Various scenes of classic Christmas movies are on display at the I Love Christmas Movies pop-up experience, the main attraction for Christmas At Gaylord Rockies.
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

The new coronavirus vaccines cometh, but the holidays will get here first.

Despite excellent news from three vaccine makers recently, that all three are effective and oh-so-close to being produced and distributed, it will be our usual pandemic life well after the new year’s resolutions are broken.

Fear not, even after the kids get out of the schools — they can’t go to right now — for the holidays, and the relatives that drive you crazy don’t even show, there’s plenty to distract you and yours throughout the weirdest holidays in recent memory.

Here are a few timely suggestions in the region that can make the rest of the journey to 2021 actually fun.

Netflix Rec: Virgin River

There is something so oddly satisfying about the cheesy holiday Hallmark movie that has become ubiquitous with the season. The predictable plot formulas are so beyond soothing that my best friend and I have taken to coming up with our own storylines whenever we’re together.  Our most recent involves a ski resort getaway for a big city executive who just broke up with her fiancé. When she gets to the slopes the exec finds love again, but this time it’s charming, trimmed in plaid and the owner of the resort that’s operating in the red. Luckily, our main character has big business experience, so she saves the entire resort from bankruptcy (and falls deeply in love) before the end of her long weekend. 

But it’s 2020. So not just any Hallmark-esque plot will do. We need something a little grittier, a little more real life. Enter: Netflix’s Virgin River, which carries the vibe of our favorite Hallmark movies (Mel leaves Los Angeles for Virgin River to work as a physician’s assistant, which proves to be more drama than she was hoping for. While she’s sworn off love, she can’t resist Jack, who owns the town’s bar and restaurant), but the show is also laced with secrets, dark pasts and problems Hallmark characters could never dream of (PTSD, thieving employees, an abandoned baby!) 

Virgin River is everything we love about the cheesy love stories, but with that extra something that draws you in and keeps you hooked. It doesn’t have a holiday bend, but the formula is close enough to hit the spot. A season one binge session easily fills a lazy Saturday. You’ll feel better for having watched it all in one day. 

Season two of the show starts streaming on Netflix on Nov. 27.

— KARA MASON, STAFF WRITER

(Phil Mansfield/The Culinary Institute of America via AP)

Perfect a Cocktail 

The first wave of the pandemic came with lots and lots of sourdough. So much bread was made. But this time, as we inch past a real nail-biter of an election and the cold weather keeps us from enjoying patio meals (the real one thing we had this year), I think we require a new kitchen creation. Our vote? A cocktail. Any cocktail, although there is something about a whiskey drink that seems to hit the spot these days. Just like the perfect loaf, you need some time to get a cocktail right. Several tries. Each time adding or subtracting to find that perfect blend. Try an orange peel, another drop of bitters, maybe a little bit of ginger ale? We’ve got nothing but time between now and the vaccine. Show your favorite neighborhood liquor store a little love and pick up all the supplies there. Let them in on what you’re up to, employees of liquor stores always seem to have some great recommendation or something special stashed in the back. Win-win (if there ever was such a thing this year). 

— KARA MASON, Staff Writer 

Attend a Virtual Talk

An unexpected thing I’ve missed this year has been educational events. I love book talks, even if I never plan on reading the book. I like expert panels. I really could sit for hours on end and listen to people talking about their passions. Nothing quite matches the in-person energy of these events, but they are easier to make up virtually than other things we’ve lost this year. An added bonus is that I’ve found myself “attending” events I might not have found the time for in the past.

While Denver’s Museum of Contemporary Art is temporarily closed to comply with state pandemic restrictions, the institution is still doing its part to bring patrons conversation starters. On Dec. 2, Alan Michelson — an artist, writer, lecturer and Mohawk member of the Six Nations of the Grand River — and Jolene Rickard — an artist and visual historian whose focus is art history and Indigenous studies — delve into the Indian Citizenship Act and its aim to assimilate natives to white American culture. The duo is slated to speak on native sovereignty, citizenship and civil rights. The talk is centered around the MCA’s exhibit “Citizenship: A Practice of Society.” Other virtual events are happening throughout the remainder of the year.

The event is free, and will take place 5 p.m. Dec. 3. To reserve your ticket, visit www.mcadenver.org 

— KARA MASON, Staff Writer

Blossoms of light at Denver Botanic Gardens

4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily through January. The Denver Botanic Gardens York Street location, 1007 York St., Denver. Tickets are $21 for non-member adults and $18 for non-member children. Visit botanicgardens.org for additional ticket information.

