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Get to know Pueblo: Explore riverwalk, chile farms and Neon Alley

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Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018 6:54 PM
A collection of neon signs and art posters decorate Neon Alley in Pueblo. Pueblo native Joe Koncilja, who began putting the signs up three to four years ago, said about 100 people visit the alley most nights and photo shoots are popular there.
Pueblo County farmers proudly display Pueblo chile banners, such as this one a Mauro Farms. Carla Houghton said her grandfather and his parents came from Italy, and he and his brothers started farming in the region. Her father farmed and her brother has been running the farming side of the business for 20 years. He grows 18 varieties of chiles and peppers, along with cabbage, pumpkins, melons and tomatoes. She and her mother started a bakery at the farm, specializing in Potica, other sweet breads and Italian cookies.
Brues Alehouse is a striking fixture on the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo, a 32-acre urban waterfront area that offers boat rides, patio dining, fitness activities and much more. The craft brewery is in a former police station and jailhouse, which also houses a boutique hotel. The alehouse also features an espresso bar and bakery.
This bronze sculpture of a mare and foal along the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo is one of many pieces of art that grace the area, which is part of the Pueblo Creative Corridor. The corridor is one of 12 arts districts certified by Colorado and features galleries, street art, fountains and cafes.

Thousands of people visit Pueblo in August or September every year to attend the Colorado State Fair and the Chile and Frijoles Festival.

Those are great events, but if visitors don’t take in anything else in this southeastern Colorado city, they’re missing out.

Love those Pueblo chiles? Why not visit some of the growers and their farm stands? Or stop by one of the 25-plus restaurants offering their unique version of the slopper, a burger topped with Pueblo green chile. Then, before you leave, find a local wine shop and see if you can snag a bottle of Songbird Cellars’ Apple Pear Wine infused with Pueblo chile.

You might need to walk off that slopper, and the city center offers an array of sites within easy walking distance. Within a few blocks of the Historic Union Avenue District, you’ll find the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center, various Home of Heroes sites, museums, Neon Alley, shopping, brew pubs and the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk.

The Home of Heroes moniker, incidentally, dates to 1953, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower presented Raymond G. “Jerry” Murphy the Medal of Honor and noted that Pueblo then had four living recipients of the nation’s highest military decoration. His words led to the Pueblo City Council adopting the Home of Heroes theme, which is featured prominently along the riverwalk.

Venture away from the city center to visit the Steelworks Center of the West at the CF&I site and the Colorado Mental Health Institute Museum, which feature one of Pueblo’s long-standing industries and one of its better-known institutions.

The Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo features several cafés with patios, benches, sculptures and other artwork along its walkways. The Riverwalk brought a channel of the Arkansas River back to an area of downtown Pueblo where the river had flowed for hundreds of years. It was diverted after the Great Flood in June 1921 destroyed much of the city and killed hundreds of people in the city and the Arkansas River Valley.
Sue McMillin/Special to the Herald

For more outdoorsy and family fun, check out the Pueblo Zoo, the Nature and Raptor Center or Lake Pueblo State Park.

You can find detailed information about all this and more at the Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce visitor’s site, or you can download the VisitPueblo app.

Meanwhile, if you’re heading to the fair, which runs through Labor Day, or the Pueblo Chile and Frijoles Festival, Sept. 21-23, add a day or two and get to know Pueblo a little better. The city has plenty of rooms in hotels and inns, or you can camp at nearby Lake Pueblo State Park.

Here’s a few not-to-miss places:

Farms and produce standsNew this year are Heritage Farm Tours, which include a stop at several Arkansas River Valley farms off U.S. Highway 50 just east of the city. Italian immigrants started many of the farms and some have been in the same family for as many as five generations, said Deborah Espinosa, tour manager for Heritage Tours SoCo.

The farms grow a variety of produce but perhaps are best known for the Pueblo chile, a Mirasol pepper that gets its heat because of the valley’s hot days and cool nights, said Dalton Millberger of Millberger Farms. The chiles must be grown in Pueblo County to carry the name, but there is more than one variety. One of the newer varieties, which Millberger calls the Giodone, is thicker and hotter.

Second-generation farmer Dalton Millberger in May shows visitors the farm’s processing area, where radishes were being washed and packed for shipping. His dad started the 400-acre farm in 1984, and it now supplies Whole Foods in four states and Sysco. The family also runs a store, Peppe’s, on U.S. Highway 50 that includes produce, a deli and bakery.
Sue McMillin/Special to the Herald

During harvest season you can get fresh or freshly roasted chiles at many farm stands, and several of the farms also offer jars of salsa featuring the Pueblo chile. Other seasonal produce also is available, along with ethnic foods, honey, cheese and pastries made on site.

