22 August 2006

Trip report: Denver Mint and Berry Patch Farms, all in one morning

We hopped in the car this morning at 9:08 and zipped down to Denver. I puzzled over how carrying a six-year-old can really be considered carpooling but apparently is, so we did all our puzzling in the hov lane, which was open all the way to where we had to go. We got off I-25 at Speer South and drove to Colfax, where we found the Denver Mint. We found a parking lot nearby, waited with our friends (who had fortunately printed out the tour reservation number they had obtained beforehand), and we went on the tour. One of our group had checked the U.S. Mint's website the day before and had sent an e-mail with all the security information about what you are not allowed to bring on the tour. This saved us considerable time and grief: We all knew we had to come with just a tiny wallet (the size of a man's billfold at most) and no backpacks or purses or water bottles or anything extra. I carried only my glasses, keys, and a coin-purse, and we didn't have to dash and return anything to the car. Incidentally, I noticed that the website says no tours will be given if the Homeland Security Level is at Orange, but it is now Orange and tours seem to be proceeding as usual.

Our friend had reserved our ten slots on the tour well in advance; she thought of it in early July and between the advance notice the Mint required and the conflicts among four families' schedules, the earliest slot we could find for the tour was today.

But it's always fascinating to see the making of money. You get to see blanks going into stamp-and-die machines and coming out as pennies. They did one of the best things at the very beginning and handed each participant on the tour, adults and children alike, an uncirculated state quarter. If left sealed, they are relatively rare and valuable. We learned a little more about why on the hour-long tour, which was just interesting enough to keep the adults going, if a little over the younger kids' heads.

My friend and I later confirmed each other's memories of seeing sheets of uncut paper money on the tour back when we visited the Denver Mint as kids, even though I think I remember learning that it wasn't printed in Denver (San Francisco, I believe, was the place for that). I remember seeing more of the building on that tour, too. Today we had armed police officers watching our every move.

The tour is only an hour long and it's free. I'd say don't take kids under six and expect them to be thoroughly diverted unless they have a particular fascination with money or machining (or counterfei-- oh, never mind). But with a family or out-of-town visitors who allow you time to plan in advance, it can be a fun little diversion. I think a family or smaller group might often be able to queue up just before the hour and see if there are last-minute no-shows or openings, but larger groups would do well to plan ahead.)

So instead of the gallery hopping in Denver I had envisioned, we switched gears in a big way and drove out to a berry patch after the tour. It's pretty far out northeast of Denver, about a 25-30 minute drive from Speer and Colfax. We went north on I-25, east on I-76, and north on 85. After a few miles (a little past the E-470 junction) we turned east on 136th and almost missed the left on Potomac, whose street sign is hidden neatly behind a tree.

We made a u-turn and went north on Potomac to Berry Patch Farms, which turned out to be a beautiful site with shade trees and picnic tables, with chickens and turkeys roaming free and fields of ripe organic produce and flowers, some of which you are invited to pick yourself. We joined our friends for lunch at a picnic table. As usual, my daughter evinced both fascination and horror at the animals just roaming around. "The chicken is going in the parking lot! Is that okay, Mama?" And "That dog is touching me!" And twenty minutes later, "I petted it! I petted the dog!"

We ate our lunch quickly (we were on a schedule & had to be back in town by 1) and then got cardboard pint baskets from someone in a little shed and headed out to pick raspberries, which are at their peak now. I coached my daughter on finding the darkest berries, the ones that just slip off the ends of the vines. The farmers say the raspberries are at their peak this week.

You can also pick strawberries, cut flowers, pull carrots, and harvest other vegetables. Check it out, especially if you have more time than we did to stay and enjoy the picnicking -- and the picking and eating. Berry Patch encourages people to munch as they pick, a real treat in the raspberry patch. One of the kids picking near us kept saying, "It's raspberry heaven! Come over here for more raspberry heaven!"

And we got back just in time for my daughter's 1 pm camp. Phew!

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