After our romp through the desert region of the United States’ southwest, it was a nice twist to move to the chillier shadow of the Colorado mountains. The capital city of Denver sits just east of the Rocky Mountains and is known as mile-high city, due to its altitude. We again opted to book a room through Air BnB, retiring our tent for the foreseeable future. With our base sorted, we gave ourselves a few days to explore the city.
Denver, and Colorado more broadly, is simply a fabulous place. We found ourselves walking for hours, I discovered the deliciousness that is a well executed ice cream sandwich (cookies and ice cream? simply heavenly), and the crisp air had a refreshing feel to it. Whenever I end up in a state’s capital city, I try to get the chance to explore the capitol building. In Denver, they run regular free tours, where you get a chance to learn a little more about the history, and to head right to the top of the building itself. The dome tours let you step outdoors and check out the view of the city. Clouds obstructed the beauty of the mountain range on the day we visited, but it was still a cool exercise.
State and the Nation
Visiting these buildings is a lot of fun, in particular because you get a little more insight into the ongoing discussion regarding the role of state and nation in the United States story. It does not take long before you start to appreciate just how different the individual states are from one another, and the contrast between the external concept of what signifies an American and the internal reality. In New Zealand, with a tiny population and relatively small geographic footprint, we still hold some disparate views of what makes a ‘kiwi’ based on where in the country we come from. In the US, this is amplified. Individual states operate in a way where they are constantly seeking to balance the rights of the state with that of the collective idea of nation. It is possible to both love the whole and to be fiercely protective of the right of the state to set its own laws and shape its own way of life. Finding how to balance this troubled America’s founding fathers, and continues to be a fundamental debate in contemporary America. Delving into the stories of the history of the state is an engaging way to reflect on the complexity of the American story.
In Colorado, the outdoors plays a central part in the reflection of self. With the jagged points of the Rockies cutting through the centre of the state, it is apparent why this would be. Historically, a place noted for its restorative abilities, it was an area associated with healing. It also played host to gold rush and war, with conflict between a multitude of peoples shaping the historic makeup of the state. Today, in the capitol building there is a prominent tribute to this history of notable women, and a reflection on the leaders who have played a role in both the building of nation and state.
In our wanderings of the city, we were at one point caught out by a snow flurry – though the novelty was enough for us to laugh through it before seeking shelter in the library (not exactly a hardship to hide in a library for a short while!).
A key destination in Colorado for Ashby was Pike’s Peak. The site of an annual rally car race, it is a location that means little to me but can be appreciated by looking at this video from a record breaking drive in the 1980s.
While Ashby has pretty much memorised a lot of the corners after driving this track in a virtual format, snow and an under-powered rental car limited the ability to do anything more than a quiet drive to the end of the road. Unfortunately snow hampered any chance of getting to the top – so we might just need to save that for a return trip. We went as far as we could, but any further and the wind was blowing snow drifts across the road faster than it could be cleared.
We had a night in Colorado Springs, before heading east again. Leaving behind forecasts of more cold weather we took to the plains of Kansas, right in the midst of the season of thunderstorms and tornadoes.