Traveling in COVID Times | Denver, Colorado

Sunday, October 4, 2020 Denver, CO, USA

Since starting my fellowship year, I haven't taken a vacation. My original travel plan to Louisiana in March ended up being canceled due to the start of the COVID pandemic. 

I am now 9 months into the fellowship and wondering if travel could be done...safely, with the proper masks and gear in place. The trip came at a much needed time as well, after having gone through the bad news of missing out on the job the week before. It was a nice refresher and break. 

In a way, it was the break I needed, getting out of the stuffy apartment and the smoke from the fires out in California. Since Denver didn't seem to be known for their food scene, my husband and I went mainly for the change of scene and a break from our routines.


Georgetown Loop Railroad




Located in a small town called "Georgetown" in Colorado lies a historic and scenic railroad track that does an approximately 1.5 hour loop (not an actual loop like a circle...more like a loop as in to and from) around one of the mountainsides that border the small town. My husband and I were surprised to see that the tickets were sold out our first time around and learned that we had to purchase tickets well in advanced. This lesson was one we learned through our trip in Colorado, especially during the weird times. 

We ended up having to come back a different day...pretty much the next day. 

This time, we were prepared and had purchased tickets the night before. My husband and I were interested in learning the history of the state, so we opted to do the mine tour as well. We were curious to see what the mine tour would be like. 

We arrived at the time specified and lined up to redeem our tickets. Once that was done we lined up and waited to board. Because we also did the mine tour, we were not boarded until the very end. Even then, there were options to be seated in a closed (not completely, but it is covered) or open (completely open) cabin. We opted for the closed cabin -- enough to enjoy the breeze, get photos without windows being in the way..yet able to hide out from the sun in case it got too hot. 

The workers who seated everyone made sure each group/party was spaced out. I would say that they did a good job overall, although there were a lot of people who preferred sitting in the open cabins, and different groups sitting in those cabins were definitely not 6 feet apart. 

My husband and I had plenty of space to ourselves and the two other groups (couples) that shared our cabin. So much space, actually, that it was easy to take photos without getting unintentionally photobombed by others. We enjoyed the scenery -- the greenness of the forest trees, the views from high up above, the indirect sunshine, the river's flow -- and tuning in to the history of this little town.

We eventually arrived at the end of the station, where passengers are usually permitted to deboard for some time. But, because there was construction going on, we were given a stretch break inside the cabin instead. 

Our next stop was the mine. They allowed those who were doing the mine tour to deboard, then onboarded/picked up the group who completed the mine tour prior. 

It was a paved but rocky way down the hill towards the mine. The tour guide was passionate about Colorado history and geology. It was evident in her enthusiasm leading the group, and well, she admitted this herself. She went through the ground rules of the mines, went through things to take caution of, and geared us up for the tour (mainly, hardhat wearing). 

Then we entered the mines.

It was cool -- literally and temperature-wise. She walked us through a typical day of a miner and taught us the things miners would look for to cue them that there was treasure (silver) hidden beneath. It was interesting learning too how mines became popular and how it was tied to the economy at the time. She walked us through the belief of some miners that the mines themselves were living, breathing creatures. It was a fun and unique experience that I recommend for anyone who has an interest in history or mining. 

After the mine tour, we took the same railroad train back, same cabin but different group. My husband and I were able to sit on the opposite side to catch a different view from the train. We highly recommend the train ride for everyone of all ages! There is a lot of natural beauty to see and appreciate!


Denver Zoo



I was pleasantly surprised to see how organized the zoo was in accommodating visitors during this time. From the entry to the zoo, there were six feet markers along the floor to keep those who needed to buy tickets safe while in line. There was also an option to buy the tickets ahead of time online, although they give you a 15 minute window before and after the time you select to enter the zoo. Once you enter, there are arrows on the ground that make a one-way loop around the zoo. Really, the idea is that there is one way in and one way out with a reduction in cross traffic. The staggered entry times helped to decrease crowds. The free parking was really the cherry on top. 

Everyone had to stay masked while in the zoo, and I would say everyone did a good job for the most part. I can't really say if everyone really stayed 6 feet apart at exhibits where there weren't markers or dividers, but most guests tried to avoid other groups if possible. 

Overall, it was a positive experience going to the zoo. I got to see all the animals I wanted to (penguins especially). There were some exhibits that were closed, some because of COVID and others because of construction. The construction didn't detract much from the main attractions (giraffes, elephants, lions, flamingos, etc), and the Halloween decor throughout the zoo was a refreshing sight and a good segway into the upcoming Halloween (closely followed by holiday) season.


Denver Botanical Garden





I was a little less "wow-ed" by the Denver Botanical Garden. Let me sum it up in one word -- crowded! Yes, there are the beautiful flowers and foliage, the intricate landscaping, and the thought put into the location of each of the mini sections of the gardens. Oh, and the free parking too. 

There wasn't really direction as to where to begin and end while at the garden. In a way, it's good...to let us explore, relax, and enjoy the scene as we please. But in these strange times, a little more organization would've been helpful. There were certainly areas of crowds and there may have only been one area that was not crowded, understandably so, because it wasn't too interesting to see (prairie grass in the hot sun, anyone?). I suppose the staggered entry times were meant to decrease the crowds, but I would say it didn't do quite that. 

As much as I love flowers and the relaxing vibes of being in a garden watching the insects and animals while letting my mind wander, I wasn't expecting the crowdedness. I guess I didn't think that so many people would be interested in flowers. In a different time (ahem, pre-COVID), I wouldn't have minded the crowd and people just hanging out, but during this time, I wish there was a little more organization to it.


Red Rock Amphitheater




The Red Rock Amphitheater was a sight to see! It was beautiful seeing the natural formation of the red rocks surrounding a stage! The amphitheater was quite large and had so much space to explore without being near others, except for the very top row. There were people (likely locals) getting their morning workout routines in, and there were other out-of-towners/tourists trying to get the most artistic, Instagram worthy photo of the rocks as well.

The amphitheater was a short stop for the most part, since we didn't plan to visit any of the nearby trails. Beware of going past the marked trail and trying to explore your own way! My husband and I saw a family being told to get off the rocks by a park ranger, since they did their own thing and climbed some pretty tall rocks! 

My husband and I were pleasantly surprised to find open restrooms up top of the amphitheater. We had thought restrooms would be closed except for events. The restrooms were even clean!


Hiking


There were many hiking trails out in Colorado. Practically every park has at least one trail, if not more. The trails ranged from easy to difficult, and from flat to those with a steep incline. The weather was just right completing the many hikes my husband and I did with a light windbreaker on for some sun protection. 

Relative to parks in California, there was a lot more parking available and so many trails to explore. If you really wanted to avoid someone, it was doable if you chose a less popular trail (ie. those with a view) or if you just have good timing. 


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Overall, the culture out here seems to be this -- an appreciation and sense of exploration of the great outdoors. It seems that staying unmasked, in general, while out and about is the norm while anyone who does otherwise is "paranoid" and is giving into the "hoax." I mean, the only real reason people were masked at the zoo and botanical gardens was because of requirements. But, I'm sure, were this a different time and/or without requirements, everyone would stay unmasked. 


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