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Colorado is a rich combination of the old and new, urban and rural, the civilized and the wild. The state's major cities lure us with their museums, galleries, performing arts, and historic sites, but just outside their boundaries awaits a vast array of outdoor recreation opportunities and some of America's most beautiful mountain scenery.

Growth, which Coloradans see as both a blessing and a curse, continues to be the main change occurring here. And for at least the next few years, those who venture into the mountains will see not only the remnants of damage from dozens of forest fires that plagued the state in 2002, but also how quickly the forests can begin to regenerate and heal themselves.

The big event in recent years was the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August 2008, where Barack Obama accepted the presidential nomination at the home of the Denver Broncos, Invesco Field at Mile High, in front of a capacity crowd. Whether the glare of the media spotlight will catalyze even more growth for the city remains to be seen.

Settling into Denver

Southwest Airlines has continually expanded at Denver International Airport since its first flights touched down at Denver International Airport in 2006. The light rail has expanded significantly in recent years. Four new lines have come on: The E Line runs along I-25 from Broadway to Lincoln Avenue in the south suburbs. The F Line connects 18th and California streets downtown with Lincoln Avenue. The G Line runs from Nine Mile in Aurora at I-225 and Parker Road to Lincoln; the H Line connects Nine Mile and 18th and California. Downtown Denver has a pair of new lodging options: the swank Ritz-Carlton Denver, 1881 Curtis St. (tel. 303/312-3800), and The Curtis, 1405 Curtis St. (800/525-6651 or 303/572-3300), a fun and pop-culture-loving hotel. Denver also boasts some excellent new restaurants in Duo, 2413 W. 32nd Ave. (tel. 303/820-2282), serving terrific interpretations of American standards in a warm space in the Highlands neighborhood, and Encore, 2250 E. Colfax Ave. (tel. 303/399-5353), a slick new Mediterranean eatery at the renovated theater complex now anchored by the Tattered Cover Book Store.

What to See & Do in Denver -- The Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, 1485 Delgany St. (tel. 303/298-7554), opened its terrific new building in 2007, a stark, avant-garde structure that puts the artists on center stage. Six Flags sold Elitch Gardens Theme Park, Speer Boulevard at I-25 (tel. 303/595-4386), but little has changed except for the banishment of Looney Tunes characters and Batman. New in 2009, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, in City Park, 2001 Colorado Blvd. (tel. 303/322-7009), will open "Expedition Health," a state-of-the-art exhibit that allows visitors an eye-opening look at the workings of their own bodies. The Colorado Rapids (tel. 303/405-1100; www.coloradorapids.com) of Major League Soccer now play home games at the new Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City. Flying Dog bolted to Maryland, but Great Divide Brewing Co. opened a great new tap room at its downtown brewery, 2201 Arapahoe St. (tel. 303/296-9460, ext. 26).

Colorado Springs

Longtime Manitou Springs favorite Adam's Mountain Cafe, 934 Manitou Ave.(tel. 719/685-1430), relocated from its longtime Cañon Avenue address to the ground floor of the restored Spa Building in 2007. Thankfully, the tasty, healthy food, and country-meets-French-Victorian vibe remain. The Hawaiian taco joint La'au's, 830 N. Tejon St. (tel. 719/578-5228), is a new favorite for Colorado College students -- and travelers pinching their pennies. At Garden of the Gods, 1805 N. 30th St. (tel. 719/634-6666), the excellent multimedia theater presentation How Did Those Red Rocks Get There? was newly remade by local filmmaker John Bourbonais for 2008. A major expansion at the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center, 30 W. Dale St. (tel. 719/634-5581), doubled the gallery space and won raves from critics. New in 2008 at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, 4250 Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Rd. (tel. 719/633-9925), the $8.2-million "Rocky Mountain Wild" lets visitors get up close and personal with mountain lions, grizzly bears, moose, and other local denizens.