Though it’ll surely look a bit different this year, there’s something about seeing the Denver Botanic Gardens all dolled up during the winter months. One of the region’s primary cultural institutions will once again become bedecked with lights this season for the Garden’s annual “Blossoms of Light” event. The grounds will be festooned with various illuminated trickery, with treats and warm drinks available to nosh and sip while you take in the wonder of it all. Of course, masks are required and capacity will be limited, so be sure to snap up your tickets soon. The event is set to run through Jan. 16.

— QUINCY SNOWDON, Staff Writer

Buy Microspikes and Hike 

It’s no secret that the secret’s out. Denver’s mythical 300+ days of sun (or is it 500?) has attracted transplants like a stream of ants hauling in their ski and snowboard gear for the winter. But this year, as the pandemic rages, many Aurorans aren’t opting to buy a ski pass for the first time in years. And no, they will not be risking life and limb to shred avalanche-prone blower pow in the backcountry without the proper experience. 

Thankfully, the Front Range’s immediate foothills stay dry for much of the year, and when they’re not, trails are usually packed with ice or shallow snow. It’s hard hiking slick, mountain trails with your tennis shoes on, but real heads will know there’s a solution. (And they won’t be happy with our sharing it.) Behold “microspikes,” which attach to the bottom of your boot and implant little, metal spikes into the crust when you plant your foot. Instead of crawling on all fours to the summit of Boulder’s Bear Peak or Golden’s Mt. Morrison, you can now stride confidently to the top. Ah, who are we kidding; you’ll be gassed if you can make it to the top of either, and if you don’t know about microspikes already, you weren’t planning on summiting either this winter. For your first go with ‘em on, we recommend the mellow slopes of Centennial Cone Park outside of Golden. 

-GRANT STRINGER, Staff Writer 

A user in the experience. Photo by Emmanuel Lubezki

Carne y Arena (Virtually present, physically invisible)

Daily at Stanley Marketplace through January. 2501 Dallas St. Tickets are $35 and can be purchased at denvercenter.org.

So get this: Oscar-winning director Alejandro G. Iñárritu — yes, the same dude who brought you “Birdman” — is staging a virtual reality exhibition focusing on refugees right here in north Aurora. For us old-timers, it’s rather mind-bending that an exhibit that debuted at the gosh darn Cannes Film Festival is setting up shop in Bob Stanley’s once derelict airplane hangar. The show is intended to muddy the lines between subjects and bystanders, immersing participants into the narrative centered on the stories of Central and Mexican-American refugees. The show is expected to be up through early 2021.

— QUINCY SNOWDON, Staff Writer

Making Merry: Greatest Hits from Stories on Stage

Stories on Stage is holding a virtual performance of Making Merry — Greatest Hits, featuring retellings of classic holiday stories and music for its 20th anniversary holiday celebration. The event is at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 13. Tickets cost $15 and can be purchased at storiesonstage.org.

-CARINA JULIG, Staff Writer

Catan Universe

Earlier this month, Colorado officials were infamously blaming “game nights” and “get-togethers” for worsening conditions in our interminable pandemic. There’s probably some truth to that, but as a hardened millennial, this Sentinel hack knows nothing takes the edge off like nerding out with friends over drinks and some board games — and new ones seem to debut every week. However, the geniuses behind Settlers of Catan quickly adapted to our dystopian existence this spring with the launch of “Catan Universe,” an online platform for the hit strategy-based board game. It’s the same as before; you’re still tasked with locking down prime territory to quickly dominate the fictional land (Catan) with your roads, villages and cities. The only difference is that you’ll be staring at a computer screen while your friends jeer over the phone, not in-person, which actually has its advantages. Click over to catan.org to download the game for free. And remember, people: it’s all about ports. 

-GRANT STRINGER, Staff Writer 

Live Stream ApocaLips Comedy Show

7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays through the end of the year. Online. Search for the event on Facebook or EventBrite for additional information. Ticket entry, which comes with a proprietary Zoom link, is $10 or $25 for a VIP ticket. Email [email protected] with questions.

