When a group of visitors seek to get out of Denver for an afternoon, they decide to take a trip to see the Red Rocks Amphitheater. Their GPS leads them far off course, and they pass by a town that was once the site of a horrendous tragedy. Along the way to their destination they stumble upon a weapons manufacturing plant, are warned to watch for wild dogs, then finally look out over the desert from the fantastic view afforded by the Martianesque music venue.

Red Rocks Amphitheater: Lost in a Martian landscape

People must move to Denver because they enjoy having sand blasted in their eyes with regularity. They don’t make sunglasses big enough to keep out all of that sand. We were walking down Broadway in the steady April sun, trying to find a place to drink and work – arms held against the dust storm that was blinding us, sweat patches growing all around, me entirely wishing we were nearer to El Diablo where they have the inexpensive happy hour sangria – when someone brought up the idea of swimming. I became an instant proponent of this idea as I assumed that like a swarm of angry, eye stinging bees – sand could be escaped by immersion in water.

The problem with the idea was that there did not seem to be water deep enough for such immersion anywhere in proximity to the Denver metro area. There was a trickle of mud that people called the Colorado River running through the middle of the city. It was about three feet wide and you could watch ducks wade around trying to find a place to float. It’s as if they very idea of buoyancy had been stolen by Utah. (Note to non-US readers: there’s a big lake in Utah that’s so salty you could float an elephant that died from eating too many cement bricks. I’ve never been there though. I assume they don’t allow beer.)

Spending the afternoon floating on my back with the sand passing harmlessly over my horizontal alignment and beer reliably located on the beachside sounded like heaven, but when we consulted the internet it informed us that the nearest lakes were in the mountains, and that at that time of year they would be frozen. Another problem was the size of our group. I don’t remember how many of us were there but it felt like at least two dozen, and we only had two cars. We couldn’t go far, so someplace with a real river like Boulder was out of the question. But we knew that we had to go someplace where there would not be these sand filled wind tunnels that people from Denver call ‘streets’. A few ideas were floated, and amidst much dissent that left several parties feeling disenfranchised by the whole idea, we decided to drive out to see the Red Rocks Amphitheater.

We were all in town visiting a few friends who had just moved to Denver a few months earlier, so no one really knew where anything was located. Unfortunately our generation grew up at the cusp of the map-to-GPS transition, so we decided to trust somebody’s phone without consulting anything more concrete, then piled into the cars. One can’t be sure, but it felt like there were about eleven of us packed in the little sedan. I remember that in my car Nalin, who was living in Denver, was driving and that Zeth was riding co-pilot.

As we left the city, occasionally checking with the phone to correct our route, we passed through gently rolling desert landscape and watched prairie dogs emerge then disappear into the ground. It was a pleasant drive and we all made crude jokes and Nalin only brought up the fact that he was pretty sure that the amphitheater was in the other direction every once in a while. But the phone knows best, so we continued on our way. At some point we were rather surprised to find ourselves passing by Littleton, where the horrible Columbine incident had occurred so many years before. This was a topic of much discussion – where were you, how many bodies did you see on the news, and all of that. Then we got a real surprise.

We were beginning to lose faith in the machine. One of the other cars had called wondering where we were as they had arrived at Red Rocks half an hour earlier. So we began fiddling with the phone, which caused only more confusion. Zeth watched the screen and looked up at the road occasionally and finally indicated that he thought that we needed to take a little turn off up ahead.

All of the sudden we were going toward barbed-wired topped fences and there was a sign that said to HAVE IDENTIFICATION READY and a lot of men with machine guns. Someone asked if we were crossing some kind of border or something and Zeth said, “No, we’re at Lockheed Martin,” and pointed at a sign.

Nalin let out a, “Nooope,” and cranked us around for a U-turn. As we sped off from the weapons manufacturing plant we discussed its nearness to Littleton. We were all feeling very profound and very lost. Eventually, probably after shaking it upside down like an Etch-a-Sketch, we got the phone to point us in the right direction.

Thirty minutes later or so we were driving up the hill that led to the amphitheater. The surrounding landscape was fantastic, Martian, with red towers of stone jutting toward the sky like chthonic Towers of Babel. Someone pointed out a sign along the rode in the scrub brush that warned to Watch for Packs of Dogs. We parked at the top and finally emerged from the car.

The amphitheater was decently magnificent. Rows of bench seats overlooked a view of the desert. Red pillars of rock bookshelved everything in. Runners were darting up and down the benches. We stood at the top and watched the view for a while, then elected to wander off into the fringes to find a suitable place to drink beer and relax. We followed a path that wrapped around one of the massive rocks and settled in. Climbers who were ignoring the Stay Off the Rocks signs could be seen high on their sides. It is an undeniably pleasant vantage from which to view the surrounding desert, and I can only imagine that a concert there would be fantastic.

Eventually we ran out of beer and were starting to miss having sand driven into our eyes and mouths, so we loaded back into the cars for the ride home, which was much shorter than the GPS-guided ride out had been. As we pulled into town, a flurry of phone calls concluded in my earlier preference. We went to El Diablo for Sangria and tacos. Delicious (and cheap) sangria, equally excellent and reasonably priced tacos. The restaurant’s patio is off the main street, so there is minimal sand blasting. I recommend it highly.

Have you seen a show at Red Rocks? Or have you had your eyes ravaged by Denver’s sand or tried El Diablos’ sangria? Share your story below. I’d like to find out if there’s swimming to be found in Denver.


  1. Mylene says

    “there’s a big lake in Utah that’s so salty you could float an elephant that died from eating too many cement bricks.” Haha I laughed out loud at this image. It’s carved in my brain now.

    Anyway, WOW. That’s definitely a landscape that seems out of this world! I could definitely picture it as a shooting location for a sci-fi movie or TV show.

    I feel like doing a road trip through the US in the years to come – do you feel this should be a place where I should stop?

    • says

      I’m glad you like the article! You can read more of my work on this site and as well as my own website.

      Denver is a place with neighborhoods I really like, and others that I don’t like so much. It does have a lot of interesting history. The region around Denver is undeniably beautiful. I would definitely recommend swinging through that way if you end up in the area.

  2. Mark Alba says

    That is one funny story of how you ended up at the red rocks amphitheatre in Colorado. I never even heard of it before today and now it’s on my short list of places that I would love to visit someday.

    The trip there sounds like one that I made out of Vegas one year. I was aiming for Area 51 but ended up in Death Valley. It was a good road trip up until the armored Hummer with a top mounted machine gun started following me around when I finally did locate the approximate area where the air force base was.

    What kind of shows do they actually hold at the Red Rocks Amphitheater? Are they plays or music? Anyone famous ever play there?

    • says

      I’m glad you enjoyed the story! Feel free to check out more of my work on my website

      Red Rocks is a music venue that often hosts some of the biggest names in music. It is also a notorious hippie gathering spot.

  3. Ang says

    I chuckled reading this; traveling is always an adventure. My time in Denver was short and thankfully I missed out on the sand. I was impressed by the cleanliness of the downtown area. Honestly, I want to retrace your steps just to have as much fun as you and your friends did on this trip.

    I enjoyed Denver and have decided to make it my summer get-away. Now that I know about this amphitheater, I will be sure to visit there.


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