Exploring Colorado's host cities:

Inside tips from Colorado Democratic delegates

By Leslie Jorgensen

Come for the Convention, Stay for Colorado,” reads the welcome sign to Democratic National Convention delegates.

The DNC Web site introduces delegates to Boulder, Colorado Springs, Durango, Estes Park and Vail — host cities in addition to Denver — providing a location map, descriptions of each community and links to their tourism information.

We took it a step further, adding the “not to be missed” experiences recommended by Colorado delegates who live, work or play in the host cities. Check out what Democratic National Committeewoman Debbie Marquez said about Vail, and delegate Blanca O’Leary dished about its rival mountain mecca, Aspen!

“The convention is a great opportunity for us to promote Colorado destinations,” said Terry Sullivan, CEO of Experience Colorado Springs at Pikes Peak. “Every night of the convention, millions of television viewers will see the Rocky Mountains in the background.”

“Most people attending the convention this week will remain in Denver because that’s where the action is,” said Sullivan. However, the outlying host cities hope to snare visits from delegates and their families before or after the Aug. 25-Aug. 28 convention.

“It’s also a tempting invitation to Denver residents who want to leave town when thousands of media and delegates descend this week,” said Sullivan.

Media crews from foreign countries have begun exploring the Rocky Mountain state. Al Jazera, a 24-hour English language television news organization based in the Middle East, dispatched a three-man crew to film locations in Aspen, Boulder, Colorado Springs, Denver and Fort Collins.

“The Al Jazera film crew thought Colorado Springs residents were all in the military. I told them, ‘No, only a third, but we feel extremely safe here,’” said Sullivan with a laugh.

Sullivan said the crew had planned to film military installations, such as the U.S. Air Force Academy and NORAD. He recommended adding photo shoots of Garden of the Gods, the Cliff House in Manitou Springs, the Broadmoor Resort and downtown Colorado Springs.

For those who plan to venture beyond Denver, consider these summaries and inside scoops from delegates:

• Boulder: Natural beauty and hip culture

“Boulder has what it takes to make a town green — a strong recycling program, green hotels, organic restaurants, a network of trails and fresh thinking. You’ll notice alternative energy-use in abundance. Cars are fueled with bio-diesel and the majority of the shops along the Pearl Street Mall are wind powered and their Wi-Fi is solar powered. Also, many climate change scientists work in Boulder — 40 of them were members of Vice President Al Gore’s team that recently won the Noble Peace Prize in 2007. While Boulder is known to be one of America’s most enthusiastically outdoor recreation-focused communities, the arts scene is vigorous and diverse, as well — the city is often named as one of the best art towns in the country.”

— Inside tip from Colorado Delegate Richard Gardner:

“Go to Pearl Street Mall, the first outdoor mall in the country that continues to thrive with great restaurants, galleries and shops. It’s unique and different from all others, and is continuously entertaining with sidewalk musicians, jugglers, singers and artists.”

• Colorado Springs: Picture perfect scenery

“Colorado Springs and surrounding regions offer the outdoor adventure that Colorado is famous for — hiking, mountain biking, rafting, golf, rock climbing, and wildlife watching. Don’t forget your camera; there’s picture-perfect scenery around every corner. With over 50 attractions, Colorado Springs offers endless opportunities to explore and expand your horizons. Among the “must see” places and events: United States Air Force Academy, United States Olympic Center, Pikes Peak — America’s Mountain, Garden of the Gods, The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center and the Colorado Balloon Classic during Labor Day Weekend.”

— Inside tip from Colorado Delegate Lynn Young:

“Don’t miss Garden of Gods! It’s stunning! You can drive through it or park and take a stroll or hike. It is handicapped accessible. I also recommend driving to the top of Pikes Peak. It’s the highest place in the world that you can drive to. At the top, try the homemade donuts — the recipe was created for the 14,110 foot elevation, and it won’t work below that. The adventure takes two hours and you’ll need a half tank of gas.”

• Durango: The town you daydream about

“Nestled in the picturesque San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado, Durango offers endless recreation options. Take a spectacular trip aboard the historic Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Float one of the last free flowing rivers in the West. Hike or bike miles of wilderness trails. The city’s bustling downtown is home to 200 shops, galleries, and award-winning restaurants. Durango promises friendly locals, spectacular mountain views, a healthy pace of life, limitless activities and your fair share of Colorado’s 300-plus days of sunshine every year.”

— Inside tip from Colorado Delegate Brian O’Donnell:

“The Weminuche Wilderness Area offers an incredible experience! The 500,000-acre area has diverse scenery, three fantastic 14,000-foot peaks in Needle Mountains as well as others, lots of hiking trails with spectacular views, fly fishing in streams and rivers that flow into the San Juan and Rio Grande rivers, and more!”

(The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad also travels along the Animas River on the western edge of the wilderness area.)

• Estes Park: Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park

“You can’t beat Rocky Mountain National Park five miles west, and the wonderful, easy drive up! Family Fun? Get out for a hike, go horseback riding, or just mess around with miniature golf. Shopping? Wander down Elkhorn Avenue (main street) and check out the shops. Activities? Free outdoor concerts and special events. Wildlife? Elk and more.”

— Inside tip from Colorado Delegate Paul Anderson:

“The Stanley Hotel is a classic. If you stay there and don’t mind eerie rumblings in the night, ask for room 217 where Stephen King holed up to write “The Shining.” But, my favorite is Black Canyon Inn, a mountain lodge on 14 acres on Devil’s Gulch Road. The best hiking trail is from Bear Lake to Dream Lake. Best restaurant is Dunraven, a family-owned Italian restaurant that’s been around since 1931. I’ve been going there since I was kid!”

• Vail: The charm and culture of Europe

“Along the cobblestone streets, experience the charm and culture of Europe’s urban hubs against a majestic mountain backdrop. Around every corner, a new cluster of beguiling boutiques, renowned restaurants and quaint galleries awaits. On the mountain, adventure is easy to find. For a hike or mountain bike ride, just step out your door and take your pick of trails. Endless options and stunning scenery also await fishermen, kayakers, rafters and rock climbers.”

— Inside tip from Democratic National Committeewoman Debbie Marquez:

“You can’t miss the best New Mexican food in Vail — Fiesta’s Café and Cantina — it’s owned by my sister Susan Marquez Ledezma and me. Of course, a lot of credit goes to my brother-in-law Mariano Ledezma who runs the kitchen. We serve traditional New Mexican style food based on our grandmother’s recipes. Our green chili is to kill for! Everyone loves the chicken enchiladas in a creamy white jalapeño sauce! We opened in December 1989, and the next month Buie Seawell’s U.S. Senate campaign called and asked if he could stop here for his speech. It was a big hit, and it has ever since! Our restaurant is located in Edwards, about 15 miles from Vail. Just take Exit 163 on I-70. “

— Inside tip from Colorado Delegate Blanca O’Leary:

“Take a side trip from Vail to Aspen. You can’t miss the famous and infamous Hotel Jerome on Main Street — lots of good food, drink and tales in the J-Bar, a saloon since 1889. Zelle brews the best coffee and Main Street Bakery dishes the most sinful donuts. Little Nell Hotel is the best spot for celebrity sighting and people watching!”