Denver's Road of Riches:
Colfax Avenue

Reggie Royston
National Geographic
May 11, 2001

At the foothills of the Rockies, Lake Steam Bath beckons ailing travelers to the curative outdoors of Denver, Colorado.

Gertrude Hyman's family built the bath house here in 1927, to cater to sick travelers from the East Coast of the United States who believed in the healing power of heat and cool mountain air.

"Most of the population in Denver, the immigrant population, was people who had an uncle or aunt or somebody in the family who needed to be treated for…they called it consumption. You know, that's tuberculosis," Hyman said.

The area's restorative appeal has given rise to a thriving health industry—especially along Colfax Avenue, a road that once promised speculators more than physical well-being. National Jewish Hospital, one of the world's premier centers for pulmonary illness, is long established here.

"More people came to Colorado for health than ever for gold or silver or wealth," said Tom Noel, professor of history at the University of Colorado.

That wasn't always the case. When Denver was founded in 1850, scores of miners came looking for the motherlode. Thirty-mile-long Colfax Avenue was the major artery linking them to the riches of the Rockies.

These days, those looking for gold need go no farther than the U.S. Mint, which turns out 50 million coins a day on Colfax Avenue.

Beneath the mint, in a heavily guarded area, lie even more riches, said spokesman Guillermo Hernandez. "Roughly a quarter of the country's gold reserves are stored in our vaults," he said. "It's not open to the public, and most employees don't ever get to see it."

But there are many other treasures along Colfax Avenue that can be sampled. The section of the road that passes through Denver is the main tourist area, and many locals consider it the cultural heartbeat of the city.

"If you go from one end of Colfax to the other end, you'll find what you're looking for on that one street," Clarke said. "It's always been that way."

One place you'll find is a stainless steel box called Davies Chuck Wagon Diner. Produced in New Jersey during the 1950s, the pre-fabricated cafe traveled farther west than any other of that era. And its success has been sustained in part, said owner Dwayne Clarke, by the allure of Denver's road of riches.

This story was featured on the television news show National Geographic Today.

Continued on Next Page >>


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