MAY 15, 2020 : We left Colorado Springs after breakfast (bye-bye nice place) and reached Denver about an hour later. Although the weather report said rain, it was now sunny. We drove north, with green rolling hills on our right, dark tall mountains on our left, and snowcapped Pikes Peak behind us. Beautiful.
Our first destination in Denver was Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater. Right away, my impression of the place was that it was good that we came here after Garden of the Gods. As much as I thought Garden of the Gods was nice, Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater was nicer. In my mind, the place should have been called Garden of the Goddesses, since females are the more spectacular.
We drove through the Red Rocks to reach the Amphitheater. This is a large open-air amphitheater built into a rocks that seats over 9500 people. It was built in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC was a pet program of President Roosevelt that aimed to save both unemployed young men and endangered lands during the Great Depression.
Over the years, it has hosted thousands of concerts which included notable performers such as The Beatles, Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Grateful Dead, John Denver, Bob Dylan, and many, many more. Today there is a visitor center on the site which details the history of the musical performances over time. Concerts continue to be played in the amphitheater and there was even one scheduled for later that day.
After visiting the amphitheater, we drove down to the Trading Post (the usual gift shop found at every attraction). From here we started the Trading Post Trail, a 1.4 mile loop through Red Rocks Park. The going was slow, because I needed to stop every few steps to take a photo. It was stunning. The red of the rocks, the blue of the sky, the green of the trees and the white of the flowering bushes.
It was now time for lunch (we had worked up a good appetite hiking), and lunch was in Golden, home of the Colorado School of Mines. Mines (as the students call it) was originally focused many years ago on teaching subjects to help the miners in the Golden area and over the years has become a highly renowned university teaching engineering and applied sciences. We were meeting Ariel, a son of a good friend, who studies there.
After a nice Thai lunch and saying our good-byes to Ariel, we continued to the Rocky Mountain School of Art and Design. Why go there? Knowing that I was coming to Colorado, I researched the Jewish history of the area. I did not expect to find much but was surprised by the many interesting stories I learned. For example, my favorite story is that of the Shwayder brothers. Many Jews came to Colorado with the rest of the gold-seeking pioneers, but they quickly learned that instead of looking for gold, they would do better selling goods to those who were looking for gold. The Shwayder brothers made their fortune as dry-goods salesman in Central City, Colorado. Once the gold rush was over, they moved to Denver and opened a trucking company. They saw that for the moves, people needed strong luggage. They created a strong suitcase, and named it Samson, after the Biblical strongman. This was the beginning of Samsonite Luggage.
Another Jewish Heritage story from Denver relates to the tuberculous (TB) epidemic in the United States at the turn of the century. The Jewish Consumptives’ Relief Society (JCRS) founded a haven for patients suffering from tuberculosis outside of Denver and it became the largest free tuberculosis treatment facility in the world. At the time, physicians believed that fresh air, high altitudes and abundant sunshine could cure all kinds of ailments, and Denver had plenty of all three. There is even a remarkable promo film for the hospital created in 1934 that can be seen on YouTube at https://youtu.be/Gpo7sJe9964. The hospital grew to over 34 buildings including a synagogue.
Many of the original buildings still stand, are listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and today are part of the campus of the Rocky Mountain School of Art and Design. We were headed there to verify the GPS coordinates for the hospital and its synagogue in the Wandering Jew app.
Unfortunately, when we arrived, the school grounds were closed due to Covid. NO TRESSPASSING signs were everywhere. Not giving up easily, we drove around the perimeter of the area we thought was the school grounds. At one point, we noticed that the school is adjacent to a shopping plaza. Behind the shopping plaza, was a wire-link fence backing onto the school grounds. From there we could see some of the buildings we were looking for. The synagogue was easily recognized by its domed roof.
Afterwards, it was a short drive to our hotel – the Fairfield Marriot, across the river from downtown Denver. We arrived just in time to hear the news from Israel – rockets now in Tel Aviv, in Raanana, and even in Shaarei Tikva. It was an emotional hour and only after we heard that everyone is okay, did we head out to RiNo.
RiNo is the trendy River North Art District neighborhood in Denver that is known for its art galleries, colorful murals and food halls. While walking around, it seemed to us that every other building was a craft brewery – there were dozens of them and all of them were full or overflowing with customers drinking beer.
We stopped for a drink at Stem Ciders (I usually prefer cider to beer) and sampled several flavors. Chili Guava cider first tasted sweet like guava (which I liked) but then your mouth felt on fire from the chili (which I liked less). Salted Cucumber cider turned out to be my favorite. It tasted just like salted cucumbers and was very refreshing. They even offered an alcoholic slush made from this cider.
We then went to the Safta restaurant, an Israeli place, only to be told that there was no room to sit without reservations. Instead, we went to Smōk, a barbecue place next door. I had the only non-meat item on the menu, and it was the best smoked portobello mushroom sandwich ever!
We returned to the hotel, exhausted after a wonderful day.