A Mile High Christmas

December 09, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

The first installment of 2021's Christmas Project is in the books (and yes, there was a winner - Jim from Maine was the first to correctly guess where I was shooting last week). If you wondered about the hints in the previous post: the falcon to the south was a reference to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, and 1,760 yards is equivalent to 5,280 feet which is equivalent to one mile. You know, the Mile High City!

With daytime temperatures topping out in the mid-70s it felt more like Spring Break than Jingle Bells, but I'm happy to report there was no shortage of holiday spirit.

Downtown Denver has been in my back pocket as a potential Christmas Project location for quite a while. While there are fewer holiday scenes there than you'll find in a huge metropolis like New York, Denver's size is an advantage in that it's more manageable. And - importantly - it delivered. Its city sidewalks are most definitely dressed in holiday style.

Have a look!

First stop is the Colorado State Capitol - in spite of the fact that it apparently didn't get the "holiday illumination" memo. The huge conifers on the grounds are just begging for strings of lights (at least I think they are). Still, deciduous trees in nearby Civic Center Park are lit, so along with the Christkindl Market lights there's enough there to create holiday compositions featuring the landmark building. 

A Capitol ChristmasA Capitol ChristmasColorado State Capitol (Denver, Colorado) Perhaps the Capitol opts for the understated look because the nearby City and County Building goes completely wild with festive, flamboyant abandon. Yin and yang.

Initially I was a little frustrated with the C & C Building; it remains unlit until well after sunset. Strike one. And though I was told by park district personnel that its holiday lights stay on overnight, that wasn't quite accurate. (Okay, it was wildly inaccurate. The switch flips off around 11pm.) Strike two.

Without dawn and dusk shooting opportunities you're left with a sky completely devoid of color: a little bland for my taste.

In spite of the black sky situation, though, the building more than redeemed itself; it's the star of two spectacular choreographed light and music shows each evening. Between shows and following the final one, the lights revert to a static display - also bold and brilliant (pictured below). You can't be anywhere in the vicinity and fail to notice this!

Glad TidingsGlad TidingsThe neoclassical City and County Building (1932) dressed for the holiday season (Denver, Colorado) From the Civic Center we continue to the 16th Street pedestrian mall - where deciduous trees lining its entire length are wrapped in white lights. There are potential photographs all along the route; it's just a matter of what strikes your fancy. 

It might be a colorful sunrise...

Dressed in Holiday StyleDressed in Holiday Style16th Street Mall (Denver, Colorado) ...or the Daniels & Fisher Tower dressed in its holiday finery.

A Merry Little ChristmasA Merry Little ChristmasStroll down the street to the Daniels & Fisher Tower (1910), lit in Christmas colors
(Denver, Colorado)
By the way, the mall looks a little bit like a ghost town, doesn't it? I like to work on holiday shoots very early in morning when the sky is just beginning to develop some color and the streets are nearly deserted (there may be some pedestrians but at this time of day it's not tourist traffic so they don't linger). This allows for maximum flexibility and also creates a tranquil kind of vibe.

You just need to make sure the lights remain on overnight. Most of the time they do - but there are always exceptions, even in the biggest cities. Wasn't I just grumbling about the state of affairs over at the Denver City and County Building? :) 

Next up at the intersection of 16th and Welton Street is the Mile High Tree. I included this art installation on the shot list even though I thought it might be a little on the kitschy side.

Au contraire!

It is most definitely large: 110-feet tall and 39-feet in diameter. Its 60,000 lights are continuously lit - but each evening it transforms into a real spectacle with a fantastic pixel-generated light-and-music show from 5pm-10pm. The pièce de résistance is viewing the show from inside the tree. Walk in, lay down on the ground, look up - and you will be transfixed. The vibrant lights are in constant motion and absolutely mesmerizing. At one point it felt like I was on the bridge of the starship Enterprise just as it was accelerating to warp speed. Seriously!

The static display:

LoftyLoftyAt 60,000 lights, 110 feet tall and 39 feet in diameter, the Mile High Tree is a show stopper. Each evening during the holiday season a spectacular pixel-generated light show is presented (the best viewing is from inside the tree). Overnight, the tree reverts to static blue lights.
(Denver, Colorado)
The show from the inside:

Travel roughly ten blocks further down the Mall and you'll arrive at Union Station. The front of the building features an illuminated show each evening along with a lighted Christmas tree and other decorations on the grounds, but I was more interested in what was going on out back.

All AboardAll AboardUnion Station Terminal (1914) and Train Hall (2014 - designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill)
Denver, Colorado
The juxtaposition of the ultra-modern train hall and historic terminal building is striking. Bright Christmas colors add an exclamation point to the scene.

A short car ride away from the business district the Denver Botanic Gardens also get into the holiday spirit with the annual Blossoms of Light display. The garden is compact - only 24 acres - but they've managed to light just about every square inch of it. Stunning. 

AfloatAfloatBlossoms of Light Holiday Display at the Denver Botanic Gardens (Denver, Colorado)

There's more, of course: garland, wreaths, twinkling lights, a lovely Christmas tree and a massive 25-foot holiday chandelier - all adorning the atrium of the Brown Palace Hotel, illuminations along Arapahoe Street, the beautiful tree and many yards of roping inside Union Station's Terminal, the winter wonderland inside Maggiano's...

You get the idea. "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go."

Deck the halls, Denver! Well done.


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