Tips for New Coloradans

Practical Advice for Noobs

So, you’re new to Colorado. Regardless of where you came from, there are likely to be some quirks to your new home that you could stand to be warned of. Since most people who move to Colorado arrive in the Denver metro area, I’m making the assumption that you are around there.

If you moved to somewhere else in the state, some of these things will still be applicable.

  1. Steam rooms are your new buddy. Colorado is dry. Get a gym membership and use the damn steam room. Make sure you join a gym that actually has a steam room. I personally prefer the YMCA as if you join one of them, you can visit all of the area YMCA branches via the Away Program. However, not all branches have steam, so see what your local one has before you decide. When I lived in Louisville, KY I could not have imagined doing this as that entire town is a steam room. Colorado is dry. Steam is your friend.
  2. Snow tires are a fun new expense that you’ll want to have at your disposal, especially if you plan on venturing into the mountains to sit in traffic on the way to a ski area. Actually, they are required as “Under a Traction Law, motorists will need to have either snow tires, tires with the mud/snow (M+S) designation, or a four-wheel/all-wheel drive vehicle — all tires must have a minimum one-eighth inch tread.”That’s not even completely correct as the law has just (and I mean just, as of this posting) changed to require that tread be 3/16 of an inch instead of 1/8 and those traction laws are now in effect for a full 9 months and not just during inclement weather. You really want an all wheel drive or 4 wheel drive vehicle, too. I live in the mountains. I mean that.
  3. Street Sweeping will be your nemesis if you live in the City and County of Denver and don’t have your own parking space. It happens once a month, April through November, though the day varies depending on your neighborhood (actually read the signs on your street). If you forget, it’s a $50 fine. That shit adds up and Denver is the town in which the boot was invented, so you don’t want to push it. You can sign up for alerts on the city website.
  4. Yes, Casa Bonita is real. Yes, the food is terrible. The cliff diving is legit, though. You pretty much have to go at least once.
  5. Accessorize with a water bottle. I carry one everywhere I go and I’m not the only one. Did I mention that Colorado is dry? Also, we’re solidly environmentally conscious and getting better. You can refill that shit. Carry a bottle. Refill it. Be a Coloradan.
  6. Consider RTD. I realize that this is not much of a recommendation. RTD is not great. Also, RTD could be worse. Like, they exist and can take you a fair amount of places. Sure, their schedules are often a fantasy and they like to drop routes without communicating that to their riders (i.e. scheduled buses get cancelled with no warning), but… you can take RTD to the mountains in certain instances and, if you have a flexible job that understands the limitations of public transport, you can save a lot on gas and do an environmentally friendly thing. Check to see if your job provides an Eco Pass benefit. That’s the best way to use RTD.
  7. License Plates. Colorado requires you have front license plates on your car. It’s the first state that I’ve lived in that does. If you are like me and your front plate holder is unusable due to rusted and unremovable screws, you will still get a ticket. Challenge that ticket (they make a lot of mistakes, it’s always worth trying – I got my plate ticket reduced) and then figure out another way to attach that plate. Colorado is very big brother. All of the toll roads are photo enforced, so you’ll end up getting a bill in the mail if you take them. This is probably why they are into having front plates.
  8. Need a Colorado ID? You can’t get it the same day. You will get it in the mail in 10-14 days. Every other state I’ve lived in, you get it the same day, but not in Colorado. It seems it’s a Real ID recommendation, so perhaps all states will be moving towards this, but if you come from a state that has not implemented the change, be aware: the DMV will punch a hole in your ID invalidating it and then give you a piece of paper as a temporary ID. Not everyone accepts this paper as valid ID (caution at bars), so you’ll have 10-14 days of ID issues. One great thing is that you can renew your ID online for up to 10 years (if it’s not a CDL ID), which is awesome. That means, if you lose your ID, you can just order a new one online. Huzzah for this.
  9. Unless your vehicle is 7 model years old or less, you’ll be required to get an emissions test to register your car. The type of test varies according to the age and type of vehicle and certain counties are exempt (holla, Gilpin!), but it does cost $25. Maybe this is more common than I realize, but coming from the Midwest and Appalachia, it was news to me.
  10. Sunblock is also your friend. Unless you are blessed with protective melanin, you’re going to want to stock up. I’m pretty sure my ancestors lived in caves, so my daily morning lotion contains SPF 15 and I use SPF 50 for days I’m actively spending time outdoors. The entire state is pretty damn high up (the elevation of Denver is officially 5280 feet above sea level, I live at 9000 feet up), so you will be exposed to more UV than you would at lower elevations. Make sunblock a habit and wear it year round.
  11. Colorado is a great place to vote. It’s easier than anywhere I’ve lived as ballots are mailed to you and you can just mail them back or drop them off. In an era where certain states have made voting way more difficult than it should be, Colorado is a breath of fresh air (just not literally).
  12. Natives. Sometimes natives are a bit petulant about people moving into their state. To be fair, there are a lot of us. Most people are fine and most of that petulance is exhibitied online and is easily ignored. Just be a good citizen and mostly you will be ok. Oh, and if you are a crappy driver and you know it, maybe work on that.

