Sustainable Tourism, Part 2: Traveling through Denver and Boulder

If you missed part 1 of my discussion of sustainable tourism, check it out here. In it I detail my considerations regarding choice of accommodation in Denver. Now, on to the long-awaited (yes, it’s been a month since part 1, 😒) part 2, where I show you some of the sights of M. and I encountered while traveling through Denver and Boulder and discuss how we went about being sustainable tourists! (Psst, if you don’t want to read several paragraphs about how beautiful and fun my trip was, skip down to the bottom of this post to see my list of six tips for sustainable tourism.)

On our first day in Denver, we couldn’t check-in to our bed and breakfast until 3 pm, but our flight landed at 10 am. What to do in those many hours before we could unload our bags? Well, the Church of Cannabis happened to be open to the public from 1 to 3 pm the day that we landed.Β Hey, when you’re in the area, you might as well sample the local culture. πŸ˜‰ So we decided that would be our target destination for the afternoon, and we started figuring out how to get there from Denver International Airport.

M. was advocating taking a rideshare car from the airport, but after we looked at a map, we realized that the Denver rail system has a train that goes directly from the airport to Union Station in downtown Denver (near where we wanted to be). Taking the rail would be cheaper and a whole lot more sustainable, so on the rail we went. The train cars were very clean and comfortable, and I enjoyed just staring out the large windows and noticing how different the views are compared to Chicago and New York.

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We got off of the train at the last stop, Union Station, and grabbed lunch at a Mediterranean restaurant nearby. M. chose something vegetarian. I was a bit less sustainability minded (oops) and got something with shrimp.

After lunch, we started feeling sleepy. We had been awake since 5 a.m. or so, and needed to pep ourselves up. So, next stop: caffeine. We grabbed a bus from Union Station to head to our destination, Bardo Cafe, which is within walking distance of the Church of Cannabis. M. got his coffee in his reusable coffee mug, while I opted for my chai latte in a to-stay mug. That’s two fewer single-use cups in the landfill.

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As you can see, I also carried a little reusable stainless-steel water bottle around with me so we didn’t have to buy a new plastic bottle whenever we got thirsty. πŸ™‚

After our caffeine fix, we walked over to the Church of Cannabis. If you’re not a member of the church, you can’t smoke there, but the building itself was still worth a visit. The worship room hosts a beautiful mural that I could have stared at for hours.

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After exploring the church, we headed to the bed and breakfast, where we discovered that they offer coffee and tea 24/7 (in reusable pitchers). So, for every morning of the rest of our stay, we refilled our mugs and water bottle from the B&B kitchen.

On day 2, we decide to take a day trip to Boulder. I’ve never done any extensive hiking (I am thoroughly city-raised. . .), and I was very excited to experience the Rocky Mountains. Initially M. and I had considered taking a rideshare to Boulder, but in Union Station we saw an advertisement for the Flatiron Flyer, a Denver bus route going directly from the station to downtown Boulder every fifteen minutes. How wonderful! A well-run and convenient public transit system does loads to help residents lead sustainable lives! So we opted to take the bus. It was a very pleasant and quick ride. And a lot more economical than a rideshare. πŸ™‚

Once we arrived in Boulder, we had brunch at Lucile’s, a Creole restaurant located in an adorable Victorian era building. The restaurant used cloth napkins that seemed to be made from fabric scraps: sustainable and adorable, hurray! And this time I did order a vegetarian dish. πŸ™‚

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After brunch, we were energized and ready to hike. We decided to head for the Mount Sanitas trail, since it was the easiest to get to from Lucile’s (about a 30 minute walk). During our walk, it started drizzling, and I got concerned that we’d be caught on the mountain without any protection from the elements. (We hadn’t brought umbrellas because I had lost my old one, and the new, biodegradable umbrella that I had ordered was delayed in shipping. More on that in a future post. πŸ™‚ ) So we went to three or four different stores, hunting for umbrellas, with no luck. At some point we decided to give up and keep trekking on.

Fortunately the drizzling stopped and the rest of our walk was without event. I ended up being happy we hadn’t found an umbrella to purchase, because conventional umbrellas aren’t very sustainable anyway.

As we got closer to the beginning of the trail, the sidewalks became more narrow and unpaved, but the once we reached the beginning of the trail itself the path was very walkable. After about ten minutes of walking, we came upon a fork in the trail. We decided to attempt the steeper and more difficult path. Despite my nervousness about possibly falling off the mountain (my goodness those paths are steep and gravelly), the hike paid off. The views were amazing.

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Once we got back down from the mountain, we felt like we had a good excuse to treat ourselves to some local beers. πŸ˜€ Unfortunately, the place that we chose ended up being a tad mediocre. Perhaps we have been spoiled by the Chicago craft beer scene. But it was still nice to sit down and nurse our sore legs. Then we hopped back on the Flatiron Flyer to return to our Denver B&B for a good soak in their hot tub.

Day 3 was spent exploring the areas closest to our bed and breakfast. The B&B’s owner turned out to an expert in both local sights and vinyl, so we had decided to check out his recommendations. First off was Wax Trax, a twenty or so minute walk away. While M. searched through the many racks of used and new vinyl, I browsed the web and sipped tea at Hudson Hill, a cute little cafe/bar across the street. I made sure to ask for a mug for my tea!

