Red Rocks Amphitheater is one of the most iconic outdoor concert venues in the country. Tucked between two towering sandstone monoliths—Creation Rock and Ship Rock—the sounds and melodies that rise up from the stage reverberate off of the walls, and wash over the crowd, making for a surreal experience for both the performers and the audience.
In 1911, an opera artist named Mary Garden gave the first-ever performance at Red Rocks by a notable, national musician. By the end of 2016, there will have been nearly 2,700 concerts performed at the venue. The stage hasn’t simply hosted legends like Neil Young, Ray Charles, and Willie Nelson, but it’s also borne witness to truly historical moments. The Beatles arrived to play during their inaugural U.S. tour in 1964, and they couldn’t sell the place out (that was the only concert during the tour that didn't). To top it off, they needed oxygen tanks to help combat their altitude sickness at 6,400 feet. Many tribute bands have since memorialized the historic concert.
Years later, in 1978, the Grateful Dead appeared onstage for what would become one of their most famous shows in their history. This is partly due to their well-loved former engineer Betty Cantor-Jackson capturing it as a recording, and partly because musical historians and rock fans deem it the birth of the modern jam-band movement.
330 million years ago, Red Rocks was an inconspicuous blip in the middle of a massive ocean floor. Thanks in part to a sediment-spreading alluvial fan, iron oxide accumulated over what’s thought to be a 200 million year period and was buried, only to be uncovered by relentless weathering and erosion hundreds of millions of years later. The Ute Native American tribe were the first known occupiers of the area, and they are among the 32 native tribes that consider it a sacred place. The Utes were displaced in the early 19th century by settlers to the area who commandeered it as a tourist destination when, among many absurd development ideas, one man proposed that the iconic Ship Rock be carved into a full-sized replica of the Egyptian Sphinx.
An architect by the name of Burnham Hoyt drew up the design for Red Rocks Amphitheater, and it was realized, in part, by the Civilian Conservation Corps over a span of 12 years. Today it attracts over 700,000 non-concert goers annually and several times that number of people flock to experience a musical performance. During the summertime, Red Rocks hosts a weekly movie showing, and raucous fans typically show up in costume and ready to quote and sing along.
There are 380 steps within the amphitheater, and in the mornings, you’ll find many athletes running up and down the steep grade. To run the length of each stair would earn you around 2.5 miles and around 100 feet of elevation gain. Red Rocks periodically organizes huge group yoga classes and other activities. Keep an eye on their website for an up to date calendar.
Want a different perspective? The Trading Post Trail is a short walk away.