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Review: Colorado's Ocean Journey

It was recently reported in the Denver Rocky Mountain News that the new
public aquarium recently had it's one millionth visitor (it's been open
since June, if I remember right). Karla and I visited the facility in
September in the guise of "ordinary people". This is our somewhat late

I'm afraid the aquarium was a little disappointing. I think I expect too
much from ventures like this but compared to the Baltimore Aq and the
Monterrey Bay Aq, it was lacking in excitement. I would rate it a little
higher than Vancouver, Seattle and Oregon Coast, but not much. It seems a
little small and too structured. There are two "journeys" and each one is
basically a one way path past the exhibits; not much chance to split off
from the crowd and gawk at a favorite tank.

We picked yesterday (Sept 2, 1999) because kids have just started school
and we figured there would be no field trips yet. We were right: it was not
crowded and most of the people were older folks with only a few
pre-schoolers running around and howling. Even at that, there were enough
kids to make our skin crawl. I can't imagine what it must have been like
during the summer opening rush. There were two tents set up outside the
building. One covered "cattle chutes" (back and forth waiting lines) for
buying tickets and one covered chutes to actually get in to the aquarium.
Someone said it was sometimes a two hour wait in *each* line during the

The first journey is the "Colorado Journey" that follows the Colorado River
from its birthplace in the Rocky Mountains to where it trickles into the
Sea of Cortez (if it gets there at all). You start along a path that takes
you down the river. Most exhibits were open tanks with acrylic fronts so
you could see into the tank from the front (if you were short enough) or
from the top (if you were tall enough). Unfortunately, if you were six foot
tall, like we are, you were kind of in between and got a distorted view of
the front and had to get real close to see in from the top.   
The first few exhibits were high altitude trout streams with cutthroat,
greenback and brown trout. The air was actually cool so you felt like you
were at 12,000 feet in the mountains (nice touch). Trout are kind of boring
to look at and the tanks were mostly fake rock walls. A little further on
and lower in altitude (5000') was a river otter exhibit. It was lunch time
for them and they were fun to watch playing in the water. The exhibit had a
"beaver dam" look to it and they were adding an Osprey nest above. Also
included in other tanks were 
perch, crappies and sunfish. I was not inspired to start a "native fish"

A little further on (and down to 4000') was the River Canyon area with
larger fish like chub and pike. Still boring. A larger fully enclosed,
floor-to-ceiling tank represented the deeper reservoirs along the river and
housed larger fish like bass and catfish. Still mostly rock walls. I felt
that the fish would have better displayed with brighter lighting. Most
exhibits looked a little dull. 

One lame area ("480 feet") tried to give you a flash flood experience. A
six foot high acrylic wall fronted a view down a deep canyon like you would
find in Arizona. The lights dimmed and thunder and lighting effects
started. Soon you heard a roaring sound and a wall of water came rushing
out of the canyon and crashed against the acrylic. One lady squealed as
some of the water splashed over the top. I guess she didn't pay attention
to the detailed warnings from the docent. A smaller tank nearby has some
small desert fish including some 
pretty iridescent blue Desert Pupfish. We saw some of there in the Sonoran
Desert Museum in Tuscon. Their behavior reminded us of Rainbowfish. 

The next area was where the river meets the sea. A small shorebird exhibit
had the usual shorebirds standing on one leg sleeping. A little further on
("-14 feet", yuk, yuk) has the Sea of Cortez exhibit, one of the main
aquarium tanks. One part has an acrylic wall curving up overhead with a
crashing surf simulation (you see it from underneath the surf). This was
novel and interesting. The rest of the tank has the usual tropical reef
fish common to all such exhibits. A pair of stingrays were cruising through
the tank information. At the far end was a school of "Mexican Lookdowns".
The school was swimming in a circle. The docent mentioned that they spent
time in a circular holding tank prior to being put in the exhibit and they
hadn't figured out how to swim straight yet. After three or four different
views of the Sea of Cortez, you left the Colorado Journey and were allowed
to pause in the observation area to look at downtown Denver and the Elitch
Gardens amusement park.

The second journey is the Indonesia Journey. This follows the Kampar River
down from the Barisan Mountains that divide the island of Sumatra to the
South China Sea. The format is much the same as the Colorado Journey with
numerous open pools and tanks.

The first exhibit is the rain forest starting at 8700 feet, complete with
water misters to provide fog and water dripping of overhead plants. This
area has a few tanks of freshwater tropical fish common to the aquarium
hobby. The tanks are also mostly rock walls but with a few aquatic plants
in the bottom. Plants were mostly crypt species with a few Anubias thrown
in (longer lasting, one supposes). Obviously, aquatic plants were an
after-thought. The fish seemed like pet shop quality and we spotted some
"green tiger barbs". I've always thought these were purely aquarium bred
and not a natural variant. Very disappointing. Anyway, there was a large
mish-mosh of 20 or so different species and the exhibit didn't look
particularly attractive due to dim lighting.         
Down at lower elevations (1200 feet) one finds a tank of Rainbowfish
planted with large amounts of Ceratopteris thalictroides and a few crypts
and anubias. Besides being out of place in a Sumatra exhibit, the
Rainbowfish were of dubious quality, looking as if they were fresh in from
the pet shop. There were four or five species represented, so this was also
obviously not a captive breeding program (they freely cross). This tank was
more attractive than most with more plants and brighter lighting. The 'bows
seemed happy and were flashing and courting. 
The big draw in the Indonesia area is the Jungle Oasis with the Sumatran
Tigers. They have a large area with a good sized pool of water. The pair of
tigers was having a lazy day and were lounging up towards the back of the
exhibit. The pool had various larger tropical fish in it, including a large
school of tinfoil bards, some clown loaches, a few bala sharks and, noted
in the brochure, Siamese Flying Foxes (Epalzeorhynchus siamensis)! Our
favorite SAE!  The guide even had a little blurb about them:

"Look at the bottom of the tank for the Siamese Flying Foxes...Watch how
this fish aggressively defends its small territory"!!! More myths and
misinformation!!! However, try as we might, we could see no SAE. Either
they also had trouble getting them or the large tinfoil barbs thought they
were delicious. 

Further down they had some "Rivers End" exhibits with Mangrove swamps and
touching exhibits. Like the Colorado Journey, this one ends at the sea with
a few small coral reef tanks and one larger tank. A big crowd was gathered
around the big tank. A diver was in the tank cleaning the glass and that
seemed to fascinate people more than the fish did. Go figure. Almost last
was a vary large "Depths of the Pacific" tank with the obligatory sharks
and other larger fish. The final exhibit was an underwhelming jelly fish

Once outside the Indonesia area, a large sea otter exhibit was set up. The
otters were napping so all we saw were some furry rugs on the rocks. 

Of course, the largest and most prominent exhibit was the gift shop.


George Booth, Ft. Collins, Colorado (booth at frii_com)