When M. was done looking through vinyl and I was done sipping, we headed to the Denver Botanic Gardens. Once again, we opted to walk there. The walk between Wax Trax and the gardens was also about twenty minutes. I enjoyed trekking through the surrounding neighborhoods on foot and gawking at people’s houses. The closer you get to the gardens, the larger the houses get! And oh boy, there are some mansions.

The entrance to the gardens was a little difficult to find, but once we found it, we were taken aback by the size and beauty of the place.

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I think we spent at least two hours walking around its entirety. There was even a bonsai section! All in all, I’d highly recommend checking out the Denver Botanic Gardens for yourself. And a giant gold star to the gardens for including composting bins next to the recycling bins! πŸ˜€

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For dinner on day 3, we decided to splurge and go to a trendy restaurant. This is where our sustainability efforts went downhill a bit. We knew we would eat meat at our dinner, because that is part of the splurge, but we hadn’t checked the portion sizes beforehand and ended up over-ordering. Neither one of us had brought a reusable container with us, so we had to accept the takeout boxes from this restaurant. And the boxes were definitely not recyclable or compostable. We also had drinks later that night, but we forgot to ask for “no straw, please,” and so, in our lack of foresight, we were saddled with single-use plastics. Sigh.

On our fourth and final day in Denver, we paid the Denver Art Museum a visit. Once again, because of the central location of our B&B, we were able to walk to the museum fairly easily (about a fifteen minute walk). The B&B was also kind enough to hold onto our luggage even though we had already checked out, so we didn’t need to worry about lugging heavy bags around.

The museum has two buildings, so we tried to split our time evenly between them. We only had about three hours total to devote to the exhibits before we needed to leave, so we didn’t get to see every floor, but it was still an enriching experience. And the museum itself is beautifully designed. One of my favorite exhibitions was Mi Tierra: Contemporary Artists Explore Place, a series of site-specific installations by Latinx artists that very much spoke to the current political climate in our country. Below is a photo of part of Plexus no. 36, by Gabriel Dawe.

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Sadly, our museum day also ended up being one of our least sustainable. Both of us forgot to bring our reusable travel mugs, so when we got thirsty we ended up buying drinks that came in plastic cups. Fortunately the cups were recyclable, but M.’s drink came with a straw (I remembered to refuse mine πŸ˜‡), which is definitely not recyclable. After we were done with the museum, we also ended up taking a rideshare to the airport instead of using public transit, since we had cut our plans too close to our departure time, so our carbon footprint was a bit higher than I wanted it to be (and that’s not even considering the carbon footprint of flying. . .).

Well, now that we are back in Chicago and I have had time to mull over our trip, here is what I learned about traveling sustainably:

Six tips for being a sustainability-minded tourist:

1) Always carry a reusable water bottle and a reusable mug.

Ideally, pack some container that can double as both. Carry a reusable napkin as well.

2) Always say “No straw, please.”

Refusing straws was one of the hardest parts, simply because we forgot that straws exist until they were already in our drinks. Bring a reusable straw with you if you prefer to drink with one than without. This is one of the areas where we failed miserably. 😦

3) If possible, stay somewhere close to the center of things.

Our B&B was within walking distance of the Denver Art Museum, the Denver Botanic Gardens, and a lot of good restaurants and bars. So we walked almost everywhere! And because we walked so much, we got a much more personal view of the city than we would have if we had taken rideshares or taxis.

4) Use the local transit system!

Ride-sharing and taxis should be a last resort. The only times we used rideshares were when we were late to our drinks plan (this only happened once) and when we were several neighborhoods away from our B&B and it was too late at night to feel safe walking back.

5) Don’t over-order when eating out.

Because our room didn’t have a microwave, we didn’t think we’d end up reheating and consuming any of leftovers, so we tried not to have any. If you want or expect leftovers, remember to always carry a reusable container, like a small steel bowl with an air-tight lid, so that you aren’t caught unawares like we were. You could also leave the leftovers to the restaurant to dispose of, but this is not necessarily sustainable if the restaurant does not compost.

6) Support the local businesses. Avoid going to large chains for your caffeine/breakfast/snack fixes.

This may be a strange one to put in a list of sustainability tips, but I think it deserves consideration. The heads of large corporations that have lots of outposts are usually disconnected from the areas where their outposts are located. That disconnect means that they are less likely to care about their environmental impact on their outpost’s surrounding community, they are less likely to care about the employees who come from that community, and they are likely using the cheapest ingredients possibly, which usually means they haven’t considered whether those ingredients were sustainably or ethically produced.

These chains almost never have sustainable options for dining in or drinking in. If you get a meal at a certain fast food restaurant with a red and yellow logo and you opt to dine in, you still get your food in the same single-use containers that you would have gotten if you had opted for take out. But if you had decided to get your meal or snack at a local cafe, you could have asked the food to be served on a reusable plate.

And, a bonus tip: if you’re planning to fly or travel in a way that will create a large carbon footprint because you have no other reasonable options, consider buying a carbon offset from an organization like Terrapass. Their website seems easy to use, and the carbon offsets are not as expensive as I would have expected. I haven’t bought one yet to offset my Denver trip, but it is on my to-do list.

If you are planning to travel soon, I hope these tips help you!

❀ S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)

A quick acknowledgment: These tips hinge on a certain level of mobility and financial stability that M. and I are certainly fortunate to have, and I do not intend to shame anyone who cannot follow these suggestions or doesn’t travel at all because these options are not financially or physically viable.

Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way to write about any organizations or businesses thatΒ I have mentioned. This post expresses my honest opinions.

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