town but seems light years away from civilization. It's so dark out there at night, it's a perfect place for star-gazing. If you'd rather stay in town, Bauer House, an 1890s Victorian mansion, offers an elegant stay complete with croquet on the lawn.
And although there aren't dozens of restaurants, you can get a dynamite breakfast at the Absolute Café & Bakery. Or a great steak (what else?) at Millwood Junction. Or drive to nearby La Plata for more elegant dining at the Kennebec Café.
Stop in at the visitors center to orient yourself to the local history and attractions, and check out the map showing where some of L'Amour's stories were set.
Moving from fiction to reality, the Mesa Verde Indian Arts and Western Culture Festival (May 27-June 5) will immerse you in the heritage of the West.
If all this has you hankering to ride the range, try Rimrock Outfitters for hourly rides, pack trips and more. You, too, can ride the purple sage.
For information on Mancos, go to www.mancosvalley.com or call 970-533-7434.
From upscale elegance to funky fleas
Well-known and worth it
Denver's grand Brown Palace Hotel has had a fine $4 million facelift. The renovation includes new furniture and amenities in its 241 guest rooms. A member of the National Trust Historic Hotels of America, it has set a standard of excellence in downtown Denver lodging for 112 years. 303-297-3111.
Two of Steamboat Springs' long-time favorite restaurants are among those honored by Wine Spectator magazine. L'Apogee won the Best of Award of Excellence (try the succulent roasted duckling) and Antares (Thai chili prawns, yum!) won the Award of Excellence. 970-879-1919 and 970-879-9939, respectively.
Lesser known gems
If you just love to shop for fun or funky stuff, head to Loveland, where you'll find northern Colorado's largest flea market. The Great Colorado Marketplace draws as many as 500 dealers on any given weekend. Wear comfy shoes-you'll be doing a bit of walking. 970-278-1900.
Once the snow thaws in the spring, it's time to head to those hard-to-reach places, like Silverton. The old mining town has a laid-back atmosphere many find restful. And speaking of resting, check out the Wyman Hotel, on the National Register of Historic Places. The quaint Victorian hotel has won numerous awards for its hospitality and its food. 800-609-7845.
If you're a bookshop junkie, join avid readers everywhere who seek out independent bookstores on their travels. In Colorado, choices range from the famous Tattered Cover stores in Denver to Colorado's largest used book store, The Book Broker, in downtown Colorado Springs, plus dozens of smaller stores scattered about. Need a guide? Try Bookstore Tourism by Larry Portzline.
If you're looking for a cold beer in Aspen in a place that's not so Aspen-ish, visit the Woody Creek Tavern just down the road from town. You can get a plate of Mexican food or a good burger for a non-Aspen price, too. The tavern was a favorite hangout of the late Hunter S. Thompson, legendary writer and journalist. 970-923-4585.
See & Do
Float with hooligans, fly over a dinosaur
Well-known and worth it
Rafting and the Arkansas River are almost synonymous, and no place celebrates this Colorado sport better than Salida, where the 57th annual FibArk (First in Boating on the Arkansas) Whitewater Festival happens June 16-19. Events include a professional raft race, a rowdy Hooligan Race, acrobatic kayaks, and a 26-mile Downriver Race. 877-772-5432 or 719-539-2068.
Get your bluegrass music fix at the Greenway and Nature Center of Pueblo, June 3-5. Two stages-one overlooking the Arkansas River and a Pickin' Parlor under the cottonwood trees-keep thousands of fans entertained for three days. On-site camping is available. Plan to bring your dancin' shoes for Saturday night. 719-549-2414.
Lesser known gems
The newest park in the Pikes Peak region is Red Rock Canyon, nearly 800 acres of open space south of the world-famous Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. It has the same sort of dramatic red-and-white rock formations cresting out of the earth as its sister park. For directions or photos, visit www.redrockcanyonopenspace.org. It's a great place to do everything from meditating to mountain biking. 719-385-5940.
The Scenic Highway of Legends may be one of Colorado's least-traveled byways, but it's a perfect way to explore some of the state's earliest history. Spanish settlements and geographical oddities, such as Devil's Staircase, make it worth the drive. Stop at Trinidad's Welcome Center for a self-guided tour and map and work your way north to Walsenburg via Colorado Highway 12. 719-846-9512.
There aren't that many swimmin' holes in Colorado, but you can indulge your beach craving at Jackson Reservoir at Jackson Lake State Park northeast of Fort Morgan. It has a clean, sandy swimming beach and warm water in the summer. If you prefer, toss a fishing line into the water. And bring your grill. To reserve a campsite, 800-678-CAMP.
Perhaps you've driven through Dinosaur National Monument, but have you ever flown over it on a hang glider? It's a popular summer pursuit-so much so, there's even a designated launch pad and parking area. What a view! 800-374-5332.
Linda DuVal is a freelance writer and former travel editor of The Gazette in Colorado Springs.
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