Denver Mythbusters

by Roxane Kunkel, an AOL Travel ContributorPosted Oct 4th 2010 12:53 PM

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Denver Mythbusters

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When most people think of Denver, they think mountains, skiing, cows, oil and the Denver Broncos. While these references are certainly characteristic of the Colorado capital, Denver mythbusters also find plenty of fodder here for Wild West lore, historic myths and many an urban legend. Even Denver natives find some of these tales surprising – after all, they're not quite the spotlight of American history lessons. Think you know everything about the Mile High City? Let's just test that theory.


1. Denver is called the "Mile High City" because it is, in fact, a mile high.


TRUE. Denver mythbusters and locals alike can rest easy – the city is accurately named. It has long been known as the Mile High City; however, the official marker has been unknown until very recently.

At the moment, the three official markers for 5,280 feet above sea level are located on the west steps of the golden-domed State Capitol Building in downtown Denver. The original "one mile above sea level" engraving was placed on the 15th step of the Capitol Building, but in 1969 a new survey found the engraving to be inaccurate. Thus a new marker was placed three steps above it. In 2003, more precise measurements found both prior markers to be inaccurate, and a new mile high marker was placed on the 13th step. Coors Field Baseball Stadium, in the LoDo District of Denver, proves the urban myth true, as well, by designating 5,280 feet above sea level with a distinguished row of purple seats.

Colorado State Capitol, 200 E Colfax Ave, Denver, CO 80203; 303-866-2604; Tours are free and provided every 45 minutes, reservations required, Sept-May Mon-Fri 9:15AM-2:30PM, June-Aug Mon-Fri 9AM-3:30PM

Coors Field Baseball Stadium, 2001 Blake St, Denver, CO 80205; 303-292-0200; $4-$100; Game times vary; Tours: Adults $7, Seniors (55 and older) $6, Children (12 and under) $5, Non-game days 10AM, 12PM, 2PM, Evening game days 10AM, 12PM, Afternoon game days no tours, Off season 12PM, 2PM


2. If it's snowing in Denver, it must be snowing in the mountains.


FALSE. Skiers and snowboarders nationwide think that if a blizzard hits Denver, the snow depths and skiing must be phenomenal in the mountains. The Colorado ski industry loves it when a giant snowstorm occurs during a televised Denver Broncos football game – the telephone reservations pour in the next day.

Don't be fooled, Denver mythbusters! The truth is that snow for the city of Denver and snow for the mountains nearby are produced by very different weather patterns. Heavy snowstorms in Denver usually mean that it is not snowing in the mountains west of town. This is because moisture from the south backs into Colorado and produces up-slope snowstorms in Denver. Moisture from the west produces mountain blizzards, which rarely make it over the Continental Divide into the city.


3. Denver is located in the mountains.


FALSE. If you've never been to Denver, this urban myth might fool you. First-time visitors are often surprised to find that when their plane lands at Denver International Airport they are not landing in a city in the mountains. While Denver has great access to world-class mountain skiing, the city itself is nestled on the plains in front of the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

This location does offer spectacular mountain views. Looking west from the city you can spot 14,115-foot Pikes Peak to the south and 14,259-foot Longs Peak to the north in Rocky Mountain National Park. And, you can always spot snowfields on the high peaks – even in summer.


4. Buffalo Bill Cody is buried on Lookout Mountain.


TRUE. In the spring of 1917, the famous frontier forager and wild-west showman, Buffalo Bill Cody, died in Denver while visiting his sister. Bill's wife, Louisa, traveled from Cody, Wyoming to claim his body and bring it back to be buried at the location he requested in his will.

Upon arriving in Denver, Bill's wife and sister were supposedly persuaded to have him buried instead on Lookout Mountain west of Denver. To prevent citizens of Cody from stealing the body, 20 tons of concrete were poured into the grave. Today, residents of Cody claim that just before the funeral Bill's body was switched with that of an unlucky ranch hand and that Buffalo Bill is really buried on Cedar Mountain above Cody, WY.

While both stories are plausible, the facts lean more towards Denver's claim. Bill's funeral was an open casket ceremony and was attended by his wife, as well as many friends and family members who lived in Denver. The urban myth continues, however, as the descendants of Bill's friends who claim to have retrieved the body say they know where his secret grave site is located on Cedar Mountain.

The Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave, 987 ½ Lookout Mountain Rd, Golden, CO 80401; 303-526-0744; Summer hours (May 1-Oct 31) Museum daily 9AM-5PM, Gift shop/cafe daily 8:30AM-sunset, Winter Hours (Nov 1-Apr 30) Museum Tues-Sun 9AM-4PM, Gift shop/cafe daily 9AM-sunset; Adults $5, Seniors (65+) $4, Children (ages 6-15) $1, Children age 5 and under free


5. There is a brown cloud that hangs over the city of Denver.


TRUE. Unfortunately, this urban legend is a Denver reality. Due to location, weather patterns and a variety of pollution sources, a "brown cloud" hangs over Denver every winter. This was an everyday reality during winter in the 70s and 80s until strict pollution controls were implemented and enforced in the Denver metro area. Thankfully, restrictions on wood burning, the use of different road de-icers, a push for oxygenated gasoline and cleaner burning cars, and reduced pollution from coal-fired power plants has helped bring the infamous "brown cloud" under control. Recent population growth in the Denver Metro area has fueled the brown cloud's reappearance under certain weather patterns.


6. Sir Thomas Lipton donated a sailboat racing trophy to the Grand Lake Yacht Club.


TRUE. In 1912, Denverites from the exclusive Grand Lake Yacht Club decided that their organization needed a prestigious yachting competition trophy for its members. Upon hearing that tea magnate Sir Thomas Lipton, famous for his America's Cup yachting campaigns, was headed to Denver, they decided to conspire to have him donate a trophy to their yacht club.

The members, being astute sailors, decided that alcohol and an evening of sailing stories would probably help them achieve their goal. The members appropriately took Sir Thomas to The Denver Club downtown and proceeded to get him liquored up. Today, a magnificently ornate trophy, The Lipton Cup, is proudly displayed at the Grand Lake Yacht Club clubhouse in Grand Lake, Colorado. Although few know the juicy details of that night, it is safe to say that this urban legend is true.

Grand Lake Yacht Club, 1128 Lake Ave, Grand Lake, CO 80447


7. Denver is the birthplace of the cheeseburger.


TRUE. Nothing is more American than the cheeseburger, except maybe mom and apple pie. Urban legend has it that Denver is the place where this popular food item was first created. In 1935, Louis Ballast supposedly concocted the cheeseburger at the now-defunct Humpty Dumpty Barrel Drive.

Of course, there is controversy surrounding this claim. Today there are three cities that purport to be the birthplace of the cheeseburger. Pasadena, CA claims Lionel Sternberger created it in the 1920s, while Louisville, KY claims Kaelin's Restaurant was the first in 1934. The fact is that on March 5, 1935, Louis Ballast was the one who actually trademarked the term "cheeseburger." A small memorial now marks the former location of the Humpty Dumpty.

Former site of Humpty Dumpty, 2776 N Speer Blvd, Denver, CO 80211


8. The Denver-style omelet is exclusive to the "Mile High City."


FALSE. Otherwise known as a "Western omelet," a Denver omelet is what happens when you put chopped onions, bell peppers, cheese and ham in your eggs. While many have suggested that pioneer women first concocted the Denver omelet to mask the smell of bad eggs, the rest of the ingredients suggest otherwise. The most plausible theory is that Chinese railroad camp cooks created it, but like many a Denver urban myth, the origin is shrouded in mystery. As the late James Beard stated shortly before he died, "It seems to have been called the Western until the railroads made it to Utah, and then folks in Utah apparently renamed it the Denver."


9. Rocky Mountain Oysters originate in Denver.


When visitors are asked to think of a unique food they associate with Denver, many mention Rocky Mountain Oysters. However, contrary to popular belief, Rocky Mountain Oysters were not eaten first in Denver or even in the Rocky Mountains.

Also referred to as "prairie oysters," this unusual food is actually offal, or more specifically, bull or cow testicles.

If you're brave enough to partake in this unique western fare, mosey on in to the Buckhorn Exchange near downtown. Here, Rocky Mountain oysters are the house specialty, and you can bet that each heaping platter will easily feed a table of four. Buffalo Bill Cody frequented this restaurant, which houses a number of historic Old West artifacts. Diners can view Annie Oakley's gun and hundreds of stuffed animal heads.

Buckhorn Exchange, 100 Osage St, Denver, CO 80204; 303-534-9005; Lunch Mon-Fri 11AM-2PM, Dinner Mon-Thurs 5:30PM-9PM, Fri-Sat 5PM-10PM, Sun 5PM-9PM

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