Beyond Denver: A Week on the Front Range

| 12 Jul 2021 | 04:41

We chose a Southwest Airlines nonstop from LaGuardia’s Terminal B (hint: a lot of walking!) to Denver. Southwest exceeded expectations with an almost brand-new, spotless Boeing 737, crewed with great staff. Upon arrival at Denver International Airport, we took the convenient train service to Union Station. Rather than renting a car at the airport, an Avis SUV rented at a city location saved hundreds of dollars for the week. For our planned itinerary to Cheyenne and Colorado Springs, a car rental was necessary.

During the initial three days we explored by taking walks in Denver’s Park System, visiting the flora and fauna at the spectacular Denver Botanical Garden and driving through the Rocky Mountain National Arsenal Wildlife Preserve, where our favorite activity was viewing bison.

On Day 4 we drove two hours to Cheyenne, Wyoming, the “Magic City of the West.” Cheyenne evolved from a railroad center during the building of the Transcontinental Railroad in the 1860s, to the establishment of Fort Russell in 1867 (now Warren Air Force Base), and the 200-mile long Cheyenne to Deadwood, South Dakota Stagecoach line. The downtown area made for excellent exploration, all on level streets, with most venues ADA-compliant.

A comfortable room at the Little America Hotel, a quick lunch, and a one and one-half-hour “trolley” tour answered the question why anyone would visit this city of 63,000, literally in the middle of nowhere. As an important railroad junction, the Cheyenne Depot Museum, located in the former Union Pacific Railroad passenger station contained pictures and prose of the history of the UP, a viewing area to watch 200-car freight trains that pass, and a huge operating model railroad.

Heads swimming in railroad lore, we walked across the plaza and found the beautiful lobby of the 110-year-old Plains Hotel. The lobby was furnished in high desert western style, with mission-style furniture, original artwork, and cases profiling the history of the hotel and its famous guests, who included Steve McQueen and Judy Collins.

From a frontier town, Cheyenne has become a diverse city with cosmopolitan flair. Try dinner at the Metropolitan Downtown, a culinary outpost rivaling that of a Soho restaurant; with calamari, crispy Brussels sprouts and portobello mushroom burgers along with the regionally favored beef dishes. The black interior and open kitchen would make any Manhattanite feel right at home.

Cheyenne hosts its Frontier Days every year (July 21 to August 3 in 2021) with the world’s largest rodeo, as many as 120,000 visitors, big name entertainment, authentic western food and other thematic events. Its spirit has been encapsulated in the Cheyenne Frontier Old West Museum, with a huge collection of well-preserved horse-drawn vehicles. Want to see a Central Park Hansom Cab from 1888? They have one.

As a fitting farewell to Cheyenne, we went on a train ride at the Terry Bison Ranch, a working ranch straddling the Wyoming-Colorado border. On this $15, one-hour circular trip, you can feed bison from the train, while the engineer/narrator disseminates information about the animals. If you’ve ever wanted to get really close to a 2,000- pound, six-foot-tall animal, this is the way to do it. The train is accessible to all with ramps. You can also go on horseback and ATV rides on the 27,500 acre property. There are three dining venues to choose from.

We overnighted in Fort Collins, home of Colorado State University, spent the afternoon shopping in Boulder along the Pearl Street Mall, and headed to the most luxurious hotel on our trips, the 800-room Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs, open since 1890. Our huge room had an amazing array of amenities, and a magical view of the close-in mountains. For city dwellers, it is a dramatic change from our normal urban lives.

You really cannot go to Colorado and not do at least one activity involving one of the state’s more than 50 mountains over 14,000 feet tall. Skiing, snowshoeing, mountain biking; it’s all there. For seniors, those might be a tad ambitious. One way to have a more observational experience, close to the Broadmoor in nearby Manitou Springs, is to take a nine-mile ride to the summit on a small train.

The ADA-compliant Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway, operating since 1889, runs up to 12 trips per day during the summer. It’s almost a 7,000 foot climb, a nature-filled hour’s ride on the world’s highest cog railway to the tallest southern mountaintop in the Front Range. It is newly-reopened after being closed for almost a five year renovation. While there is also a toll road up Pikes Peak, the train traverses a more rural route, almost devoid of human or animal presence. Where deep forests abound at the bottom, they disappear at the middle of the ride up, as the magnificent vistas get even better, with no trees to block your view.

Alighting from the train at the brand-new Pikes Peak Visitors Center, your 45 minutes at the summit are breathtaking (truly! with us lowlanders not used to the altitude, please remember to hydrate!) The Visitors Center provides food, drink and rest rooms, which are not available on the cog train. Level pedestrian ramps allow for a little exploring and photography.

To conclude this incredible week, highway construction and a horrific thunderstorm made the airport drive back to longer than planned, but the incredible Denver Avis Rent a Car return crew at the facility effortlessly moved our luggage from car trunk to rental bus in a moment, testimony to how informative and pleasing these three trips were.

Travel is back, and these journeys showed that the travel community is delighted to welcome senior travelers. Every one of us needs to get out and see America once again after going through so much in the last year and a half.

How: A nonstop flight is about four hours from LaGuardia to Denver, train is over two days, a bus ride about the same. A car trip will be at least a day and half with no overnight and stops along the way. You have the options of taking connecting flights to Cheyenne or Colorado Springs.
Why: Beyond Denver is a wealth of amazing beauty, history and Western culture. You can ride the world’s highest cog railway, feed a bison, sample one of the country’s most unique resort hotels and stare at 14,000-foot mountains.
Cost: To take it slow, Amtrak is the ticket; coach travel is $400 round trip or so. Renting a car from NYC is at least $800 a week. Want to be there quickly? Best bet is flying in and out of Denver, which ranges from $300 to $600 based on the days of the week and how far in advance you book.
Senior Friendly? Absolutely! The brand-new Pikes Peak Visitor’s Center is connected by platforms and ADA-compliant ramps. The train that gets you there is also compliant. Hotels offer senior rates.The Broadmoor’s huge expanse is flat; Cheyenne’s Downtown is laced with corner curb cuts.