Most people are familiar with Rocky Flats in northwest Jefferson County, and the role it played in creating nuclear weapons parts. But if one lives on the east side of Denver, it’s entirely possible there might be a former federal missile launch facility nearby that you don’t even know about.
There are 11 of these facilities on the plains east of Denver: six Titan I and five Atlas E sites. Both varieties were equipped to fire intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) with nuclear payloads halfway around the planet beginning in the early 1960s. After the facilities were decommissioned, the government sold them to a variety of public and private owners. One has been converted into a park, others are being used for commercial purposes, and some are being converted into private residences.
That’s just one thing readers can learn from Denver resident Eric Peterson and Arapahoe County resident David Lewis’ new book, “Secret Denver: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure,” published by Reedy Press. The book is part guidebook, party history, part Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
“Some things are interesting conversation starters, others are things to think about, and still others are old stories that have been bulldozed over,” Peterson said. “But then there’s places like the Capitol that you can see but may not know everything about. We tried to keep it about 50-50 things people can see and things that can’t be accessed.”
The pair have worked for various outlets in the metro area writing on a wide variety of topics, so when they got together in May 2019 to begin working on the book, they had a few questions to settle, the most pressing of which was, what exactly constitutes a secret? They used their accumulated knowledge and a variety of library, in-person and online research methods to delve into the question.
“Secrets are to be found all around the Denver area, especially since it has to be one of the supernatural centers of the known world. Ghosts are everywhere around here,” Lewis explained. “There are amazing places that nobody knows, but they should.”
One such place is Lamb Spring Archaeological Preserve in Highlands Ranch, which just looks like any undeveloped patch of prairie. But the 35-acre preserve is actually a place where scientists discovered evidence that Paleo-humans lived and hunted in North America more than 8,000 years ago. According to Peterson and Lewis’ research, it was a favorite drinking spot for animals like ground sloths, camels and Columbian mammoths. The presence of animals is what drew human hunters to the spot.
“One thing we wanted to make sure we had was good images to go with the 85 vignettes in the book,” Peterson said. “The images help tell the story of off-the-radar places for the general Denverite, even places that are well-known like Red Rocks and Capitol that have their secrets.”
While both authors hope the book is illuminating and fascinating to readers, they also have the aim of getting people to explore the city and surrounding areas and appreciate all there is to discover.
“We wanted to put an emphasis on finding places that you can visit and places where people can relate to,” Lewis said. “There’s all kinds of history and quirky stuff around here, and I hope people go on tours and visit these places to see some of the history.”