The proudest son of Illinois sure had a way with words. And one of ol’ Abe’s lasting witticisms is particularly fitting for these seemingly perpetual times of pestilence. The phrase: “I laugh because I must not cry,” should be erected on every billboard from hither to thither, as it may be the only way we make it through these dark — as in there is such little daylight these days — and gloomy times. Enter the ApocaLips Comedy Show, a digital staging of funny women and men to help balm those mental wounds that scar and reopen every time you open Twitter and consider sending your first fleet. (Hint: Don’t do that.) Hosted by pros Mike Langworthy and Chuck Roy, the show features a smattering of talent from across the region. And better yet: 10% of the proceeds go to efforts aimed to connect siblings separated by the foster care system. So laugh for a good cause this Sunday, because it sure as hell beats crying. Usually. 

— QUINCY SNOWDON, Staff Writer

Live Stream Gorillaz Global Tour 

9 p.m. MT time Saturday, Dec. 12th. Tickets at $15. Visit www.live-now.com to snag a ticket. 

The cartoon characters who brought the world “Feel Good Inc.” in 2005 are coming back to Denver in a live-streamed show that actually lends to the musical act’s medium, which has long employed virtual reality optics instead stuffy light shows. The so-called virtual world tour will be Gorillaz’ first since 2018 when the outfit visited Red Rocks, among other locales. 

For those who missed “Kids with Guns,” “Clint Eastwood” and “On Melancholy Hill” from the British electro-pop group, you’ll be sure to hear those and a slew of other hits that Saturday. We’d wager, however, that they won’t be playing “Fire Coming out of the Monkey’s Head.” Then again, this year has brought its fair share of unexpected events. Visit Live Now’s website to get a ticket and party in your living room. Hopefully you don’t have downstairs neighbors. 

-GRANT STRINGER, Staff Writer

Wings Over the Rockies

If you wish you could soar away from COVID-19 sometimes the Wings Over the Rockies museum has your back. The museum featuring all things aviation is still open with extra cleaning and sanitation, and a limited number of people allowed in the museum at a time. Guests must purchase tickets in advance at wingsmuseum.org.

-CARINA JULIG, Staff Writer

The Pond at Southlands

Operating daily throughout the winter. Rink opens at 11 a.m. on weekends. 6155 S. Main Street. Entry is $12. Visit the Southlands Facebook page to sign the waiver before attending. 

Well, here we are again folks. That time of year when it gets dark before we start making dinner, the Hallmark channel storms into its prime and people glide over frozen water outside. Southlands’ skating rink opened up to the masses this month, and it’s set to operate all winter long. Whether you’re bumbling around during your first excursion on skates, or spinning tastefully like University of Denver alumnus Michelle Kwan, Southlands has you covered, South Aurora. Capacities may be capped to adhere to local social distancing guidelines. Call 303-928-7536 or email [email protected] to inquire about additional information and possible group rates.  

— QUINCY SNOWDON, Staff Writer

Dillon Ice Castles

Debuting sometime in late December. Tickets start at $18. See icecastles.com/colorado for more information. 

Near the end of December, Denverites will still be able to flock to Dillon for a time-honored tradition. No, it’s not the lighting of the Whoville Christmas tree, but it’s close. The annual Ice Castles attraction is still planned for an opening near Christmas Day, when families will be able to peruse the tens of thousands of icicles, sculptures and towers lit spectacularly in LEDs. Event planners swear the event will be social-distanced and that it’ll be safe to dive down that ice slide without danger of catching the ‘rona. After all, it is outdoors. As before, don’t lick an icicle.  Make sure to bundle up and buy a ticket in advance before driving all the way up there.  

-GRANT STRINGER, Staff Writer

Christkindl Market

Downtown Denver’s Christkindl Market at Civic Center Park is open again for all your Christmas shopping and mulled wine needs. The annual event brings European holiday traditions to Denver, with food and crafts on sale from local and international artisans. Due to COVID-19, capacity in the market will be limited and all visitors must fill out a form for contact tracing purposes. Admission is free but there are no advance reservations, so to beat the lines consider going earlier in the day or during the week. Due to health restrictions, alcohol will stop being served at 8 p.m.

-CARINA JULIG, Staff Writer

Stream movies from Aspen Films

If American political malfeasance is getting you down, you can take your mind off it with a new independent film from Romania, now available for streaming through Aspen Film. Collective is a documentary following reporters at the Sports Gazette as they search for answers about the aftermath of a deadly nightclub fire in Bucharest and the government’s failed response. If you want something lighter, on Nov. 27 documentary Zappa about music legend Frank Zappa becomes available for streaming, featuring archival footage and interviews with Zappa’s family and colleagues. Movies about Ruth Bader Ginsberg, John Lewis and Jimmy Carter are also available for streaming. Purchase tickets at aspenfilm.org.

