Far removed from happening hipster tap houses, Kriste Peoples takes us on a journey through her top choices of Denver destinations for relaxation.
In a desire to break out of my running rut last summer, I expanded my route through a wider stretch of town. What I discovered—beyond the fact that the scenery was different along each block—were the inhabitants, as much as the other natural elements of sun, shade and weather, determined the way the city looked and felt as I passed through it.
Another thing I noticed as I sat down to write this piece on peaceful destinations in Denver was the unexpected direction it would take.
The more I considered my favorite places to chill and recoup, the farther away I went from happening tap houses and funky art bars. No disrespect to the hipster set and what the cool kids are doing this week, but they’ve surely got their own “best of” that’ll point you to all those places. What I found was the draw of nature and the great outdoors, such as it is in the city, calmed and replenished me the most. It put me in touch with the immediacy of life itself through the seasons and in various states of bloom and decay. I found being in its presence as calming as a hot stone massage or sipping herbal tea from an enclosed garden patio.
Runners, riders, walkers and strollers already prize the open air and scenic variety of Denver. For that reason they might also appreciate the standouts along what I’ve lovingly dubbed my “Park to Park.” Spanning at least eight miles, depending on how (or whether) you do the full loop, this self-propelled running tour of the city is full of charm and reminders to slow down, travel light, and take the world in on foot as often as you can. It’s a way to sink in to the certainty of nature’s aliveness and sense of order, and it’s an ongoing testament that the air we breathe and the ground beneath our feet will continue to sustain us when nothing else seems to.
Engaging with my surroundings up close and often makes my participation in a greater community real in ways my gadgets and any perceived status can’t. Being in nature in the midst of the city calms my sense of urgency and alienation by showing me in its example that existing as my authentic self is synonymous to becoming present in the moment. It’s the invitation to fall more deeply in love with life itself at every step, and to stay awhile.
We begin at Washington Park
A walk or run through this historic park is enough to calm the chaos and ease any tensions I’ve taken on in the course of a stressful week, but when I’m not sweating it out around the outer trails, I wander into the park to sit by the pond with a book or journal in hand. I may read or write, but there’s just so much about watching the sunlight playing on water and people coming and going casually past me that I don’t want to miss.
Crossing Cherry Creek Trail
Heading North from Washington Park, I cross over Cherry Creek Trail and Speer Boulevard, but not without first acknowledging the enchanting path that covers nearly 40 miles from downtown, through Parker and beyond. I say ‘enchanting’ because, if you’re lulled by the sounds of rushing water and the sight of wild grasses jutting up at the edges of a concrete jungle, then this would be just the thing. I love hiking; there’s nothing like being serenaded by the surround sound of nature—even as it exists in the midst of the city’s horns and percussion.
Remember the Alamo Placita
If you’ve ever driven down Speer Boulevard near Ogden and managed not to blink at those cross streets, then you’ve probably seen Alamo Placita park. I have great affection for this “little place of the cottonwoods,” as it’s called, because it’s so unexpected—and romantic. It began as an amusement park in the 1800s and has worn many faces since then, but to sit in its sunken garden, reflecting (or catching your breath, as it were), you can feel the classic quality of the place. That this park—in its defiance of the city’s frenzy and racket—can transport us into a different time is reason enough to deem it more than an historic landmark; it’s an oasis by every definition.
“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”
This is the kind of connection that goes miles beyond being a fixture in any trendy scene; this is about true belonging.
I could run on about my route, telling you of the times I’ve taken scenic breaks just to sit contemplatively in the sun on the hill at Governor’s Park, and the fun I’ve had swinging on swings there, and the times I’ve panted up the wide tree-lined stretch to Cheesman Park. Never stopping long enough to sprawl in that park’s grasses, the views en route to City Park and the ensuing loop around it were breathtaking.
Coming and going, the hill approaching the Botanic Gardens is softened by the flowers that line the entrance; I imagine they lend me energy in a colorful salute as I pass. Inside those gates, though, the Gardens and its maze of intricate pathways and hidden lovers’ nooks can easily hold me happily captive for hours.
The act of bearing witness to nature’s presence in the city prompts us to cultivate presence within ourselves. When I began exploring Denver this way I didn’t expect that winding my running route through town would reconnect me to a fundamental reality we so often miss: the natural world—no matter where we encounter it—gives us clues about how we might also live, by growing, expressing our own true nature, by being vibrant and fully alive.
[image: via Gretchen Vaughn on Flickr]