Thesis: The Tail of Two Cities


Image obtained from The Golden Hotel


     It’s been twenty two years since I’ve lived in a regular single family home (with the 2 yr. exception in Germany) amongst neighbors who weren’t active U.S. military members. During those years, I’ve had the privilege to live in different countries throughout the world from Europe, Asia, Saudi Arabia, Australia and many places in the U.S. to include Alaska. During most of that time, I lived in base housing on an Air Force base where the residences were either single family homes or quad town-homes near an active air field and other aerospace support facilities. It was almost like living in a big city that was built around an airport. This city (Air Base) had all the modern conveniences of a regular city; grocery store, recreation facility, hospital, gas stations, shopping center, movie theater, a gym with bowling, pools, a mini golf course and small restaurants. So after retiring from the Air Force in 2011, I wanted to live in an area that had cultural activities as well as recreational without having to live in a big city. I chose the Golden & Applewood Mesa because it was nestled in the Colorado Foothills and had a nice historic small town feel, only minutes away from the cultural activities of down town Denver without feeling like I was living near a major city and practically a stone’s throw from recreational activities right down the streets. Within Golden, there’s an unincorporated city called Applewood Mesa which is close to hiking trails in and around South Table Mountain and along Clear Creek River, not to mention the many parks and two golf courses within walking distance from my home. I bought a house in Applewood because it was unlike many neighborhoods and communities I’ve seen which tend to be cookie-cutters now-a-days. The neighborhood here is laced with individual style homes, thick of mature trees and with a crick running through the middle of it all.

      When I moved into an area, I like to learn its history and to imagine it in its beginnings; what was the place like before people, how did these communities first develop, why, what factors influenced their development? Was it utilitarian, political, or was it a vision to recapture a rural Mayberry or an urban Norman Rockwell like Eden? What I found was pretty typical of communities of the west which started around the 18-1900’s, but yet for me it was really amazing to be living in an area which kept its identity of its rich past as it developed through the years. Applewood Mesa, a place I’m proud to call my home, a quiet little Mayberry like community nestled near the Colorado Foothills, only minutes away from the Coors Brewery within a quaint little town called Golden. A place I feel is centralized within cultural and recreational activities. Driving through Golden & Applewood, one can’t help but notice some of the mid19th century architecture, the pride folks have in their community shows through their home landscaping, the healthy mature trees that adorn our community throughput, the daily activities one has access to such as cycling, running, jugging, walking, hiking, basketball courts, golfing, country club, gold panning, or just the simple gatherings of neighbors at their homes, or at one of the many parks surrounding the Golden & Applewood community. But like most historic communities, there’s a struggle to maintain its connection and identity to the past, while staying relevant in a changing modern landscape.


The History of Golden & Applewood Mesa

                                             Golden’s beginning as a mining supply stop along Clear Creek, near its 1858 discovery of gold.

Image collected from The Ted Kierscey Collection

       Golden & Applewood’s history is really not much different from other stories from the industrialization era in that, Applewood came about due to the Homestead Act of the 1800’s, when the Bunger family from the eastern states, joined the wave of migrating settlers heading west and was influenced in the mid 1800’s by the discovery of gold in Clear Creek and then the Rocky Mountains. The area near the creek developed into a small community and became an important mining supply stop supporting the gold, “coal mining and clay extraction industries which settled into the Clear Creek area, utilizing the region’s ample natural resources”.[01] The mining for uranium came later in the 20th ce. The mining supply stores near Clear Creek later became to be known as the Colorado School of Mines (Mines/CSM) and the city of Golden was born.

     Like most new settlers, around 1862, The Bunger’s began growing wheat in Wheat Ridge to meet local food demands. But because transporting of food, especially fruits & vegetables across the plains was expensive, the Bunger brothers, Fred and Myron found that specializing in fruits & vegetables was more profitable than seeking gold.[02] or growing wheat. So the brothers converted their wheat crops to start growing strawberries, raspberries, peas, carrots, onions, potato’s and other vegetables and[02] apples, in what is known today as Applewood Mesa in order to meet the food needs of local industry and residents.

      Since the west was still sparse and only beginning to slowly develop with the closet produce stand about sixteen mile away in Denver, located on the east side of the Platt River along Cherry Creek’s west bank, The bunger’s set up their own produce stand on west 36th ave. near Youngfield street, which at the time was substantially closer to the mining community of Golden than Denver’s.