-CARINA JULIG, Staff Writer

Close to home, a pandemic roam

The road between Sedalia and Woodland Park has more American flags than anywhere outside of the D.C. beltway. It’s reasonable, especially considering that if the rest of America looked like the two-lane 50-mile stretch of perfection in the middle of Colorado, I’d drape everything I own in the Stars and Stripes too.

However, the rest of America doesn’t look this way, and that’s what makes this road so special. Unassuming and alarmingly close to the metro area (the best place to pick up Highway 67 is in Sedalia, 20 minutes from Aurora) the road between two dramatically different Colorado towns is among the most diverse and picturesque. Anglers know the road well, the highway crisscrosses the Platte River several times and fishermen inhabit the cabins and lots off of the highway to fish the Platte from early Saturday morning to Sunday evening.

But the road itself is my treasure for wandering out of the metro area and beyond the hill toward Castle Rock. Sedalia, a town of just over 200 people, is a small stop on the way around the mountains toward Colorado Springs, but it’s worth visiting nonetheless.

Cherokee Ranch and Castle may be the biggest draw for the small town, and the Scottish-style castle overlooking the town makes the 10-minute drive from Sedalia worth the jaunt out of town. Cherokee Ranch looks sharply out of place; its architecture looks like it predates Christopher Columbus. The ranch is certainly not that old, but it is old enough to have one of the largest tracts of open acreage near the metro area. It’s alarming and stunning to see an estate that stretches as far as eyes can see — the 3,000 acres run right up to the nearby Rampart mountain range.

Sedalia is a sleepy small town, mostly missing any kitsch or manufactured charm of a small Colorado town desperately trying to draw visitors and weekend money. Still open to those with a mask on.

To be sure, there’s an ol’ timey General Store and a handful of antique stores dropped into the town’s small streets, but for the most part, Sedalia is about everyday people, doing everyday things. 

A turn south from U.S. 85, the road winds quickly out of Sedalia and into the Rampart range toward Pike National Forest.

About one quarter of the way from Sedalia to the town of Deckers, civilization fades into the distance. One third of the way, stress goes away, and by the time you’ve hit the three-mile dirt stretch of Highway 67, Monday is too far in the future to worry about.

This time of year, the snow is as rare as the bears.

(Oh yeah, Highway 67 becomes a dirt road for about three miles inside the national forest, which by any measure is pretty great.)

There aren’t many attractions on the way from Sedalia to Deckers, but plenty places to stop and get out of the car while you’re out of town and your house.

Church youth groups and camps make their summer homes along the way here and for good reason: between hiking, fishing, walking and birding, there’s plenty to do and see only 45 minutes from the metro area.

Painfully dull when you’re 12 years old, we all remember, but Valhalla when we’re tied to our pandemic home desks in December.

The going is literally and figuratively slow between Sedalia and Deckers. There are plenty of places to stop and enjoy nature or a picnic lunch, but the speed limit is also 25 miles per hour in many spots. The road is fairly narrow — dirt in some places — and nearly winds through many people’s backyards. Cabins, summer homes and escapes all line the Platte River because those buyers found this place first.

Just 25 miles from our journey’s beginning, Deckers comes up suddenly. To be fair, Deckers is a restaurant, general store and patio. The fork in the road offers two directions from where we come in. The road left goes toward Colorado Springs, the road right goes somewhere into legend — then hits Bailey.

Bikers line their motorcycles near the road and families take pictures in the parking lot in front of the store, here. If you’re willing to walk five minutes, it quickly becomes apparent why Deckers exists: the streams here look lifted straight from Montana’s Bitterroot Valley, of “A River Runs Through It” fame. They trickle but run this time of year.

From Deckers to Woodland Park is another 25 miles. Motorcycles echo on nice fall days between the mountain walls out of Deckers traveling south. For the most part, the anglers have given way to campers, and the road south is full of people looking to set up lawn chairs and park for a weekend out of Colorado Springs. The views here, in rolling hills and heavily forested areas is dramatic and stark. Even now, years after a catastrophic wildfire swept through the area, entire hills still look charred and barren.

The American flags are strangely missing between Deckers and Woodland Park, which is not to say that the people aren’t proud of where they live, rather underscores how dramatically different the first half of the trip is from the second half. The road toward Woodland Park is faster, paved, and open for more lanes of travel. There are organized campgrounds instead of pull-off areas, and the views of rivers and wildflowers give way to sneaks of Pikes Peak in the distance.

