Denver Post 1992 City Slickers Coming

 In Press

Guess Who’s Coming to Colorado
City slickers head for hills By Michael Booth, Denver Post Staff Writer
March 2, 1992, Denver Post newspaper

9 million expected to vacation here this summer

All night Lou Drakulich walks one of Chicago’s zaniest police beats, the rowdy shift on Rush Street where the Midwest has its largest concentration of singles bars and hormonally charged Yuppies.

As he nurses his sore feet at 6 each morning and drifts off to sleep, he ponders the word “opposite.” What is the opposite of bar closing on Rush Street?

Answer: A rafting trip with his vice squad buddies on the wild waters of the Dolores River, winding its way through southwestern Colorado’s canyon and plateau country.

Drakulich is one of more than 9 million tourists coming to Colorado this summer, part of the annual explosion of temporary immigrants that began this weekend.

With reservations at dude ranches, rafting outfitters and guide services running well ahead of last year, it seems likely that more California, Texas and Illinois residents than ever will steer for Colorado this summer to fulfill visions of white-water rivers and cattle drives.

Drakulich is one of them. He says his job is “as thick as the urban scene can possibly get. It’s entertaining, but it becomes overwhelming after a while. We’re looking to get out and get away from it all, get some fresh air.”

If last summer’s numbers hold up, at least 209,999 fellow residents of Illinois will follow Drakulich to Colorado this summer, making up about 2.8 percent of the total overnight pleasure travelers in the state.

The biggest group of travelers in Colorado are Coloradoans themselves. Last summer, state residents made 2 million overnight trips to Colorado vacation spots, or 26.5 percent of the seasonal total. Estes Park, gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, is the top destinations for in-state tourists, according to Colorado Tourism Board surveys, with Colorado Springs and Glenwood Springs tied for second.

Texans, who also dominate winter ski traffic to Colorado, are the largest group of out-of-state visitors in summer, making 1 million trips, or 13.9 percent of the total. The biggest groups come from Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston, but surprisingly large factions arrive from Wichita Falls and Amarillo.

After Texans come hordes of Californians, at 773,000 trips, or 10.3 percent of the total. But not just any Californians—the northern half of the state largely ignores Colorado in favor of the nearby Sierra and Cascade mountains.

Snapshot of Travel

According to the analysts hacking away in the Tourism Board’s back rooms, the entire West Coast provides a sliding-scale snapshot of Colorado travel. The farther south one lives on the coast, the more likely to visit Colorado.

San Diego, therefore, becomes almost a sister city to Denver to tourism executives.

Linda and Jerry Clark and their two kids are typical. Residents of the San Diego-Los Angeles metroplex, they will leave it all behind in June for a week of horseback riding and campfires at the C Lazy U dude ranch in Granby.

“We’re not big on cities,” Linda Clark said. They had visited Colorado on ski vacations before trying C Lazy U last year as a summer diversion, and they found they liked Colorado even better when it’s free of snow.

Looking for Property

“We didn’t even want to try anything else because we had such a great time last year,” she said.

“In fact, we’re looking for property there. The kids said it was their favorite vacation ever, better than Lake Powell, better than Hawaii.”

Dude ranches throughout the state, where urban residents retreat to rough it easy with trail rides and gourmet meals, are expecting full bookings this summer after a slow 1991. Last year, many people stayed put, held back by worries of the recession and higher airfares.

The Colorado Trails guest ranch north of Durango is nearly sold out for the summer, and reservations are running well ahead of recent years, surprising news for manager Jeanne Ross.

“I thought we were in a recession,” Ross said.

“This is our 32nd year in business, and we have a tradition of selling out. But the last few years with the economy have been a little rougher.”

“Fewer reservations are coming from California this year,” she said, “apparently because that state’s economy dipped even lower than the rest of the nation. We’re seeing more and more people come from New England and the Eastern Seaboard states, as well as from overseas.”

Jaci Dvorak of Dvorak’s Expeditions in Nathrop said her reservations also are running well ahead of last year. She has a heavy contingent arriving from the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, perhaps on a goodwill tour following the U.S. military sweep of Iraq last year.

Like Chicago’s Drakulich, many of Dvorak’s customers are asking for Dolores River trips, eager to ride the runoff of this year’s abundant southwestern snowpack after years of drought.

“People have been waiting for that. They’re calling to get on that trip,” Dvorak said.

Despite the influx of Saudi Arabians, Colorado’s summer crop of international tourists remains a small percentage of the state’s total visitors.

Colorado was host to 539,000 international tourists in all of 1990, for about 3.9 percent of total overnight pleasure travelers. Canadians ranked No. 1 at 105,000 visitors, with Japan at 77,000 and Germany at 64,000.

Summer tourists in Colorado are a low-rent bunch compared with the chi-chi winter ski crowd, the Tourism Board reports. The average summer traveler, often camping or renting a low-cost cabin, spends only $40 to $50 per day in the state.

The winter visitor stays longer, has fewer kids and more money and spends about $145 a day. The Tourism Board also tracks where tourists go within Colorado’s borders, and the perennial winner is Rocky Mountain National Park, with 1,663,48 visitors last summer.

The Colorado State Fair in Pueblo ranks next at 1,014,026, with Curecanti National Recreation Area trailing a distant third at 603,991 visits.

Tourism officials expect the seventh-ranked Denver Museum of Natural History to move up the list this year, with the early fall opening of the much-anticipated Aztec exhibit created in cooperation with Mexican authorities.