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by Kate | June 7, 2011

There are many things that Denver is known for: fresh air, great beer, beautiful mountain landscapes...but for my money, few cities can beat it for just walking around.  That’s what makes it a perfect choice for organizing a scavenger hunt. That was the optional activity enjoyed by the 36 meeting planners who attended the Successful Meetings University—Colorado, June 1-3.

The hunt was organized by The Arrangers, a local DMC that handled our airport transfers as well. The group was broken up into teams of five and dropped off at the 16th Street Mall, a closed street that stretches about a mile or so through downtown Denver.

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For some reason the group I was in only had four members so we named ourselves The Fantastic Four, after the Marvel Comics superheroes. Though we had a decidedly different set of super powers compared to our fictional counter parts. Let’s do the roll call starting on the right: Rachael Watson of Opus Solutions had the uncanny ability to lose her purse, which added to the items we had to hunt for.  Karen Charest of WestEd specialized in lagging behind. Genise Christianson of E Source mastered the skill of not being able to use a calculator to figure out what we should have bought at Walgreens to total $4.46 including tax. As for me, my super power was the most pathetic of all—I let a rival team steal one of the bandanas each group was supposed to guard with their lives. Suffice it to say, when it came to the hunt, this Fantastic Four wasn’t that fantastic—we came in last.

But we did all gain an intimate knowledge of 16th Street and that’s a consolation prize worth having. If there is one street in Denver that every meeting attendee should experience, it’s 16th Street. Here is where the spirit of the city—its past and present, its dreams and ethos—bubbles to the surface. It begins with the pavement itself, granite slabs laid out in a pattern reminiscent of the diamond back rattle snakes that have called the region home for hundreds of years. 

At regular intervals up and down the street you’ll find whimsically decorated, life-size sculptures of cows—an acknowledgement to Denver's boomtown past. Near each cow are fully operational, upright pianos, another homage to the city’s boomtown, honky tonk, frontier roots. But it’s also a nod to Denver’s cultural present. Buskers or passersby routinely sit down to tickle the ivories, giving impromptu concerts that range from Irving Berlin, to Duke Ellington, to Mozart. Also just off 16th Street you’ll find the venerable Paramount Theater, home to cultural activities such as ballets, operas, and musicals. 

Then there are the people themselves. On 16th Street you’ll find a cosmopolitan mix of tourists, alternative club kids, extreme sports enthusiasts, cowboys, the occasional banker, and sometimes, groups of meeting attendees scavenging for the cultural bric-a-brac of the spirit of Denver.

—Vincent Alonzo