DENVER (AP) — Free festivals, movies, music, hiking and biking abound in Denver in the summer, but those passing through the Mile High City on the way to the mountains for Colorado's famed powder skiing can also find plenty of free things to do. Here's a sampling:
BUFFALO, BOTH LIVING AND DEAD
Oddly enough, the city of Denver owns its own buffalo herd — direct descendants of the last wild buffalo herd in America. They're kept behind fences about 20 miles (32 kilometers) west of town on Interstate 70, where an overlook near Exit 254 offers great opportunities to photograph the creatures with the Rocky Mountains on the horizon. Legend has it that the beasts come closer to the road and are best seen in cold weather, but year-round shots are possible.
On your way there, stop by the gravesite of famed Western entertainer Buffalo Bill Cody. The showman's grave overlooks Denver and is an easy and picturesque stop off Exit 256. A nearby museum charges $5 for displays about Buffalo Bill's career, but your Buffalo Bill nostalgia money is better spent on a drink back in Denver. Linger, at 2030 W. 30th Ave., is a bar and restaurant with a fabulous rooftop patio at the former site of the mortuary where Buffalo Bill's body reportedly spent six months after his death in 1917 while heirs argued over where to bury the famed bison hunter.
16th STREET MALL SHUTTLE, STATE CAPITOL, DENVER MINT
A ride through downtown's 16th Street Mall on the free bus shuttle is a ride through Denver's past and current scene. At the northwest end of the shuttle, there's a panoramic view of the Denver skyline and Rocky Mountains, with old Union Station in the foreground — the Queen City's main travel hub when railroad was king. At the southeast end of the shuttle ride there's a short walk to the State Capitol building with its gold leaf encrusted dome and a mile-high marker (1.6 kilometers) on the west steps from which the city gets its nickname. In between there are changing exhibits of public art, including cutouts of buffaloes and upright sidewalk pianos for anyone to take a turn improvising a tune. Free tours of the Capitol include a walk up a staircase where cannonballs used by the Colorado militia during the Civil War cap the ends of bannisters.
Another short walk from the southeast terminus of the shuttle and you're at the Denver Mint, one of two located out West. The federal government found it necessary to establish mints in Denver and San Francisco after the gold rushes and population booms that gripped both cities in the mid-1800s. Tours of the mint are free, though reservations are strongly recommended, and include a short exhibit about the history of currency. Also a short walk from the 16th Street Mall: a sample of makers of beloved, homegrown Colorado craft beer. Wynkoop Brewing Co. (co-founded by Gov. John Hickenlooper) and Great Divide Brewing Co. (near Coors Field) offer free tours of their downtown operations.
Denver's skate park is one of the premiere parks of its kind in the country, featuring 60,000 square feet (about 5,575 square meters) of skateable concrete terrain. Use of the park is free, but you have to bring your own gear or rent it from nearby shops. Adults who want to try boarding, blading or biking on extreme terrain as well as children who are just learning can enjoy various bowls that accommodate all skill levels. There are rails, gently shallow basins and nearly vertical walls inspired by early skaters' affinity for abandoned backyard swimming pools. Best times for beginners are Saturday and Sunday mornings. Regulars start showing up around 1 p.m.