Woodland Park, which proudly proclaims itself as the “Town Above The Clouds” at roughly 9,000 feet, is equal parts tourist trap and suburb of Colorado Springs. The town of a few thousand has a bigger main street, antler archways and T-shirts with the town’s name on it — Sedalia is the ultimate contradistinction — but is all the same entertaining. 

Like elsewhere in the state, the beers are to-go right now. Sit in the sun or save the beer for later. After all, you’re only 90 minutes away on the interstate.

— The Sentinel

WeeCycle holiday gift drive

The coronavirus pandemic has been financially devastating for many families, with the virus and its economic consequences throwing many families’ financial situation into jeopardy. To help ease the strain over the holidays, Colorado nonprofit WeeCycle will be holding a series of events across Denver allowing parents in need to shop for free and gently used toys. All donated toys will be sanitized and held for at least a week before being distributed. Dates for the pop-up shopping events will be announced on the organization’s Facebook page at facebook.com/weecycle.colorado.

-CARINA JULIG, Staff Writer

Various scenes of classic Christmas movies are on display at the I Love Christmas Movies pop-up experience, the main attraction for Christmas At Gaylord Rockies.
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

Christmas Movie expo at the Gaylord Rockies Hotel and Convention Center

Time slots begin at 4 p.m. daily, The Gaylord Rockies Hotel and Convention Center, 6700 N. Gaylord Rockies Blvd. Tickets are $14 for children and $25 for adults. Visit tickets.gaylordrockies.com for more information. 

If this time of year comes with the requisite warning of “you’ll shoot your eye out,” then boy do we have the exhibit for you. Eastern Aurora’s megalopolis known at the Gaylord Rockies Hotel and Convention Center is staging a real-life walk down memory lane this Christmas season — so long as residents don’t muck it up further by, you know, giving each other exponential cases of COVID-19 — with a staging of 13 iconic Christmas exhibits dedicated to the bona fide Clause canon. Replicas of film props, audio clips and other themed tchotchkes will line the individual stalls designed with a nod to the likes of “A Christmas Story,” “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” “Elf” and nearly a dozen more. So grab your bowl of spaghetti coated with maple syrup, because it’s Christmas time, people. And if you want the full Gaylord experience, the hotelier is also featuring a slew of other events that can be combined for additional cost with the movie tour, like a skating rink, bumper cars, snow tubing and pictures with Santa. Visit the Gaylord website for additional information.

— QUINCY SNOWDON, Staff Writer

Black Nativity

The Aurora Fox was slated to host it’s run of The Music of Black Nativity this winter, but due to the increasing COVID-19 restrictions placed on the county limiting indoor gatherings, it was canceled. Instead, the Fox will be streaming performances live seven days a week Dec. 3 through 23. Based on the work of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston

Hughes, the concert features gospel, jazz, blues and funk music celebrating the nativity — an unconventional Christmas celebration for an unconventional year. Tickets go on sale Dec. 3 at aurorafoxartscenter.org.

-CARINA JULIG, Staff Writer 

Christmas in Color drive-thru light show

Now that we’ve entered into the depressingly early dark nights of winter, there’s nothing that can boost spirits quite like a Christmas lights display, and Christmas in Color has gone all-out with two drive-thru light shows in the Denver metro area at the Bandimere Speedway and Water World. The millions of lights are synchronized to holiday music that you can hear through your car radio for epilepsy-inducing Christmas spirit. The displays are open every day from 5:30 to 10 p.m. except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Tickets cost $30 per vehicle and are for half-hour time slots. Purchase online at christmasincolor.net.

-CARINA JULIG, Staff Writer 

L’Espirit de Noel home holiday tour

The Central City Opera is holding its annual holiday home tour of the historic Fisher Mansion in Denver, but as with many things this season it will be held virtually rather than in person. Appreciate the gorgeous interior decoration and landscape design of the mansion for free and from the comfort of your own home. The downside of this format is it will make you feel deeply inadequate, as you survey the mansion’s picture perfect holiday decorations from your shabby apartment. Did you even bother to make your bed today, you slob? The tour is available Nov. 20 through Dec. 25. In lieu of tickets, attendees are invited to donate to Central City Opera at centralcityopera.org.

-CARINA JULIG, Staff Writer

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