As the Mile High City, Denver  is automatically associated with its elevation and those hundreds of mountain peaks to the west. But the city is located on the high plains to the east, about 12 miles east of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. This eastern expanse is called the Front Range of the Rockies.
Denver is a little bit of both mountains and plains, and the core neighborhoods vary greatly from floodplains to hills overlooking the city and everything in between.
Shaped by its location as a gateway city to the towns and beauty that lie to the west in the Rocky Mountains and as a hub of the entire region, Denver has a natural appeal all its own.
The word “plains” suggests flatland or lowland, but in reality the land is more dynamic than that with the plains east of Denver  at even a higher elevation. This actually causes the waters of Cherry Creek to flow northwest, unlike rivers that run south and east from the mountains. From a different perspective, Denver is at the western edge of the plains, not the eastern side of the mountains.
Denver is not a lush city, despite the waterways running through it and numerous reservoirs on the outskirts of the city. This is a high desert climate, with a history of minimal precipitation and relying on irrigation. The average annual rainfall in Denver is 15.47 inches, and average annual snowfall is 59.6 inches. The summers are dry and can be quite hot—though statistics put the average high at 88.1°F in July, it frequently climbs into the 100s.
Denver  has more annual days of sunshine than coastal places like San Diego, and typically a couple inches of snowfall will melt off within a few days. Winters can be quite chilly, with average January lows at 16.9°F, but snowfall varies significantly: Some years there’s little snow all season, but every few years it seems the city is paralyzed by a blizzard.
Because those blizzards garner a lot of national headlines, people mistakenly believe that Denver has such severe storms every winter. It’s a paradox for officials: Because such snowstorms are unusual, they are not adequately prepared with enough plows and staff, yet the city needs to be prepared for such emergencies. It can be bad publicity for the city, but is usually good news for the ski resorts.
Growth is a double-edged sword for Denver , and always has been, resulting in two prominent environmental issues: air pollution and water use.
Since the city’s earliest days there have been struggles to divert enough clean water to supply the city—and now the greater metro area, which consists of seven counties. There needs to first be a certain percentage of precipitation at the highest points in the mountains where rivers and streams are fed by rain and snow each year. The bulk of the rivers actually head west from the Continental Divide, and what is flowing east doesn’t simply end in Denver but keeps heading south through other parched states to the distance ocean. One source of water is brought “uphill” over the Continental Divide to provide water to Denver and its suburbs.
Water laws and rights are complicated issues that have become more prominent during drought years, such as 2002. That was the year that Denver Water began mandatory water-use rules and even created water “police” who fined people for watering their grass at the wrong time. The strict hit-them-in-the-wallet restrictions did decrease water use by billions of gallons, but as growth continues along with the naturally arid conditions conservation efforts are an ongoing part of life in Denver.
While taking fewer showers or living with a yellow lawn turned out to be acceptable conservation measures for residents, helping to reduce air pollution and the city’s notorious “brown cloud” is another challenge.
Once upon a time, Denver  had a streetcar system that was done away with to make way for the almighty automobile. As the population boomed between 1960 and 1980, the number of cars on the freshly built highways and roads also exploded. It wasn’t until the 1980s that auto emission tests became mandatory here. Cars weren’t the only source contributing to the smog (or “smaze” as some called it), and trash burning was prohibited.
Coal-burning power plants have had to cut their emissions and wood-burning fireplaces are nearly obsolete, with restrictions on days that they can be used. The fact that Denver lies in a river basin between the plains and the mountains means that the fine particles of pollution—whether from road sand or carbon monoxide emissions or smoke—are going to settle in the air in this low spot.
The brown cloud is not gone, and it can obscure views from the city or of the city itself when approaching it, but there is more and more emphasis on alternative transportation in Denver and beyond to possibly reduce the haze and pollution. Residents and visitors alike are encouraged to ride bikes, take the light rail trains or buses, or simply walk instead of driving. The city often struggles to stay in compliance with Environmental Protection Agency standards and has to keep finding ways to reduce air pollution.