ColoRADo 2015: Exploring Denver

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Our trip to Colorado involved a lot of hiking.  Like, a LOT of hiking.  Steve and I, and Dan and Danielle, all really enjoy hiking, and there is so much jaw-dropping natural beauty in the Rocky Mountains – so it was no surprise that every day when we discussed what to do, we always wanted to hike.  Still, we knew we had to mix in some more kid-friendly activities for Peanut’s sake.  She’s a good girl, and I do believe that introducing kids to our natural environment through family hikes is a fun and important thing to do – but there’s only so much time a three-year-old really wants to spend in a hiking backpack.  We wanted to be mindful of that and to make sure that we planned activities with her in mind; after all, it was her vacation too.  And so we put together a day in Denver that was pretty much all about Peanut – starting with the Denver Zoo!

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I have complicated feelings about zoos, and am on record as not being thrilled with our local zoo (or aquarium, for that matter).  After a lot of thinking, research, and soul-searching, I’ve come up with the following articulation of my position: I’m not wild (pun intended) about the idea of zoos in general, but I recognize that they present the only way most people get to see and be in proximity to majestic animals.  (Most of us are not lucky enough to afford African safaris.)  If a zoo is well-designed, such that the animals seem happy and are not exhibiting stress behaviors, and the zoo places emphasis on education and conservation, I am cautiously okay with it.  A zoo that is poorly designed, or does not have up-to-date facilities to ensure the animals’ health, comfort and well-being, and that prioritizes entertainment over education and consumption over conservation is not something I am able to support.  (As for fairs and circuses, NEVER.)

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All that said, and with only a morning’s worth of actually experiencing it, I was pleased with the Denver Zoo and happy to take my family there.  The zoo was expansive, clean, and the animals seemed happy.  (My brother, who also feels strongly about Earth and the creatures we are supposed to be stewarding, is also comfortable with the Denver Zoo.)  So that’s how we spent our morning – checking out Denver’s animal population!

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Our first stop was, OF COURSE, the sea lions!  Peanut is a pinniped enthusiast – she sleeps with two stuffed sea lions and a harbor seal – and at any zoo or aquarium featuring sea lions (her favorite), we must visit them first.  (Actually, if Peanut had her way, we’d spend the entire time with the sea lions.)  The Denver sea lions were adorable – happy and playful – and we watched them chase each other around their habitat for more than twenty minutes.  We only left – reluctantly – when everyone was getting too cold, standing in one spot for so long.

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Mom got a treat, too.  Peanut might love sea lions, but I love regular lions!  The big cats are always my favorite – I used to love visiting the lions and their cubs at the National Zoo in DC – so I was over the moon to hear that the Denver Zoo had two lion cubs of its own.  They had just made their public debut the previous day, so we were some of the lucky first few people to get to see them.  They were so stinking cute, I cannot even.

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(Sorry for the terrible picture quality.  The cubs and their mom and aunt were behind a glass partition – I think for warmth – and I had a bad angle, so you can see the reflection of the crowd control fence.  Just ignore the glare and focus on the cuteness, please.)  The only sad thing was that Aunt Danielle wasn’t there to see them.  She had to work – boo.  We all missed her.

We visited a few more animals and caught part of the elephant show – very cool and educational – and only left when Nugget was hungry and Peanut was starting to get cold.  (My only complaint about the Denver Zoo was the lack of nursing facilities.  I ended up feeding Nugget in our parked rental car – a cozy mothers’ lounge would have been nice.  But I do realize that most people will not have need of that particular facility.)

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After the zoo, we headed across town to the Denver Aquarium.  (Doing both in one day was definitely not the most efficient use of time.  The zoo is close to the Denver Science Museum, so that would have made more sense for most people to do.  But we knew we probably only had one day to really explore Denver, so we had to squeeze in the sights that Peanut would enjoy most.  Next time we’re there, we will try to hit the Science Museum and the Children’s Museum – I was disappointed to miss out on that one.)

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The Denver Aquarium, like the Denver Zoo, was really cool and Peanut had a ball.  (Please ignore her mittens.  Some battles are not worth fighting.)

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We got to walk through this really cool underwater walkway, while rays and sharks swam all around.  Peanut was absolutely enthralled.  The girl loves marine life.

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Another treat for Mom – a tiger!  Don’t ask me to explain why this tiger is resident at the Aquarium instead of the Zoo.  (As my brother said, “What? Tigers like water.”)  He was absolutely stunning.

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I mean, WOW.

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Peanut was duly impressed.

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After the tiger, we continued making our way through the aquarium toward the other big attraction – a stingray petting pool!  Uncle Dan was totally into it and bought a little basket of shrimp to feed the stingrays.

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Yikes!  He offered to share his shrimp but the rest of us declined.  So he got those stingrays all to himself.  Lucky guy…?  Peanut was on cloud nine because a mermaid, who had been sitting by the petting pool but was on her way back to her “tank,” waved to her on her way out.  (She talked about the mermaid for days afterward.)

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After the aquarium, we had one more stop to make – REI!  The Denver flagship store was just down the block from the aquarium, and I really wanted to visit. On top of just wanting to see an REI flagship store (I’m not the only one who considers REI a tourist attraction, right?) I needed a hat and gloves.  I wasn’t expecting the cold snap and hadn’t packed appropriate winter gear.  (And yes, Nugget pulled his sock off just as I was snapping the picture.)

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So we warmed up in REI and spent about fifteen minutes exploring and checking out all the cool gear, then I grabbed a hat and gloves and we headed back into the mountains.  (If there’s any store where you can wear a hiking backpack around and no one bats an eye, it’s REI, amirite?)

Denver is such a cool town!  We definitely only scratched the surface.  I hope we’re able to spend a lot more time there in the future.  Next week, we’re back in the mountains.

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