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Day Trip: Driving Denver's Parkways
When I was twenty I backpacked through Europe. Riding home from Denver International Airport, disheveled and disillusioned, I didn’t want my adventure to be over. I was a discoverer. An explorer. Someone who appreciated all the world had to offer, and wanted to know everything immediately.
Growing up in Denver, I defended it against people from larger cities. For all my big words defending Denver’s virtue, I’d never treated my hometown as a backpacker arriving in the train station. Surely my town, the city I’d vouch for over any other, had a lot to offer—and it did.
I wanted to see Denver through fresh eyes, explore it like I would a city whose name I can’t pronounce. With this blog, I get that chance. So let’s go.
We’ll start with Denver parkways. That way we can stay safe, and, for the most part, stay in the car.
Warmed by Denver sunshine, my girlfriend and I started at Highland Park. The beautiful weather was dampened by scenes of playgrounds blocked off with caution tape. But despite these reminders of quarantine, the short walk around the park retained its charm. We finished by walking around Woodbury Library, a surprisingly ornate brick building, another of those book depositories left by the repentant capitalist, Andrew Carnegie.
Hitting the road, we pulled over on Zuni Street in order to take in a splendid view of Denver. A clear blue sky, accentuated with storybook clouds, added the necessary backdrop to the Denver skyline. The green arches of Speer Bridge in the foreground held an ever-growing number of skyscrapers on its back.
As Speer Boulevard was developed, many citizens couldn’t comprehend the necessity of recreational paths along Cherry Creek. As we drove, I looked to my left to see dozens of people enjoying those paths, meandering their way past murals with striking colors and heartfelt messages. Rapidly pedaling his bike, a child smiled knowing the training wheels, and his doting dad, protected him from harm. On Cherry Creek, my dad and I spent what felt like days, months, years biking next to the peaceful, if filthy, water.
Many sites catch your eye on this commercial boulevard. To my right there’s Elitch Gardens, where I’ve been unintentionally screaming on roller coasters for over twenty years. There’s the Pepsi Center, where I and 18,000 others have been unsuccessfully screaming to help the Nuggets win a championship for almost twenty years. And there’s the Auraria Campus where I internally screamed many times reading essay questions I was certain would not be on the final.
Soon we approached the Sunken Gardens Park near Denver’s West High School, where we saw what appeared to be a parade. The road was blocked by a police cruiser, cars honked in a single file line, and there was an archway of orange, black, and white balloons. Turning off Speer I was struck with a desire to park, and to feel the lush green grasses of the Sunken Gardens pop through my toes. But there was business at hand. We had to figure out the who, what, and why of this pandemic parade. A truck approached the four-way stop just south of the high school’s entrance, and I made eye contact with a driver dressed in a cap and gown. Strange times.
Leaving the drive-thru graduation we headed back to Speer. The next stop was Hungarian Freedom Park, where we hopped out of the car to admire Zoltán Popovits’ commemorative statue of the 1956 Hungarian revolt. A faceless man emerged from a bronze curtain mounted on a concrete stele.
Heading east through the city we made our way to Seventh Avenue Parkway. As we admired Good Shepherd Catholic Church, I investigated offerings left at the feet of a statue of the Native American Saint Ketari Tekakwitha. My stomach grumbled, and we decided to get some breakfast from Snooze. I used my phone to place our order. Green chile Benedict for me, a breakfast sampler for Megan, and most importantly a pancake to share. Masked and prepared, I thanked the server for the to-go bag, and Meg asked if they included syrup.
We made our way to nearby Cranmer Park. Not only were there shaded picnic tables, there was a sundial across the park. We deplasticed our disposable utensils. After eating turkey bacon for months the crispy pork bacon greeted my taste buds like a spouse returning from a tour of duty. When we went for the pancake, no syrup. No syrup. But Megan asked for the syrup. Eating our sad, syrupless pancake we glanced over and saw a small child preparing a kite. Never gonna work, I thought. Not windy enough. This kid is set up for failure. A gust of wind picked up, and he ran as fast as he could. The kite flew for a good amount of time. We looked over at his admiring parents, and it felt healing. It felt like everything would be alright.
Turns out I didn’t know how to check a sundial. The Cranmer Park plaques gave us detailed instructions, but we left slightly confused. Still, a giant stone sundial, you don’t see that every day. I was glad citizens banded together to save it back in the ’60s.
We headed down Sixth Avenue Parkway and admired the houses shaded by well-established trees, designed in many different, sprawling architectural styles. Decades ago, many wondered why you would build parkways well out of town: a waste of space, a waste of money. Prime real estate today. Who wouldn’t want this?
Heading up Monaco Parkway I was reminded of how far Denver has come. This was the edge. This was where the city would end if it ever even got this far. Now, I look east, and there’s no idea where it ends, or where it will end.
Want to explore Denver's Parkways for yourself? Adventure at your own leisure with our new Tour-in-a-Box! We are bringing the history and experience of touring to you via a special box that includes a self-guided driving tour in your local community and goodies to take with you along the way.
Open up to a world of journeys and support the mission of History Colorado along with local Colorado businesses and communities. Check here for more information. Available for purchase starting June 30, 2020.