Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre, located in Morrison, CO only 30 miles from Cherry Creek State Park (see our review) was our next sightseeing excursion. At 6,450 feet above sea level and occupying 738 acres, this park provides a unique transitional zone between the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains and offers a diverse environment of plants, birds and animals of both regions. Not only do the spectacular vistas, marvelous rock formations and awesome hiking and biking trails make this a popular spot but Red Rocks is also recognized for its star-studded concert roster, its ambiance and its naturally occurring, acoustically perfect amphitheater, the only one of its kind in the world. As they say on their website, “there’s no better place to see the stars!”
What a surprise that there was so much to see and do here! Offered in the 30,000-square-foot Visitor Center (open year round with free parking and admission) are interactive displays which provide an in-depth overview of the history of Red Rocks and examples of fossils found in the area. Tours are offered to groups of 10 or more for $6 for adults, $3 for children and seniors. Unique Red Rocks souvenirs, apparel and historical memorabilia are offered in both the Visitor Center and the Trading Post Gift Shop which is also a great place to pick up the start of the 1.4 mile Trading Post Trail. This trail winds through the Fountain and Lyons formations with a narrow, rough surface that follows a moderate to steep terrain.
The Colorado Music Hall of Fame (CMHOF) showcased memorabilia and provided kiosks that profile each inductee with bios, photos, audio and video. Here we learned that concerts weren’t limited to a particular genre of music but instead covered the full gamut from folk to rock to classical and everything in between. The stage has been graced with performances from popular legends like The Beatles during their first American tour in 1964 (interesting that this was the only show not sold out during their tour), The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, The Moody Blues, Sting, U2, Willie Nelson and Judy Collins to electronic artists, opera singers, classical instrumentalists including the Colorado Symphony and even comedians such as Jerry Lewis. It was fun perusing the “Who Performed Here” wall which showed a list of the artists by year.
One of my favorite exhibits was dedicated to singer-songwriter, actor, poet laureate, humanitarian and activist, John Denver who performed at Red Rocks 16 times before his early death in 1997. His song “Rocky Mountain High” became one of Colorado’s two official state songs. A statue of him stands outside the entrance to the Hall of Fame. For more information about all of the exhibits, check out their CMHOF website.
Having already had breakfast at the Breakfast Queen (BQ) Diner in Englewood, the timing wasn’t right for us to have lunch at the Ship Rock Grille which is open daily from 10:30am – 2:30 pm and for dinner for concert goers (must have a ticket).
The spectacular scenery and the educational displays at the Visitor Center and the Hall of Fame were wonderful but the true pièce de résistance was seeing the amphitheatre. OMG! It must be so cool seeing a concert here although the thoughts of walking up and down the 193 steps in dim lighting would make me a little nervous!
Hard to believe but since 1906, John Walker the original owner of what was then called Garden of Angels produced concerts in this gorgeous setting on a temporary wooden stage in the naturally formed hollow between the stunning 400 foot towering sandstone monoliths named Ship Rock (stage left) formerly named Titanic Rock because it resembles a sinking ship and Creation Rock (stage right), both taller than Niagara Falls and almost as tall as London’s Big Ben. After the area was purchased by the City of Denver, Denver architect Burnham Hoyt designed the amphitheatre, who modeled it after the Theatre of Dionysus at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. Plans were completed in 1936 although the actual construction took 12 years to complete. The 9,525 seat amphitheater opened on June 15, 1941, quickly attracting top performers to its stage. Red Rocks was named a National Historic Landmark in 2015 and the venue was once listed as one of the seven wonders of the geological world.
Standing at the top of the Amphitheatre looking down at the stage, not only were we impressed by the magnitude of the place and the majestic views but also several athletes caught our attention. One was jumping from one row of seat benches up to the next row over and over again without taking a break. My knees hurt just watching them! One interesting fact I found – the seats span about 2.5 miles in length. Maybe he was training for the Fitness on the Rocks festival which is the largest fitness workout ever organized in Colorado (7000 people attended in 2016). Exercise groups are welcome to use the Amphitheatre for workouts during certain times.
Wanting to get a better look at the stage and to take a photo from the bottom row up to the top, we walked down all 193 steps only to be disappointed because they had the first 15 to 20 rows roped off. Darn! Of course, then we had to climb all the way up to the top again. There are elevators but I wasn’t going to be the wimp in the family! Trust me, after climbing all those steps, it seemed like a very long walk back to the parking lot. From there, we took a quick drive to Plains View Road where there were panoramic vistas of the plains and foothills. There was a clear view of the Denver smog from there.
Finally it was time to say goodbye to Red Rocks but not to worry, more red rock was in our future. Such a beautiful spot, a visit here should be on everyone’s bucket list. On our way back to Cherry Creek, we drove through the small city of Golden, which looked pretty cute and probably a place we might want to visit in the future. Back at the State Park, a 1-1/4 mile hike along the Wetland Preserves Trail followed by gazing at the grazing elk, a toasty campfire and a beautiful sunset, all providing a perfect ending to our day!