Denver, located at the junction of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek, is the state capital and largest city in Colorado. Situated 5672 feet above sea level in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains, Denver is known as the "Mile High City." Prospectors settled Denver in 1858 with the discovery of gold on the shores of Cherry Creek. The opening of gold and silver mines in the 1870s and 1880s brought prosperity to the growing city. Installation of military bases in the area after World War II triggered even more rapid growth.
Today, Denver has a fast-growing population of around 560,000 and is an important commercial, industrial and transportation hub. Its economy is buoyed by the telecommunications and biomedical technology industries, as well as mining, construction, real estate and tourism. Denver is home to a US Mint and numerous federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Denver International Airport, opened in 1995, is the largest airport in North America, spread over 53 square miles.
The Black American Western Museum, dedicated to correcting black history, is housed in the home of Dr. Justina Ford, Denver's first black physician, in the neighborhood just north of the city. The Denver Art Museum, with one of the largest Native American art collections in the world, is located in the south of the city. Three miles east of downtown is the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, which has an IMAX Theatre, a planetarium and a reputation as one of the premier natural history museums in the country. Red Rocks Park, in the hills just west of Denver, hosts some of the most popular acts in music in a 9,000-seat natural amphitheater carved into red sandstone rock formations that are 70 million years old. About 20 miles west of Denver is Golden, offering scenic mountains and a guided tour of the Coors Brewery. A few miles further west is the Buffalo Bill Memorial Museum, located near the site of the famous gunslinger's burial in 1917.
Denver has sports teams in four major leagues. Just west of downtown is the 76,000-seat Sports Authority Field at Mile High, home of the NFL's Denver Broncos and soccer's Colorado Rapids. The stadium also houses the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame. In Denver's Lower Downtown (LoDo), 50,000-seat Coors Field hosts baseball's Colorado Rockies. Just outside LoDo is the 18,000-seat Pepsi Center, where the NBA's Nuggets and the NHL's Avalanche play their home games.
For recreation, the Colorado area more than makes up for what it lacks in ocean with its majestic mountains and world-class skiing. The Rockies make Denver a hiker's paradise, with dozens of challenging trails within a 30-mile radius of the city. Denver rafting companies provide trips to Clear Creek for 15 miles of white water rafting between Idaho Springs and Golden. Nearby Eldora and Loveland offer some of the finest downhill and cross-country skiing you can find. Just 80 miles away, Vail is the most visited ski resort in the United States. For year-round skiing, a permanent snowfield at 11,000-foot-high St Mary's Glacier is just a few hours away. Also within that distance is Aspen, the popular and celebrated ski getaway for the wealthy, filled with 14,000 peaks and a heavy dose of culture. Colorado Springs, only an hour south of Denver, has the US Air Force Academy and the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, and offers plenty of skiing, rafting, hiking, and other outdoor activities.
Denver's nightlife revolves around LoDo, the Lower Downtown area, with its high concentration of restaurants and bars in the neighborhood. Larimer Square, on the southwestern edge of the downtown grid, offers century-old buildings with shops, restaurants, brewpubs and nightclubs. Boulder, just 26 miles north of Denver and home of the University of Colorado, offers many nightlife options, and events such as the 7-week Shakespeare Festival.
Denver was ranked #5 among the 20 healthiest cities in America by Men's Journal. This publication also ranked Denver #6 among big cities and Boulder #1 among small cities in their 2004 Best Places to Live issue. A booming job market, affordable living and a large student population also contribute to the Denver-Boulder metropolitan area being ranked #1 on Forbes Magazine's list of the Best Cities For Singles.