Paul Harris takes a cannabis tour with not a little trepidation, having always avoided recreational drugs, but finds there’s much more to Denver than just legalised weed
THE air was heavy with smoke. I was panicking and plotting how best to survive half an hour more, worrying about the effect the fug might have on me short or long term.
Around me, some 25 fellow bus passengers were unconcerned as I opted to take short, shallow breaths in an attempt to avoid entering the uncharted territory I had shunned for decades.
I was on a cannabis tour, including a visit to a dispensary in Denver, Colorado (my420tours.com).
As a teenager of the Sixties, I am one of the rare breed who have never been tempted even to sample hard or soft recreational drugs.
Thus my trepidation over being surrounded by two score and five serious pot smokers, using a varity of implements to enjoy the weed they had begun to smoke.
We had all been offered different coloured wristbands, indicating whether or not we were prepared to be photographed, bearing in mind that images could end up on social media.
I got the distinct impression that participants in the tour ranged from professionals, who probably feared the reaction of their employers (or spouses for that matter), to young people, just over the legal age, out to experiment.
My fellow travellers were disappointed, to the point of distress, that I wouldn’t share their wares.
“You need to relax,” said one, while another urged: “Get high, man.”
I assured them that I could relax without the need for weed and that I am usually upbeat.
This was no seedy, clandestine trip (no pun intended), but a legitimate activity — in Colorado, at least.
In November, 2012, the state’s residents voted for cannabis to be legalised and, in 2013, a little over a year later, legislation was past to permit its use.
There are strict laws governing it, though.
It can’t be smoked in public, you have to be 21 to buy or use it and the state’s residents are allowed to purchase up to one ounce at a time and to possess a maximum of six marijuana plants.
Residents of Colorado have mixed feelings about the drug, but visitors from all over America and beyond travel to the state to use and purchase cannabis legally — although it is forbidden to cross the state line with it.
It’s a serious business and there are many who purchase various cannabis products purely for medicinal, rather than recreational use.
I visited Seed and Smith, a highly regulated dispensary, where visitors are free to purchase a vast variety of products, including skin creams, essential oil and drink infused cannabis.
Plants are nurtured and the production process is strictly supervised with different growing areas for recreational and medicinal weed.
Denver’s not known as the Mile High City for nothing!
Its moniker actually derives from the fact that it is 1,560 to 1,730 metres above sea level.
If I did need to unwind, I could always visit Denver’s Union Station, an impressive 1897 structure that replaced the original building that was burned down three years earlier.
On the concourse is a so-called Emotional Baggage Stop where passengers are encouraged to drop in for a chat, rather like a priest’s confessional.
In its 1950s heyday, 25,000 passengers, on up to 220 trains daily, passed through Union Station.
Today, mainly commuter services run through the station which is now also home to the Crawford Hotel, shops and restaurants.
Denver’s historic hotels are worth a visit.
Browns (1892) is the longest running, but the Oxford (1891) still boasts its original 1900s lift, then known as a vertical railway.
Try to avoid room 320, though. It is reputedly haunted by Florence Montague who shot her lover, in 1898, before turning the gun on herself. She apparently bothers only male guests.
A contemporary headline from the local newspaper, which is displayed at the hotel, read: Cleveland man’s wickedness ends in death.
Its impressive Cruise Room Bar, dating back to 1933, was designed by the same person behind the Queen Mary’s bar.
The Churchill Cigar Bar at Brown’s Hotel, which has its own artesian well, is one of only two venues in Denver where smoking is allowed.
The Beatles Suite, complete with its own juke box, featuring 225 Beatles tracks, recalls the Fab Four’s stay at the hotel in 1964.
Incredibly, the gig at the Red Rocks Amphitheater, in August 1964, didn’t sell out, with tickets costing $6.60.
Denver is what would be described today as a cool destination. Red Rocks, near Morrison, 10 miles outside Denver,’ is actually formed of 300 million-year- old rocks and remains a hugely impressive, magical outdoor venue.
Devotees of the 1980s soap, Dynasty, might recognise 17th Street. Its opening sequences were filmed there.
Denver has more indigenous craft beers than anywhere else in America and also produces some mighty fine local whiskeys such as Laws with four grain straight bourbon and Secale straight rye among its best sellers.
Book tours ($10 per person) at lawswhiskeyhouse.com/tours
The $10 is credited against any purchases, which range from $65-80 a bottle.
The Molly Brown House Museum is interesting.
She will sound familiar from the eponymous James Cameron film — although that wasn’t her real name.
It was changed for the film from Margaret Brown, a philanthropist, socialite, and activist, also known as ‘The Unsinkable Molly Brown’ because she survived the sinking of the Titanic.
Margaret Tobin, the daughter of Irish immigrants, then 19, married James Joseph Brown, a mining engineer.
In 1894, he made the richest gold strike in American history and amassed $130,000 — worth more than $800,000 today.
Margaret, was a heroine of the Titanic disaster in 1912.
By then separated from her husband, she donned five layers of clothes and, able to speak five languages, helped other passengers to safety.
She formed the Titanic Survivors Committee and raised £250,000 in pledges from passengers on the Carpathian which had sailed to the rescue.
She also arranged an awards ceremony for its crew.
Margaret also travelled to France to help the war effort.
She was a suffragist throughout her life, stood for Senate three times, spent her last days as an actress in New York, and died suddenly in a hotel room, aged 65, in 1932.
Another property worth visiting is the Byers-Evans House Museum, dating back to 1883.
William N Byers printed Denver’s first newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News, in 1859 and the house reflected his standing in the city.
He also brought the first printing press to Denver.
The house was bought in 1889 by William G Evans, a close friend of President Abraham Lincoln, who headed the Denver Tramway Company.
It has been restored to the period between 1912-1924 with some wonderful polished wood and brightly patterned wallpapers complementing the Evans family’s original furnishings.
Buffalo Bill is commemorated at an eponymous museum, where he is also buried.
The man famed for his Wild West shows, who famously visited Salford at the height of his career, used to play poker in what was once Denver’s Main Street and is today Larymer Square.
Buffalo Bill’s father was a missionary in the city and, through his work, his son learned much about the traditions of native Americans.
It is said that Kaiser Wilhelm studied the methods Buffalo Bill used to move his show so effortlessly from one location to another.
The showman’s exploits also impressed British Prime Minister David Lloyd-George whom he befriended.
The Golden Triangle Museum District includes the wonderful Denver Art Museum, History Colorado Center and Clyfford Still Museum.
Cherry Creek, incorporating City Park and Uptown, includes the Cherry Creek Shopping Centre, home to some high-end brands, the Botanic Gardens, Denver Zoo, the Museum of Science and Nature and a variety of good restaurants.
It was something of a culture shock to visit Temple Emanuel, a Reform synagogue, and encounter a congregation of many hundreds for a Friday night service.
Numbers were boosted that evening by numerous non-Jews present to say farewell to one of the synagogue’s rabbis, but the service was met with unanimous enthusiasm.
It was the happy clappy participation which was, for me, somewhat alien, with guitars accompanying the cantor.
And there wasn’t a prayerbook in sight. Everything was displayed on giant screens in Hebrew, with a transliteration.
There are Conservative, Orthodox and modern Orthodox congregations, too, and the community of the Denver-Boulder Metropolitan area is estimated at about 92,000.
A great way to see the city of Denver is on one of its free daily walking tours which leave at 10am from the Capitol and end at Coors Field baseball park (www.denverwalkingtours.com)
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