     Wheat Ridge and Applewood’s industry transformed from its mid 19th century roots of supplying agricultural goods to ranchers, local industry and community to selling land in the early mid 20th century, to a smaller trades & goods industry, then to an sprawling urban housing community known today as Applewood, named after the Bunger’s Apple orchards that the homes were built upon.

       When the discovery of gold occurred around 1858 along the Clear Creek River, there were less than about 200 people in the Golden/Rocky Mountain area, and in only two years, nearly 35,000 people saturated the area in search of fortune and gold. The industries commodification of the area’s natural resources as coal, clay, the water by Coors and knowledge by the Mines via engineering/academics of students in minerals had strongly influenced the development and transformation of Denver and surrounding communities, and state government. This is similar to the Isenberg reading of when small groups of prospectors came to pan for gold, then industry moved in and started to develop the resources and communities grew as a byproduct of industry, changing the landscape and political structure.

  But the ecological/geological impact from the mining industry in the Golden and Applewood region was less destructive compared to the mining of California which Isenberg wrote extensively about. Even though the landscape was altered to accommodate industry of the time, it has transformed into a thriving economic urban community of energy and technology research, an internationally leading academic learning center for mining and petroleum technologies, of tourism from around the world, of family living and and a center of smaller trades as micro brews, and specialty services.

      Golden’s began as a mining supply stop along Clear Creek, near its 1858 discovery of gold.[03]

 History & Current State of Conservation/Preservation

Story of Golden Colorado

 Gold Rush Town Turning Green

     In the beginning, Golden and Applewood didn’t come about through a preservation or conservation movement. It was birthed through the accidental discovery of gold in 1830 by hired and private fur trappers of the area, which some developed into an industrial town of different mining companies, as did most cities in the west of that era. These activities change the landscape and displaced the ecosystem of the area by the removal of trees, mining of the landscape and the pollution and waste associated with industry of the time.

      Today, because of the preservation and conservation movement around 1890 to 1920, people from around the world come to Golden not in search of gold or minerals, but to escape the congestion and polluted air of their bumming cities and mostly to experience the sublime, which the Colorado Foothills and Rocky Mountains still offer a somewhat untouched wilderness form. To romanticize of the old west and its mystique of a simpler, more primitive time in history that once was, and in some respects, still is to this day.

         Golden has both preserved and restored its connection to the old west and of its environment and nature, while at the same time, still being able to adapt to the changing of times. Golden has preserved numerous areas around its city like the Lookout Mountain Nature Center and Preserve, by preserving 110-acre of ponderosa pines & meadows, with a nature center, trail & guided tours. The Bison Herd Nature Preserve, a wildlife refuge which maintains a herd of Bison in their natural setting. These Bison (not to be mistaken for the buffalo species which is indigenous to the regions of Asia  and Africa) are direct descendants of the last wild Bison herd which survived in America. The Golden Cliffs Preserve, which is the iconic symbol of Golden, Clear Creek Whitewater Park which provides recreational activities while maintaining a riparian along the creek. Golden Gate Canyon State Park, with its 12,000-acres of mountains, forests, meadows and recreational activities and so forth. Even though Golden is only minutes from the hustle & bustle of down town Denver, it has manage to survive and keep its small town, Mayberry like feel by creating parks in and around the Foothills and the city itself, restoring nature differently from what it once was to fit the needs of a developing community and ecosystem.

         Golden and Applewood are both focused on the preservation and conservation of nature and its valuable ecosystems because they value wilderness over the big city which Denver was becoming. The people of Golden and Applewood value the clean air, the fresh clear Rocky Mountain water, to be connected with nature and the health and tranquility that come with those elements. Golden is still on the path of protecting nature and the environment now, and in the future through the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, (NREL) (located on the south side of South Table Mountain Park) a world leader in developing sustainable and renewable clean energy and energy efficiency technologies and practices. The preservation and conservation movement has now evolved from being a local and national interest only, to a global interest, and Golden is a big part of that movement.

       So even though the times and approaches towards conservation and preservation have changed, the dichotomy of methodologies, reasons and philosophical/utilitarian values really haven’t.

From Mining Industry to Recreation and Everything in Between

       After reading Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac,[04] [05] [06] I have another vantage view of my place project of Golden/Applewood from a different angle.

After the industrialized revolution calmed down for Golden and Applewood, some people stayed behind because of the natural beauty and the rustic feel of the area. Then after World War II in 1945, life appeared to be getting better and starting to become normalized; the consumer economy was starting to boom, people had money to spend on luxury items and had the financial means to do things they weren’t able to do before. This new era created “some major changes that began to take place in the American population.”[07] Many Americans became unsatisfied with their previous life and began searching for something better.