The tours are from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturdays through Oct. 27 and include conversations with the farmers and stops at the farm-owned markets. Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for seniors and $12 for children 6 to 16 years old. Group rates are available.

A number of other tours in Pueblo and along southeastern Colorado’s Frontier Pathways Scenic & Historic Byway also are offered.

For more information, visit www.frontierpathways.com.

For farm tour reservations, call (719) 505-8042

Sangre de Cristo Arts Center and Buell Children’s MuseumThe centerpiece of Pueblo’s Creative Corridor, it’s a busy place in the city center. It offers conferences, workshops, performances, classes and other activities, along with the seven Helen T. White Galleries that host 24 new exhibitions each year.

The children’s museum has hands-on exhibits focused on the arts, science and history.

The center is part of the state-designated creative district, one of 12 in Colorado.

For more information, visit www.sdc-arts.org.

Neon AlleyYou must walk down an alley after dark for this one – but you won’t be lonely. When the growing collection of neon flickers to life about 8 p.m. daily, the alley comes alive. The free attraction was the brainchild of Joe Koncilja, an attorney and Pueblo native who said he’s been fascinated by neon since he was a boy.

Visitors gather in Neon Alley on a May evening as the signs collected by Pueblo native Joe Koncilja come on. There are more than 30 neon signs in an alley that runs off the 100 block of B Street adjacent to Koncilja’s law offices, including vintage signs and a few new creations. The lights are on a timer and come on about 8 p.m. every night of the year. There are a few nearby cafés and restaurants, including Mr. Tandoori Urban Bar and Grill – with a patio on the alley built by Koncilja.
Sue McMillin/Special to the Herald

He collected some signs and because of a city sign ordinance, the only place he could put them up was on the side of buildings he and his brother own – facing an alley. Hence, it became Neon Alley, running off the 100 block of B Street, and it attracts neon sign lovers from all over.

“It’s been a neat thing to see it take off,” he said.

The first sign, a Wally Burger one from California, went up “three or four” years ago. Koncilja doesn’t remember the exact date. With the four that were added this week, the count is up to 30. He’s got a couple dozen more signs in warehouses and about 20 more that need repair.

He’d like to see 100 in the alley – if there’s room. He can also imagine a few small wooden dance platforms and music and well … there are plenty of ideas about what it could become. Occasionally, there’s a wedding or special event there.

But what he wants most is for people to just wander the alley, take photos and enjoy the collection.

For more information, visit http://puebloneonalley.com.

Historic Arkansas RiverwalkPlan to spend at least a couple of hours walking along the river and the adjacent Walk of Valor, which includes a Medal of Honor Memorial, the USS Pueblo Memorial, the Peter C. Lemon Rose Garden and the Veterans Bridge.

The riverwalk includes lots of green areas and cafés, and locals seems to like it as a jogging path. Take an excursion boat and hear a bit about Pueblo history, or you can opt for a more romantic gondola ride.

The walkways along the 1-mile-long canal of the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo attract people throughout the day and evening for strolling, jogging, dining and drinking. The riverwalk features many fountains and small waterfalls, and visitors can learn some of Pueblo’s history aboard a riverwalk boat.
Sue McMillin/Special to the Herald

There’s also a nearby whitewater park for kayaking, and places to fish.

One nice stop is Brues Alehouse, a microbrewery and gastropub in a former police station and jail. Part of the building is occupied by Station on the Riverwalk, a boutique hotel that offers seven “cells” for a unique lodging choice.

For more information, visit puebloriverwalk.org or https://bit.ly/2LbSwph.

SloppersIt’s what you eat when in Pueblo, but we can’t even begin to suggest where to go. Rod Slyhoff, president and CEO of the Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce and a longtime resident, made a video to help visitors.

And his “must trys” in an Explore Pueblo brochure list only one place: Coors Tavern. But as he points out in the video, no two sloppers are alike, so it might take a few trips to Pueblo to find your match.

Sue McMillin, a longtime journalist and former city editor at The Durango Herald, is a freelance writer and editor living in Victor, Colorado.

On the net

Colorado State Fair: Aug. 24-Sept. 3, www.coloradostatefair.com.Pueblo Chile and Frijoles Festival, Sept. 21-23, festival.pueblochamber.org.

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