Denver: Cowtown or Cultural Hot Spot?

Road Journals Blog—Some cities hide their insecurities. Not Denver. You needn’t dig deep to discover the chip on the city’s civic shoulder. Merely mention the word “cowtown,” and any red-blooded Denverite will crimson faster than you can moo.

As born-and-raised Coloradoan—and unashamed civic booster—I couldn’t wait to introduce James, my Bay Area boyfriend, to the Mile High City in all its glory.

“Sure,” I had admitted, “San Francisco rocks, but Denver’s amazing. And it’s sure as hell not a cowtown.”

Some cities hide their insecurities. Not Denver. You needn’t dig deep to discover the chip on the city’s civic shoulder. Merely mention the word “cowtown,” and any red-blooded Denverite will crimson faster than you can moo.


A cowboy stands tall in front of the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver. | Megan McCrea

As born-and-raised Coloradoan—and unashamed civic booster—I couldn’t wait to introduce James, my Bay Area boyfriend, to the Mile High City in all its glory.

“Sure,” I had admitted, “San Francisco rocks, but Denver’s amazing. And it’s sure as hell not a cowtown.”

I began my serious mission as anyone would: with a nap. My slumber was interrupted, however, as we landed, with a bump, at Denver International Airport.

“Don’t worry,” the flight attendant announced, “that was just a cow.”

James laughed. I did not.

I scrutinized our fellow passengers. One sported a black ten-gallon hat; another, brown cowboy boots. I sighed. Busting stereotypes wouldn’t be easy.

The next morning, we headed straight for my old high school, a pretentious institution so widely reviled that it couldn’t but impress James with its urbane sophistication.

We rounded a corner. I saw my error.

There, in the middle of the quad, sat a gigantic bronze bust of our school mascot. A bear.

The following afternoon, we drove to Red Rocks, a gorgeous natural amphitheater, which has hosted everyone from the Beatles to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. As we entered, James pointed out another statue I hadn’t noticed before. The subject? A cowboy.


A colorful, plastic herd resides in the Mile High City. | Megan McCrea

The next day, we’d planned to ski; I welcomed the new scenery. Driving up I-70, I fairly forgot about myth-busting, until we rolled into town. Winter Park was not failing to hide its rustic roots; it was flaunting them. For instance, in case we hadn’t noticed the massive golden moose guarding their building, the Winter Park Visitor Center employees had dressed him as Santa Claus. At the nearby Sundowner Motel, a bronze bear brandished ski gloves.

Cooper Creek Square, Winter Park’s veritable downtown, was guarded by an Indian on a horse, a cowboy on a horse, two bears, an elk. At the Winter Park Ski Resort, the area mascot, oversized moose Winter Park Willie, accosted me for a photo.

It’s ok, I told myself, there’s still Denver. Our cosmopolitan capital will turn things around. And so, on our final day, we drove straight downtown. From our vantage point on 16th Street Mall, Denver finally looked like the city I so badly wanted it to be: a bustling, exciting, diverse, public-transit-taking, skyscraper-laden city. And then I saw them. I tried to deflect James’s attention—too late.

“Hey look! Cows!”

And there they were. One, two, three—all over 16th Street stood throngs of giant plastic painted cows. I couldn’t help it. I laughed.

This blog post was first published in March 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

Comments

We love our cows in Denver! And we also love to be teased about them. This post gave me lots of chuckles while reminding me of some of my favorite places. Love the irony!

Great post. Okay, so maybe Denver does have a few cows in its Mile-High closet, but it displays them proudly! Too bad James missed Stock Show season and the prize steer displayed in the lobby of the Brown Palace hotel--talk about a cosmopolitan cow!