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Calling on Molly Brown, 140 Craft Beers and Boulder
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Outside of its famous skiing and snowboarding seasons, you’d be forgiven for presuming that Colorado - one of those entirely square states in the middle of the country - is just a sleepy US region abandoned in its summertime - but how wrong that assumption would be.
Though ‘Mile High City’ shares its acronym with a far more taboo collection of people, it’s also the moniker given to Colorado’s altitude-rich state capital, Denver, famous for its urban mountainscape, Coors Beer and of course, John Denver crooning Rocky Mountain High.
But I start my journey 40-minutes north-east of the city in the clean-living university town of Boulder.
Getting from Denver to Boulder, and in fact all around Colorado, is easiest done by driving. Train routes are minimal and the complexity of bus travel makes it barely worth the saved pennies.
Colorado's sparse, arid land and inter-woven hills, make for a pretty active population and Boulder’s townsfolk like their hiking and recycling with a side order of organic vegetables.
Utilising locally-sourced produce doesn’t stop at food, the town’s beverage market enjoys a plethora of distilleries, wineries and beer makers including the Avery Brewing Company, which in addition to offering a free daily tour, also has a lively in-house bar – or ‘tap room’ to locals.
Tourists generally visit Boulder to experience its 'vibe'. Surrounded on its western flanks by a string of National Parks and Forests, the town has become a playground for the eco-conscious bourgeois. Dainty boutique shops line peaceful streets and the restaurants cater to all dietary peculiarities.
I spend an afternoon scaling the fringe of the Rocky Mountains to gaze at a group of rock formations called The Flatirons, so named because of their uncanny likeness to the household appliance. As I reach a lookout point I stand amazed at the wonderful panoramic vistas on offer and realise this is exactly this kind of euphoria that hikers live off (the same kind that I’ve regrettably missed in my exercise-dodging years).
But I don't just want to explore on my own two legs. I have long harboured a deep-seated childhood desire to be a cowgirl for a day and Sylvan Dale Ranch, in nearby Loveland, promised 3,000 acres of dusty farmland and a real-life cowboy to show me around.
My easy-going hack was a familiar trail for the horse (and me) and rounded off with a barbecue picnic of tasty buffalo sausage and grass-fed beef accompanied by the striking backdrop of the Big Thompson River Valley.
Of course there are plenty of people that take advantage of the walking and cycling trails that weave through the surrounding countryside, but I was happy to get back in the saddle and let the hooves take the strain.
In keeping with my relaxed state, I am interested to learn that Colorado is dubbed the 'Napa Valley of craft beers'.
There are more than 140 breweries scattered across the state and their influence has reached the heart of Denver's culinary culture, inspiring a boom in the local nectar, as well as an accompanying interest in mixology - the art of mixing cocktails.
My personal skill is more in the drinking of cocktails than the mixing and a gastronomic tour of the city seems the ideal way to combine this with a taste of Denver's most delectable offerings.
'Denver’s food scene has exploded in the last four years, said Becky Creighton, president of Culinary Connectors.
We call in at the city's top restaurants for a bite of this and a taste of that and by the end of the third eatery I'm wishing I had walked off a few more calories in Boulder to leave extra space for all the food.
Food aside, the city is worth exploring. Downtown Denver, marked by a cluster of enormous metallic skyscrapers and shoppers meandering the pedestrian-friendly 16th Street Mall, is a church to modernity.
Slightly set back from all the madness the Cherry Creek neighbourhood has a luxury indoor mall and a 16-block, tree-lined outdoor area that’s peppered with spas, galleries and independent restaurants. In keeping with the city's favourite beverage, a few of the eateries even have their own micro-breweries.
But it's not all chic modernism. The restored Victorian home of Titanic survivor, the 'unsinkable' Molly Brown is open to the public and makes for an interesting step back in time, especially considering the world is marking 100 years since the Titanic sank this year.
Of course, when most people think of Colorado and its Rockie Mountain High, the glitzy ski resort of Aspen and its snow bunny celebrities spring to mind.
Russian oligarch, Roman Abramovich and Michael Dell, the tech genius behind his namesake computers, both have properties in the highly-priced area and Hollywood royalty seems to decamp en masse to the resort in winter.
For many, snowless Aspen in the summer would be an incomprehensible notion; with no skiing on offer, what on earth is there left to do? Well, it seems the list is endless. Outdoorsy types indulge in fly fishing, golf, hiking and horse-riding, while the thaw is taken advantage of to host jazz and food festivals.
The clientele? High-flying Texans come to escape the heat, New Yorkers leave the rat race for a long-weekend away and everyone comes to dip their toes in the elite social scene.
Perched up in the mountains, about three-and-a-half hours away from Denver, I head to Aspen for an overnight stay en route to Grand Junction and the Colorado Monument.
The charming Hotel Jerome seems to be the place to stay in town. Anywhere good enough for Johnny Depp, Sylvester Stallone and Cameron Diaz, is good enough for me.
It feels somewhat strange to board a gondola in a ski resort without any skis, but the varied view of green pastures and snow-capped peaks surrounding the town make me appreciate Aspen out of Season.
The nearby Maroon Bells, a set of beautiful Alps-style peaks with a glacial lake, make for an ideal hiking destination and a 10-mile walk seems just about the best way to enjoy the quiet solitude. This is classic Colorado.
But just as I am getting used to my mountain existence, I arrive at the Colorado Monument, where the state's wonders plunge down instead of rising up.
Endless miles of imposing canyon land, made up of naturally-sculpted, red sandstone monoliths, stretch out before me.
This landscape feels a world away from the gleaming skyscrapers of Denver and the spiked mountains that attract the skiing masses to Aspen and I suppose that's the beauty of Colorado. You think you know it, from the country songs and celebrity pages of magazines, but nothing really prepares you for its raw beauty.
British Airways (www.ba.com, 0844 493 0787) flies daily from London Heathrow to Denver, return fares start from £659.79 including taxes.
A seven-night fly-drive holiday to Denver with British Airways costs from £719 per person for travel between October 22 and December 14. Price includes flights from Heathrow to Denver and Avis Inclusive car hire for the duration, based on two sharing.