Boulder

In 2007, the stalwart Pearl Street burger joint Tom's Tavern shut its doors after 49 years following the passing of owner Tom Eldridge. Also closing since the last edition: Trilogy Wine Bar and Rhumba. As for openings, Black Cat, 1964 13th St. (tel. 303/444-5500), sources a good deal of its ingredients from owner-chef Eric Skokan's half-acre garden. The new outdoor shopping center, Twenty Ninth Street, centered on the former site of the long-languishing Crossroads Mall at the intersection of Canyon Boulevard and 29th Street (tel. 303/440-0722), is now open for business.

The Northern Rockies

Steamboat Springs -- Longtime budget-oriented condominium complex Thunderhead had a date with a bulldozer as a base village redevelopment got underway in 2008.

Winter Park -- Devil's Thumb Ranch, Grand C.R. 83, Tabernash, 8 miles north of Winter Park (tel. 800/933-4339 or 970/726-5632), opened its terrific new lodge, as well as a spa/fitness center, in early 2008. The base village at Winter Park Resort is undergoing a makeover.

Breckenridge -- The Arts District of Breckenridge, Ridge Street and Washington Avenue, has blossomed into a new attraction with open studios, classes, and resident artists. BlueSky, 42 Snowflake Dr. (tel. 800/506-7521), a posh new condominium lodge, opened in 2007.

Vail -- Vail's New Dawn, a multibillion-dollar makeover of Vail Village consisting of numerous hotel, residential, retail, and infrastructure projects, is almost complete. One of the latest and greatest projects to be finished was the storybook Arrabelle at Vail Square, 675 Lionshead Place (tel. 866/662-7625), which opened in 2008 in Lionshead Square. West of Vail, State Bridge Lodge and River Resort burned to the ground in 2007.

Beaver Creek -- To help get you onto the mountain faster, Beaver Creek Resort (tel. 800/404-3535) opened a new gondola from Avon in December 2007.

Aspen -- One of the longstanding affordable mom-and-pop motels, the Limelight Lodge, 228 E. Cooper Ave. (tel. 800/433-0832 or 970/925-3025), was bulldozed in 2006, rebuilt, and reopened in fall 2008 as a contemporary "green" motel on the same spot. Aspen's dining scene just gets better and better, with Social, 304 E. Hopkins Ave. (tel. 970/925-9700), a colorful tapas eatery, one of the newest shining stars. Nearby Snowmass Village is in the midst of a major redevelopment, with Viceroy and Little Nell projects in the works through 2010.

The Western Slope

Grand Junction -- The dinosaur quarry and visitor center at Dinosaur National Monument, 4545 E. U.S. 40, Dinosaur (tel. 970/374-3000), has been closed indefinitely while much-needed structural repairs are made. There's still plenty to do there, though, and some spectacular scenic views as well.

Glenwood Springs -- Glenwood Hot Springs Pool, 401 N. River Rd. (tel. 800/577-7946 or 970/945-4228), opened the Spa of the Rockies in 2008. Riviera, 702 Grand Ave. (tel. 970/945-7692), injected a shot of contemporary flair into the local restaurant landscape.

Paonia -- Fresh and Wyld Farmhouse Inn B&B, 1978 Harding Rd. (tel. 970/527-4389), opened in 2008, offering a pastoral place to stay, as well as breakfasts made primarily of ingredients from the on-site garden.

Southwestern Colorado

Durango -- Soaring Tree Top Adventures (tel. 970/769-2357), accessible only by railroad, offers the most extensive zip-line course in the world. The authentic Irish Embassy, 900 Main Ave. (tel. 970/403-1200), opened in summer 2008 and was an instant hit with locals and tourists alike.

Telluride -- Lumière, in Mountain Village (tel. 866/530-9466), a LEED-certified boutique hotel, opened on the slopes in 2008.

The Southern Rockies

Gunnison -- There's a new observatory in Southern Colorado: The Gunnison Valley Observatory, Yucca Court (tel. 970/642-1111), began hosting free star parties in 2008.

Salida -- Serving tasty Mexican grub and potent margaritas, the BoatHouse Cantina, 228 F St. (tel. 719/539-5004), opened right on the Arkansas River in 2008.

Southeastern Colorado

In Pueblo, the Steelworks Museum of Industry & Culture, 1612 Abriendo Ave. (tel. 719/564-9086), opened its doors in 2007, showcasing the history of Pueblo's industry.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.