Colorado - Welcome to Denver

On City Adventures

Why City Adventures?

A black and white image of the Chicago River
Taken in Nov. of 2011 on a trip to Chicago.

It is perhaps incongruous that I start this blog with a post about city adventure given where I live and what I generally prefer. The eastern slopes of the continental divide are my backyard and Rocky Mountain National park is my northern neighbor. I came to Colorado in large part to play in the Rockies, and yet here I write of cities.

The thing is that, despite my predilection for solitude and wild places, I do not reject cities. I do reject suburbs, but cities are full of their own sort of adventure. They are the places in which humans have carved most deeply into the wilds to make our own unique space. Like in nature, proper cities are walkable, which allows you to move about at a slower pace, which I would argue makes it easier to discover things than traveling about in a vehicle does. Tall buildings mimic mountains, giving you a similar feeling of smallness. Humans make up the majority if the wildlife.

The suburbs are designed for cars, but cities seem to be designed despite them and very old cities pre-date them. We could get into the weeds when we consider what defines a city, but when I define it, I mostly consider population density. Places that have built up, instead of out. New York City vs. Columbus, OH.

It’s also relevant to note that most of us live in or near cities and are trying to live the lives we dream in that context. It’s how I’ve spent most of my life and now, even though I live in a rural mountain area, I still spend much time in cities because that’s where the jobs and resources are.

The 16th Street Mall in Denver, Colorado on a snowy night. I used to drive horse drawn carriages here.
I spent a winter driving horse drawn carriages here.

How to adventure in the city

When living in cities, I amused myself by framing tedious daily tasks as quests – “The quest for clean dishes” (the worst) or “The quest to determine how long I can park on my street before the city decides my car is abandoned (answer: 72 hours in Denver). I dreamt of climbing mountains, but filled my days with roller derby and took a side job driving a horse drawn carriage in the city. When I was in Denver, I made it to the mountains some weekends. In Kentucky, I sometimes managed kayaking. West Virginia was easiest as I could rather easily teach skiing or work as a raft guide on weekends. Ohio was the worst as I was surrounded by corn and football instead of opportunities for adventure.

You have to either get creative in cities or be willing and able to pull the weekend warrior thing in your free time. I found it easy to get depressed and instead get lost in video games or books. One of the things I loved the most about the original Shenmue on Dreamcast was that playing it felt like getting to explore Japan. I couldn’t afford to go to Japan, but Shenmue allowed me to realistically pretend. If the car was having issues or I couldn’t afford gas, I could run around Norrath or Hyrule. Not a productive use of my time, but pure escapism.

If you prefer outdoor adventure, it’s becoming increasingly difficult manage living near those activities in an even remotely affordable way. I’ve slept in vehicles and tents for seasonal work. Some companies offer dorm style housing and some resort towns are taking steps to address the issue.  I suppose there’s a promise to that, but if you aren’t a seasonal worker or trying to be one, but rather just want more time on your hands to actually do your activity, then your solution likely lies elsewhere. One thing I would do differently and am backing into now, career-wise, is to learn a skill that allows remote work. It was not really an option when I was figuring things out, but it is now, and I crave that freedom. To me, success is freedom. Society will push a definition of success on us, but we can choose our own. Not having to be tied to a location or a set schedule is to me freedom at the most basic level and is what I seek.

So, you can choose your own adventure – pick a city activity, be a weekend warrior, work a seasonal job, or gain a remote skill, but if you crave adventure, just don’t give up. I love gaming, but don’t let Hyrule be a substitute for the real world of adventure that still exists all around us.

Tall buildings in downtown Denver, Colorado loom over you like man made mountains.
Buildings loom like mountains.