Of the "Mountain States," it wouldn't be unfair to characterize Colorado as the spiritual hub of that universe. The 8th largest state in the Union and with the 22nd largest population, it is home to the region's largest city, Denver. The state's ecology ranges from plains to 14,000 foot peaks to desert. Compared to the US as a whole, Hispanics are a larger percentage of the population, but overall ethnic diversity is not something Colorado is that known for. The urban centers here saw immense growth at the very end of the 19th century/early 20th century, limiting the ability of the city to produce classic parks. Naturally, Denver confounded these expectations and wound up spending most of the 20th century with two.
MILE HIGH (WITHOUT DOUBLE ENTENDRES)
The first, sadly, is only with us in name and not even so much spirit. Elitch Gardens operated in its original location from 1890 to 1994 before most of the flat rides and their Arrow Shuttle loop were packed up and moved to a new location in downtown Denver. The reason for the move was initially that the park simply ran out of space and simply could not expand further. However, the city cut a deal with the family operating the park to move their facility to a similarly landlocked position near the urban core on top of an old toxic waste dump, next to train tracks and the Pepsi Center. The Gurtler family, having spent $90 million dollars moving the institution, wound up with less than enthusiastic crowds who missed the grand old rides left behind, and sold the park to Premier Parks at the end of the 1996 season for a loss of $25 million. Today's Elitch's is among the nation's most soulless and consistently poorly run theme parks. It has no standout attractions worth traveling for, and the recreation of the John Allen design "Mr. Twister" is a bottom tier wood ride. As an example of the park's mediocrity: their Sally dark ride was the second generation of the "Ghost Hunt/Blasters" rides installed at Lake Compounce and Mall of America and thus many variants exist, and was even un-inventively titled "Ghost Blasters II" in spite of Ghost Blasters I never having been at Elitch's. Perhaps current ownership will be willing to invest and make this place less....bland.
But alas, there is a second option! Yes, Lakeside Park is imperfect. They have a much shorter operating season, most of the rides could use a fresh coat of paint, and people have been asking when the Staride rusting away near the entrance will be coming down for somewhere around 30 years. However, let's talk about the good: This is a park with some of the best classic lighting anywhere in the world. If you want to at least imagine what something like Luna Park at Coney Island circa 1928 would have looked like, this is your best option. The Lakeside Cyclone, with its old school trains and non-articulating lap bars, is a gem. The whip is great. The train, if it is running, is over 100 years old and chugs around the lake. There's a whip ride and a great old Miler wild mouse. Owner Rhoda is getting up in her years, and she basically operates this park as a love affair for the community. When she's gone, chances are Lakeside is to become yet another dull housing development or Costco. Best of all, it is totally affordable. You can enter the park for a small fee and just walk around and soak in the atmosphere. Like I said earlier: come at night. Definitely come at night.
Between the lifeless 1990s theme park and the great turn of the century traditional park, Waterworld occupies the strange zone of being the most ambitious themed attraction in the city. The most famous slide at the park is the multi-person tube slide Voyage to the Center of the Earth, which features caves and animatronic dinosaurs. There's Lost River of the Pharoahs, which features a combination of projection and practical effects on a tube ride through a pyramid. There's a hydromagnetic water coaster, there's crazy old school concrete slides; basically stuff that suggests that this is the best water park around. And nobody talks about it?
Denver is also home to a pair of additional locations with rides that couldn't be any more different: There's a Carouselworks carousel and Chance CP Huntington Train over at the Denver Zoo, while some ex-portable rides have been set up at the Mile High Flea Market for kids to go on.
FOR THE PEOPLE, OWNED BY THE PEOPLE
Colorado is the first state in which we see more remote communities begin to start setting up their own independent midways for county fairs. Akron, CO is home to the Eastern Colorado Roundup, and there's a Eli Wheel and 4 small kiddie rides that run specifically for the event. over at the Kit Carson County Fairgrounds, they're home to PTC#6, which operates during the summer for periods other than the fair. Both of these towns are in the Eastern side of the state, not far from the Kansas and Nebraska borders. As you'll see in future installments of the series, that is the epicenter of the community owned carnival midway in the United States.
The Consumer Information Catalog had commercials on for eons informing TV viewers to write to their address in Pueblo, Colorado. While the ads are only a Youtube curiosity, the city itself is a very real place and a decently sized community. They've got a small kiddie park located next door to their zoo in the inventively titled "City Park.". And speaking of zoos with rides: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs may not be community owned (it is a 501c nonprofit), but it does have a skyride and carousel for visitors.
STORY, THEME, AND NONSENSE
While Elitch's claims to be a theme park, it doesn't really do much to back that claim up in the grand scheme of things. There are, however, two parks within the state that try just a little harder. The more grandiose of the two is Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, roughly halfway between Denver and Grand Junction. Like Silver Dollar City in Missouri, the park has a general "frontier" theme with the centerpiece attraction being cavern tours. The scale of the operation is not nearly as great, but there are some musical performances, a black smith, a gunfight, and rides. The location of the park over a gorge means that several of their most thrilling attractions are positioned with huge elevation changes underneath them - these include the SDC Hurricane coaster previously located at Branson's Celebration City and an S&S Screaming Swing attraction.
Another "frontier"/old time theme park is Hertiage Amusement Park. Previously named Heritage Square, the park has a nice main street sort of area and a mix of kiddie and family rides. The alpine slide is closed now, but there's a zip line for those looking for a little more excitement. Sans rides, there are some similar open-air museum style attractions such as South Park City and White Mountain Trading Post as well in the state.
Santa's Workshop fits a more classic basis for a kiddie park out by Colorado Springs. Like similarly named parks in New Hampshire, Illinois, Ontario, North Carolina, and New York, there's a collection of mostly kiddie rides with a rough Santa theme and the ability to visit the Big Red Toy Machine along with some live shows, animatronics, and arcade. For adults, the skyride, Flying scooters, and two person Soaring Eagle zipline will probably get the most attention.
Finally, there's no real theme at Royal Gorge Park, but they've got a couple rides to check out. You can zipline across the deep chasm in the earth, take an aerial tramway to catch a better look, or enjoy one of the most intimidating Skycoasters ever built. It may not be as physically large as either Fun Spot model in Central Florida, but this does sit on the edge of a cliff.