Known as the "Mile High City", and not just because of the state's recent laws regarding the recreational use of marijuana; Denver will get you high as soon as you arrive to its 5,280 foot altitude. With a bustling street art scene, craft breweries galore and views of the Rocky Mountains to the west, this city is a great place to soak up the urban vibes for a few days while you adjust to the thin air. And when you are done with the city life, it couldn't be easier to get out of town and explore the wonders of Colorado's mountain wilderness.
If you are heading to Denver in search of all things art like I was, plan to set yourself up in the River North Art District (or RiNo for short), home to the annual mural festival known as CRUSH, which attracts artists from all over the world to add color to its walls each September. A majority of the walls lie between Lawrence and Blake (3 blocks), from 24th to 36th Street (map), which you can easily walk in an afternoon, popping in for a cold one or a bite to refuel along the way (10 Barrel Brewing on Walnut hit the spot for me). To reach some of the other walls will require a car, especially if you would like to see the walls of The RAW Project, which were recently painted at 3 different schools this year, about 15 minutes from the RiNo.
CRUSH began in 2010, with 7 artists on its official roster. This year, over 75 portrait and graffiti artists celebrated all things beautiful in this mountain town. Here are some of my favorites from this year's event:
In addition to CRUSH, there is a new kid in town, making his debut this year. The RAW Project (Re-Imagining the Arts Worldwide), began in Wynwood,Miami in 2014, transforming some of its local schools into living galleries meant to inspire the children and instill a sense of pride in the community. Doing just that, the project took to the road and set its sights on three schools in Denver: Cowell, Eagleton and Fairview Elementary.
Here are a few of the finished pieces at the time I needed to bid farewell:
If you are still seeking art but also want to get in touch with your spiritual side, take a trip to the International Church of Cannabis on Logan Street, which is open to the public Thursday through Sunday from 1-3 pm, and be inspired by the incredible art adorning its walls and ceiling (think Sistine Chapel for the contemporary soul) by artist Okuda and Kenny Scharf. If you find yourself elevated after wandering around, consider becoming a member which will give you access to special events.
When you've had your fill of street art, breweries and dispensaries and need to find a "natural" balance, you will find it in and around Denver, which is home to all sorts of outdoor activities, from biking to hot air ballooning to hiking. And what better place to roam than the Rocky Mountain National Park, just a couple hours away. At least, that is what I did and enjoyed every minute.
To get to the trails, drive through the park entrance and make your way up Trail Ridge Road, which crests at 12,000 feet, and choose from any of the numerous trails along the route. There are over 415 square miles of wilderness at your disposal, filled with dense forest, alpine lakes, and maybe even some wildlife, since the park is home to elk, bighorn sheep, as well as moose and black bears.
I chose the Bear Lake Trail and was not disappointed. Time your trip right and you have the chance to witness the vibrant colors of autumn or a blanket of snow capping the Rockies in winter. Regardless of when you go, you are in for a real treat.
So, what are you waiting for? The mountains are calling. Oh yeah, and so is the street art. Prepare to be amazed and maybe even a bit enlightened.