Thursday, October 09, 2008

Day 3: Downtown Denver

First stop of the day (after the rock selection in front of the hotel) was Hammond's Candies, a local manufacturer of mostly hard candies and lollipops. Liza was relatively well-behaved until she caught sight of the five-pound lolly on display, and she heard there was a gift store ... it was all downhill from there. She wasn't so bad, though, that she didn't bring home a souvenir.
She bugged us for three days straight to eat this thing, which I declared off-limits until the plane ride home. On the way out we tried using lollipops instead of water to help her pop her ears, in hopes that it would lead to fewer bathroom trips on the plane. It did, but we ended up with a kid who was pretty much vibrating by the time we got to Denver, so I wasn't sure I wanted to try it again on the way home. I needn't have worried, though - she's forgotten all about the giant lollipop that is now safely stashed in the back of one kitchen cupboard, ostensibly waiting to make an appearance in her Christmas stocking.
Our next stop was the inventively named Downtown Aquarium, which we had to visit based solely on the irony factor.

Yes, the aquarium is run by a company that specializes in seafood restaurants. We made all the obligatory comments about "you'd better behave, fish, or you'll be lunch," and how the signs identifying the exhibits should suggest wine pairings to go with each species.

Snide remarks aside, it was a nice aquarium. Yes, it's unabashedly commercial, and it's not huge, but it's still got some really nice exhibits, things I haven't seen anywhere else. Liza's favorite activity was petting the rays (yawn), and my favorite exhibit was this weird unidentified fish that used the front spines from its fins to walk along the bottom of the tank like a lobster.

It was seriously freaky, and if anyone can identify the species or common name for me, I'd be much obliged - this exhibit wasn't labeled very well.

We entered the aquarium at the same time as another family whose son was about Liza's age, and she immediately decided he was her best friend in the whole world. They palled around together for most of the visit - Jason and I joked around that we should share itineraries with that family for the rest of the trip so we could capitalize on this again, since we didn't have to do squat to entertain either preschooler for most of the visit.

One thing that Liza started doing here was asking Jason what things were called, and if he didn't know, she'd say, "Let's ask my mom. She knows." It's nice that she has such confidence in my taxonomy skills ... and I wasn't even tempted to make up answers just to reinforce the belief. Well, not that often, at least.

We had lunch at the aquarium, where the restaurant fronts onto a special tank and they schedule the fish feedings to occur at lunch and dinnertime. I can highly recommend their fish tacos - very refreshing! And suspiciously fresh ... hmm ...

Later that day we drove to Cherry Creek State Park, which centers around a reservoir on the outskirts of Denver. Our luck with the weather was holding that day, and it was probably 80 degrees and sunny when we got there in the late afternoon. We hadn't planned on this stop, so none of us had swimsuits or towels with us, but that didn't stop certain people from splashing around ... then going skinny-dipping.

The swimming beach had the oddest consistency of sand. It was sand on the top couple of inches, but underneath and interspersed with it was some kind of fine silty soil, so the sand packed really tightly and held together much better than you'd expect. There was a huge sandpile next to the playground, and the top layer was so hard the kids had to use shovels to break through - fingers weren't doing them any good. And someone had dug big holes in the side of the hill - caves, almost, and they weren't collapsing, even when you walked near them. Odd.

That didn't stop Liza from making friends with the little girl who had thought to bring sand toys, though, or the two other kids who showed up around dinner time.

Once we managed to pry Liza away from her newest best friends, we went to Thai Pepper 2 for dinner. When we started the trip, we decided to avoid fast food and national chain restaurants as much as we could, so it was fate when we happened to drive past this storefront in a stripmall by the park. This was easily the best meal we had the entire week - everything was achingly fresh and perfectly seasoned, the portions were huge (we both had sufficient leftovers to use as dinner later in the week), and the servers were very friendly and accommodating. They were happy to prepare a special unsauced version of a dish for Liza, and they patiently listened to her 20-minute monologue about what she had done that day and how awesome her red shoes were. It probably helped that we were the only customers at the time, but still - they rocked!

Know what also rocked? The big fish at the aquarium that you couldn't see behind the kids in the earlier photo, so here it is with just one kid for scale:


mlf said...

According to the senior aquarist at the Dallas Aquarium, the fish is mostly likely a Prionotus evolans, a striped sea robin. The spines on the fins are used to stir up the bottom in order to reveal prey.

It is common to catch a sea robin while fishing from Cape May.

Gretchen said...

See, this is why I throw questions like these out to the experts.

I'm game to say it's definitely a sea robin, and with 114 different types out there, I'll go with the aquarist and says it's an evolans.

According to Wikipedia (which is, after all, entirely factual and completely error-free ;), it's actually the pelvic fins that make the fish "walk," while the spines are used for chemoreception.

If the one I saw was supposed to be stirring up the bottom, he was doing a lousy job of it, since the spines were picking their way fastidiously across the top of the aquarium gravel. Of course, since he's in an aquarium, there ISN'T any prey beneath the surface, so maybe he knows that and is saving his energy.

And it's still remarkably freaky looking to see the sucker walking, however he manages it.