No two towns are quite alike, but as a guy who’s been all over the US I can testify that Denver ranks pretty high on the uniqueness scale. Its geographic location is a big part of the equation, to be sure, and the culture that has emerged from its particular history makes it not quite like any other city in America.
Here are few things that I’ve learned since I first moved West in 1993.
You’ll probably feel the lack of oxygen the first time you have to truck up a couple flights of stairs. You’ll adjust, but depending on where you’re from, maybe not fast enough. However, there are a few things to be aware of when you visit Denver and the Colorado High Country. Here are some tips.
1: Stay hydrated. Denver isn’t only high, it’s dry – humidity this time of year can dip to and below 25%, especially in the afternoon. Newcomers may not realize that they’re getting dehydrated, so make a mental note to keep a bottle of water handy.
2: Wear sunscreen. It doesn’t usually feel as hot as it is, but up here there’s not as much atmosphere to slow the UV rays down. As a result, you can burn in a hurry. So protect your skin.
3: Careful with the booze. We hope you’ll drink – and drink liberally – while you’re here. However, altitude can affect how you react to alcohol. Specifically, it seems to hit people harder here. (I’ve heard some suggest that there’s no medical basis for this claim, and I can’t prove it one way or another; but I have seen newcomers getting wobbly on half what it usually takes them. So maybe you can do your own test and report your results back to me.)
You may be driving, it’s possible you’ll be biking, and you’ll certainly be walking around town. Since transportation culture in Denver is potentially a little different from what you’re used to, take note of the following.
1: Denver is a great city to walk in. Downtown is beautiful and the place is well engineered for pedestrian flow. Some cities you take your life into your own hands when you step off the curb, but here pedestrians have the right of way no matter what. Bikes second, cars last. This is good for the visitor to know whether walking or driving.
2: Crosswalks. You may notice that our intersections often have pedestrian lights for crossing diagonally. Yup – in Denver we stop traffic both ways so that you can cross corner to corner. How convenient is that?
3: Driving etiquette. Or the lack thereof. Denverites are reasonably polite people except when they are driving. They aren’t road-ragers, just … indifferent and often remarkably unaware of what’s going on around them. They’re really bad about moving over or slowing down to let you merge or change lanes, so if you see a gap hit it. And you might not want to use a signal to warn the guy in the other lane, because if you do odds are good he’ll speed up to cut you off. In general, make it a point to be really aware of the cars around you, because they’re damned sure not paying attention.
4: Also, welcome to SUV hell. There’s a practical reason for wanting a four-wheel drive vehicle with some heft when you live in a place that gets snow in the winter, so you’ll probably see more 4×4 action here than you’ve ever seen in your life. The problem for you is if you’re driving, because you will encounter drivers in vehicles that are nearly as big as the lane they’re in. Refer back to the previous item and I think you’ll see where this is heading.
5: The bike cabs around downtown? Ludicrously expensive. Or maybe it was just the one guy who quoted me $15 to go three or four blocks. I think he was hoping for a passenger who was younger, hotter, and more female.
6: Directions. Generally speaking navigating around any place in Colorado is pretty simple. Things run north/south and east/west (visitors from the Midwest will have no problems with this). However, if you look at a map, you’ll see that downtown Denver does this hinky 45-degree shift once you cross Broadway to the west and Colfax to the north. Frankly, it can be a little disorienting – I still get turned around occasionally when I’m in a spot I don’t know really well. So carry a map and don’t be afraid to stop people and ask for directions.
7: Directions, part 2. If you’re in Denver or any of its ‘burbs and you’re trying to get your bearings, remember – the mountains are west, always.
8: Transit. Don’t be afraid to take the bus or light rail around Denver. The system’s not perfect, but if you’re without a car, the buses will get you pretty much anywhere you need to go so long as it’s around downtown, along a major street, or between the major sections of the metro area (Denver, the Denver Tech Center and Boulder). Five-day passes for unlimited rides are available at select RTD locations (RTD-Denver.com has those locations, although we’re already too late for the online purchase to mail the pass to you), and you can also purchase books of passes if you don’t expect to need to get everywhere by bus or rail.
It’s likely to be sunny and beautiful while you’re here for the Convention. But…
1: Bring an umbrella. This time of year we’re prone to the occasional hellacious afternoon monsoon, and when they hit it comes down not in drops, but in sheets and waves.
2: Bring a jacket. Average daytime highs for late August are in the low 80s, but this time of year we get significant gaps between highs and lows. Average lows and night are in the low 50s, and it won’t be unusual if we see temps in the 40s. So plan for the 40-degree gap when you leave the hotel in the morning.
Every city has its own rhythm, culture and energy. The good news – in Denver, it’s okay to relax.
1: Every day is Casual Friday. There are some business contexts where you’ll see ties and sport coats, but by and large this is a pretty kicked-back city for dress. I’ve walked into some of the best restaurants in town wearing a t-shirt and shorts and nobody looked twice at me. So don’t worry about the dress code – you’re going to have to work hard to underdress for Denver. (And if you get up to Boulder, the aforementioned t-shirt and shorts look may be overdressing, especially if they’ve been washed in the last month.)
2: Make-up. I grew up in the South, where women sneak out of bed at 4 am so they can put on their faces. I once dated a woman for three months and never saw her face unpainted. So moving to Colorado was something of a shock. A lot of women simply don’t wear make-up at all, and most of the ones who do don’t wear much. Minimal make-up, in pursuit of as natural a look as possible – that’s the standard around here.
3: You’re probably not bringing your dog, but dog-lovers will be amazed by Colorado – which is officially the Centennial State, but which ought to be the Retriever State.
If you have other questions for the locals, feel free to ask.
Brian Angliss contributed to this article.