At the foot of the mountains, 38 miles east of Cañon City and 150 miles west of the Kansas border, the heavily industrialized city of Pueblo (pop. 106,595) spreads to both sides of the Arkansas River. Colorado’s seventh-largest city, Pueblo was founded by legendary black fur-trapper Jim Beckwourth in 1842, but the town really grew in the 1870s following the arrival of the railroad and the discovery nearby of vast amounts of coal. Steel mills, including some of the largest west of the Mississippi, still stand around the fringes of the pleasant tree-lined downtown area, but Pueblo is increasingly more bucolic than brawny, and the historic areas are slowly filling up with artsy cafés, bookshops, and antiques stores, especially along Union Avenue and the “Riverwalk” promenade along the Arkansas River. For great fresh-made Mexican food, try Papa Jose’s Union Café (320 S. Union Ave., 719/545-7476); for pizza, go to Angelo’s (105 E. Riverwalk, 719/544-8588).
Though it is 100 miles north of Pueblo via the I-25 freeway, Denver (pop. 683,096) has the biggest, newest, and coolest airport in the Rockies, which may make it a handy starting or stopping point. The airport, which opened in 1995, is in the middle of nowhere, 25 miles northeast of town. The main lobby has a soaring fabric roof that from the outside looks like a Plains Indian encampment; inside is a pair of artworks, called America: Why I Love Her, which trace artist Gary Sweeney’s childhood memories of road trips to see the “World’s Largest Ball of Twine” and other all-American icons.
Other reasons to visit Denver include the U.S. Mint (320 W. Colfax Ave., Mon.-Thurs., free), right downtown, where you can watch and hear coins being pressed into shape; Coors Field (303/ROCKIES—303/762-5437 or 800/388-7625), lively home of the Colorado Rockies baseball team; and Lakeside Amusement Park (4601 Sheridan Blvd., off I-70, 303/477-1621, $4 admission, unlimited ride passes around $17 Mon.-Fri., $26 Sat.-Sun. and holidays), a nifty and not expensive summer-only amusement park with art deco architecture, a wooden Cyclone roller coaster, and other rides dating back over 100 years.
On the west side of the Colorado State Capitol, a benchmark at the unlucky 13th step lets you stand exactly 5,280 feet above sea level—a mile high.
In downtown Denver, eat at Snooze (2262 Larimer St., 303/297-0700), a family-friendly haunt serving great breakfasts, including a spicy corned beef hash. There is the usual range of hotels and motels in and around Denver, plus one unforgettable classic dating from the 1890s: President Dwight Eisenhower’s favorite hotel, The Brown Palace (321 17th St., 303/297-3111, $283 and up). The lobby is worth a look even if you stay the night somewhere else.
For details on these or anything else to do with Denver, contact the visitor information center (1575 California St., 303/892-1505 or 800/233-6837).