Updated: October 21, 2013 at 10:20 am
BOULDER - I accepted this assignment with trepidation.
The People's Republic of Boulder. The hub of liberalism that produced infamous professor Ward Churchill. The party college where thousands gather every April 20 to smoke marijuana.
Surely, someone from Colorado Springs, the polar opposite of Boulder in so many ways, would not be welcome here. Perhaps they would turn me back at the border?
But on I went to Boulder on a crisp, sunny autumn day last week. It was a mission to discover what makes this town such a popular place to live, why someone from the Pikes Peak region would want to visit.
"Getting some good pictures?"
I froze. One of them had spoken to me.
"Yeah, it's beautiful," I said truthfully, in the shadow of the famous rock formations known as the Flatirons, with the northern Front Range of the Rockies and the city landscape spread out before me.
"This is my favorite view in the world," said the friendly young woman before jogging off.
I could see why she said that. Tucked against the foothills of the Rockies, northwest of Denver, Boulder truly is a beautiful town. The Flatirons, jagged and imposing, dominate the view, and from Chautauqua Park, one of the lovelier city parks these eyes ever have beheld, you practically can walk right up to them.
The outdoors is what attracts many to Boulder, and there are far too many options to explore in one day. The Boulder Mountain Park, Flagstaff Mountain, the many hiking options up Boulder Canyon, Rocky Mountain National Park a short ways off - all make this town an outdoors mecca.
The area is a famous playground for rock climbers. Skiers and snowboarders can hit the slopes of Eldora Mountain Resort, 21 miles away.
In town, it seems like nobody drives. Bikes might outnumber cars here. It seemed like those who weren't on bikes were jogging. How can one town produce so many joggers?
I made my way back into town and stopped to check out Dushanbe Tea House, one of Boulder's more famous restaurants.
The outside was a fabulous garden, where people sipped teas beneath the golden fall leaves. Inside, art decorated the walls and people ate New Age-type food beneath a gloriously painted ceiling.
To try to sum up Boulder's dining scene in a few paragraphs does it no justice. Unique restaurants abound. On one block alone, I counted three sushi restaurants. Yes, there are chain restaurants, but I sort of got the feeling nobody cool eats at them.
It was all too much. I needed a beer.
Fortunately, Boulder is also one of the great beer towns of Colorado. I took the first option I saw, Walnut Brewery, one of more than 16 breweries in a town of 100,000.
I learned there were three more within a couple of blocks of me. But there was no time for that. Properly fortified with India pale ale, I moved on.
If you took Denver's 16th Street Mall and replaced all the people in suits with people in tie-dyes and the homeless with street musicians, you'd have Pearl Street.
A publication by downtown boosters calls it "the best dining, shopping and people watching in the west." Cars aren't allowed on several blocks of the stretch of shops, restaurants and taverns that runs for more than 15 blocks.
Journalistic duty required me to try something. So I went to the Bohemian Biergarten. While I was shocked to find no Colorado beers on tap, the selection of fine German beers was large and the currywurst plate was so heaping I was ready for a nap.
But duty called, and I had yet to see what brings most people to Boulder - the University of Colorado.
Many college campuses are pretty, but CU-Boulder has to be in a class of its own.
Higher than the rest of the town, which is why locals refer to that part of Boulder as "the hill," it has ponds, lovely trails and amazing architecture.
I kept waiting for the pot-smoking, beer-swilling counterculture types to emerge from the bushes, but these were normal kids, enjoying college and a beautiful, sunny day.
If I was wrong about them, what else was I wrong about? I returned to the hotel to rest up before heading out for Boulder's well-known night life.
Just because a hotel is near Pearl Street doesn't mean it's close to anything.
I walked. And walked. And walked.
As luck would have it, the first place I passed was a brewery - at least the first place that didn't look so expensive it would blow my per diem to get a glass of water.
Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery offered a grand selection of in-house beers and college-town fare. The pub accepts checks but not credit cards. And I don't think I have seen so many flannel shirts in one place since the first Lollapalooza tour.
It was there I noticed the flies.
A foothills town shouldn't be plagued with flies in the chill of October, but everywhere I went, they buzzed. Finally I asked at the hotel, and was told it's due to the floods.
Boulder Creek turned into a raging torrent when record rain fell in September, swamping a wide swath of downtown. I'm told the hotel and many restaurants had several feet of water.
There's little left to see of the damage now. The road through Boulder Canyon has reopened. The flies will die. Life goes on.
Life certainly was going on at the famous clubs and bars, such as The Sink and The Walrus, and plenty of people were out and about, laughing, drinking and reveling in youth and the joy of living exactly where they want to be, in a thriving town in a beautiful setting.
Maybe they're not so different from us in Colorado Springs after all.