      “Millions of people moved out of cities and small towns to buy newly-built homes in the suburbs,”[07] and Colorado was no exception. To them, the Rocky Mountains were the epitome of nature; wild, natural and breathtaking. People started to visit the Rocky Mountains in search of the sublimed experience. But as Leopold mentioned, so were many others and like AMWAY, word of Colorado’s skiing and Wild West like atmosphere was spreading. As most places in the west, as people migrated (drove) their way in search of nature, roads and infrastructures were built in order for them to access and experience nature.

          Since Golden was close to the city of Denver and was also the gateway to the Rocky Mountains, people started moving here to get away from the stress and congestion of city life and closer to the serenity of nature’s outdoors. As the population grew and people explored the outdoors, they discovered that there were so many activities to be had; skiing, mountain climbing, fishing, hiking, hunting, horseback riding, and camping, all within a reasonable walk or drive from Golden. Others saw this trend and saw and opportunity decided to commoditize it. The highlands developed ski resorts, the national forestry started developing parks, camp sites and trails. Hotels started to populate the areas to offer billeting to visiting patrons, as did restaurants, recreation shops and other services type businesses.

        Like myself back in 2011, present day people are still traveling and moving to Colorado’s Golden and Applewood area for the fresh air, to be closer to nature and experience the sublime, for the recreational activities that abound our great state and to renew themselves by escaping the hustle & bustle of the big congested cities.  But with the influx of new people wanting to visit and live here, it’s creating a shortage and demand for housing, infrastructure and access to nature, highlighting the struggles between conserving and preserving nature and the need to develop housing and infrastructure to lessen the aforementioned deficit. A good example of this continuing struggle can be seen between the residents of Applewood and Molson/Coors. Molson/Coors want to sell the Applewood Golf Course which is located on a vital riparian ecosystem so that a developer can build 400 new housing complexes in order makeup some of the shortfalls in the demanding housing market. Molly Hendrickson of Denver’s News 7 wrote a brief story Apr 8, 2015 and provided a 1 ½ minute video[08] covering a meeting of the two parties (which I was a participant of) and the struggle of whether to conserve nature or develop it; “Neighbors say they’re concerned the development would create traffic problems, overcrowded schools and force the local wildlife out of the area” vs. “The developers want to build 454 houses in the area”.[08]

      The transformation from a once humble mining industry to one of a world leader in technology, petroleum & mineral university, and consumer recreation shows how the relationship between humans and nature and our responses when nature becomes disfigured and we try to reconstruct it through myths from the days of yore, only to not realize that nature, is all around us and always has been. This can be seen in the opposing interests of Applewood community and MolsonCoors, where MolsonCoors wants to divest in the Applewood Golf Course to a developer who wants to build in 454 homes over a natural ecosystem and Applewood wants to keep its quiet and natural habitat surroundings.


01 A City of Golden. Golden History, Gateway to the West! 2015. 21 10 2015. (WEB LINK)

02 B Jefferson County Historical Commission. Historic Mining and Quarrying. May 2012. 30 10 2015. (WEB LINK)

03 Golden, Colorado – 1874 – Ted Kierscey Collection (WEB LINK)

04 Aldo Leopold, “Conservation Esthetic,” A Sand County Almanac (New York: Balantine Books, 1966; c.1949), 280-295. (WEB LINK)

05 Aldo Leopold, “Good Oak,” A Sand County Almanac (New York: Balantine Books, 1966; c.1949), 06-19/136-141. excerpts by Michael Smith, 2-11. Ney York: Ithaca College. (WEB LINK)

06 Aldo Leopold, “Land Ethic,” A Sand County Almanac (New York: Balantine Books, 1966; c.1949), 237-264. (WEB LINK)

Works Cited:

07 VOA News. The Making of a Nation “American History: Life in the US After World War Two” VOAnews. web. accessed 11/11/15. Published 12/28/06

08 Molly Hendrickson, KMGH. “Neighbors oppose development plans for Applewood Golf Course”. 7news. web. accessed 11/11/15. Published 04/08/1


One thought on “Thesis: The Tail of Two Cities

  1. I really enjoyed your own personal experience with Applewood and how you incorporated it into your analysis. It helps the audience understand why there is such a large growth in the real estate market and explains why there has been such a large influx of Colorado immigrants


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