Denver Diary: Water, Water, Nowhere

For part two of my Denver Diary, reflecting on some of my experiences in that city over this past weekend, I want to share a bit with you about something rather basic which many of us may not think about, until we find ourselves in a dry climate.  For Denver is very, very, very dry.  Not in the Prohibition sense thank goodness, but rather the air has a strange sort of moisture-wicking quality.  If UnderArmour could somehow bottle it into a line of toiletries, they’d make a fortune.

Flying over Colorado on Friday I was struck by how the landscape appeared almost lunar as one got closer to the Rocky Mountains.  There were hardly any trees, and a storm had recently come through, coating the dark gray earth in drifts of gleaming white snow.  The effect was heightened by the unusual, large circles one could see in the cleared fields, so different from the fields one sees on the East Coast.  They looked like impact craters interspersed with valleys and ridges.

All weekend I had a strange feeling as though my lips were about to crack into a million pieces, while other East Coast sojourners told me that their eyes felt completely bloodshot and dried out.  Because of the high altitude, I was expecting shortness of breath, or feeling faint, that sort of thing.  Instead, apart from some weird foot swelling when I got off the plane at Denver airport, the only environmental factor I found somewhat difficult to adjust to was the persistent dryness.

The solution, I was repeatedly told, was to drink lots of water; fortunately the Brown Palace Hotel and Spa, where I was staying, had plenty of it.  In fact they have their own artesianal well which, although not technically holding mineral water, did have a pleasing, slightly mineral taste.  It was a bit like room-temperature Evian, and certainly not like the overly-chlorinated tap water one finds in many East Coast cities.  It also made taking a shower a particularly enjoyable experience, since not only was there a combination of rather large showerheads to stand under, but the scent of the water itself was simultaneously relaxing and invigorating, if that is not too paradoxical a statement.

If you live in an area where there is plenty of water, as is the case here on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, you tend to take it for granted.  For example, here in Washington not only do we have the Potomac, a large river with a number of local tributaries running through the heart of the city, but that river empties into the Chesapeake Bay, which in turn empties into the Atlantic Ocean.  Whether you are in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, etc., you are so accustomed to having water readily to hand, that the experience of being in such a dry environment as Colorado takes some getting used to.

I suspect that many of us rarely think about the fact that in the Western world today, all we have to do is turn on a tap, and we get plenty of potable water for drinking, bathing, cooking, etc.  Imagine how difficult it was for those pioneers who arrived in dry places like Denver during the great Westward Expansion, who had to try to locate and secure water just for basic survival needs.  And then having to find enough water to go on to build things like businesses and infrastructure projects, which cities need in order to be able to attract more residents.

The builders of the Brown Palace Hotel itself were certainly well-aware of the fact that water is a highly precious commodity in Denver.  At the time it was built in 1892, the hotel had running water in all of the guest rooms, which was practically unheard of at the time in the West due to the scarcity of that resource.  Recognizing not only how important water is, but also the famous silver mines of Colorado which helped lead to the development of Denver itself, the hotel has a pair of silver drinking fountains in the lobby, drawing from that same artesianal well atop which the hotel sits.  It certainly made me think, whenever I stopped to take a sip from one of them, about how much of civilization is dependent on good sources of water, and how often we forget that fact today.

Tomorrow in part three of my Denver Diary, I’ll be telling you about two beautiful, historic buildings in Denver which would not have been possible without the water which increased the population of the city, and the subsequent wealth which helped finance their construction: the dark but magnificently detailed Church of the Holy Spirit, and the almost blindingly snow-white Cathedral-Basilica of the Assumption where yes, good Catholic boy that I am, I got to kiss the Archbishop’s ring.  More on that anon.

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Silver water fountain in the atrium of the Brown Palace Hotel and Spa, Denver

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