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Boulder, Colorado - adventure mixed with business

by Jenn Jurewicz

Fort Collins, nestled in the foothills of the Rockies.
Being a tried-and-true Midwestern gal (and hence accustomed to the flat expanses of the region), I discovered a superb introduction to Colorado by way of Fort Collins.

My philosophy in choosing the picturesque city was that there was no need to overwhelm myself with the Rocky Mountains right away. I was determined to slowly take everything in, after having spent months rushing through the day-to-day pressures of work, commuting and a constantly rotating (but never diminishing) stack of bills. Simply put, I really wanted to relax.

Fort Collins is equidistant from both Denver (50 miles south) and Cheyenne, Wyoming (50 miles north). It's lined by the Cache La Poudre River and nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Originally a military stronghold in 1864, Fort Collins evolved into a bona fide town in 1873. Traces of its rich history are scattered throughout the city. The downtown area, referred to as Historic Old Town, still has many of its original buildings, many of which are part of both national and local historic districts.

The community of 130,000 is a diverse one, embracing artists, athletes, and (like most Colorado towns) the outdoors. In fact, Fort Collins embraces many of Northern Colorado's most talented artists. The weekend I was visiting, I had the opportunity to go to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), which is located in the town's former post office. It was also the weekend of the artists' studio tour, during which 66 artists opened their homes and studios to the public. Fifteen dollars purchased four adults a tour book and map. Jeanne Shoaff, MOCA's Executive Director, said the tour helps educate the public about the wealth of artists in town by letting them experience the dynamics that go into the work.

Art by Fort Collins resident Rachel Weiss was a highlight of the studio tour.

My personal favorite (and first stop on the tour) was Rachel Weiss, a short, energetic young woman with curly blond hair. One of her paintings was the first one to catch my eye as I perused the museum the previous night. It was a cartoon-like young man and his cat painted on an enlarged photograph of a factory. The industrial aspect of it reminded me of my home in the Midwest. However, it was how the imagination paired with reality that I liked the best - colorful characters living in a world of black and white.

There are several galleries with different styles of art throughout Fort Collins. One of them more unique places is the Walnut Street Gallery (www.walnutst.com). Focusing on rock and roll, Walnut Street displays works by famous musicians, album cover artists and tour photographers. Currently, you can view paintings by Marty Ballin of Jefferson Airplane, and the touring collection of the late Dr. Seuss's drawings.

Besides sculptures and paintings, other forms of art can be experienced in Fort Collins (www.ftcollins.com). Go on a historic walking tour, or visit the Fort Collins Museum, formerly a pioneer museum. Catch a play or musical at the Lincoln Center, the cultural arts center, and in the fall, sit back and relax to the sounds of the Fort Collins Symphony.

Horsetooth Reservoir, Fort Collins

I experienced Mother Nature's artwork the same day as the studio tour. After driving around town and walking most of the morning, I wondered aloud about the mountains. Tina, my guide, picked up on the hint right away and we were on our way to the Horsetooth Reservoir.

I felt the excitement rising in my throat as we drove up a winding road toward the giant foothills. The water in the reservoir was the same shade of powder blue as the sky, and the clouds were so low they seemed to be resting on the treetops. Tiny wildflowers of bright yellow and purple dotted the somewhat dry landscape. No wonder there was such a large group of artists in the area. How could you not be inspired? Plus, you can't beat 300 days a year of sunshine, the area average.

The great outdoors -- and the activities that coincide with them -- are a big part of Fort Collins culture as well. Horsetooth Mountain Park and Lory State Park both offer about 25 miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Wildlife and colorful flowers are a highlight of Lory, while waterfalls and breathtaking views of the Front Range are what brings visitors to Horsetooth. White-water rafting and rock climbing are also common activities in these areas.

I had the opportunity to challenge myself with a six-mile round-trip hike at Greyrock in Poudre Canyon, a nine-mile drive from downtown. The reward I found at the summit was priceless. I caught a glimpse of the tops of the Rockies in the distance, and looking down it was hard to fathom that I had climbed all that way. I felt like I could see forever, and it gave me a sense of power and accomplishment - not bad for a Sunday afternoon.

The modern phenomenon of disc golf, or "Frisbee" golf is rather popular in Fort Collins, where there are three such courses. The more traditional golfer can challenge themselves at one of the three public courses. Rolling hills, varying elevations and lush forests provide a unique setting at these courses. Golf Digest ranked Fort Collins ninth in the nation for the best place for an affordable/accessible game.

Historic Avery Building in Old Town

After you sample what it's like to wander around the wilderness, wander the streets of Old Town and window-shop. Creative jewelry, fun boutiques, tourist, candy and antique shops line the streets. If you're in the need of a major department store, a five-minute drive will take you to the Foothills Mall (www.ishopfoothillsmall.com), where there are 120 stores and a food court.

Speaking of food, I was constantly eating during my stay. With all the exercise I was getting, I was constantly working up an appetite. Fort Collins had a restaurant for every craving, and several microbreweries. In fact, Fort Collins has the most microbreweries per capita in the state of Colorado.

"The King of Beers" Anheuser-Busch and its famous Clydesdales call Fort Collins home. The brewery offers tours and complimentary samples. I didn't stop there, but I drove by it and caught a glimpse of one of those beautiful horses. I thought it was a statue at first. The New Belgium Brewing Company (www.newbelgium.com) has an interesting story behind it. The owners make it a priority to keep their employees entertained and active while working - the CEO is also the Chairman of Fun. New Belgium was also the first wind-powered brewery in the United States.

Enough about beer -- for a hearty breakfast visit the Silver Grill downtown on Walnut Street. I ate there the morning of my hike: poached eggs on English muffins with shredded cheese and salsa. I also ordered a cinnamon roll to go with my coffee, but didn't realize it was going to be the size of my head! The gooey, sweet pastry barely fit on the plate. I ended up bringing it home and eating it over the next two days.

If time is an issue, you can grab a burrito or sushi on the go. If you're looking for more upscale, intimate dining, try Jay's Bistro or Nico's Catacombs. I had the pleasure of dining at both during my visit, and I was equally impressed with both establishments.

Art, dinner, hiking … I did say I went out west to relax right? My Saturday afternoon was spent at Cleopatra's Dayspa. Janet Rossi left her nine-to-five in New Jersey to open the spa. I was surrounded by Egyptian themes that created an exotic setting while I enjoyed a full body massage and pedicure.

Sheldon House B&B, Fort Collins

My nights were spent nestled under the down comforter in my queen size bed at the Sheldon House Bed and Breakfast. Staying there and befriending the owners, Jack and Maryann Blackerby, was an enjoyable part of my weekend. The stately pink Victorian was filled with antiques and breathed Fort Collins history. The breakfast Maryann prepared for me one morning was more than enough to make me feel at home. There are a few other B&Bs in Fort Collins, as well as hotels, motels and if you don't need to be right in the city, guest ranches and retreats out amongst the wilderness.

My whole experience was definitely entertaining, and exhilarating. I definitely got a feel for life out West. If you're visiting for business or pleasure, I guarantee you will feel rewarded in Fort Collins. Go ahead … treat yourself to a good meal and a massage, bring a book and stroll along the river, experience the history … all five of your senses will thank you. Mine still are.

MORE INFORMATION: Fort Collins Convention & Visitors Bureau

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Live Like a Queen at Cleopatra's Day Spa
; Sheldon House B&B Review