Penny-Smashing Road Trip
Millions of tourists visit Colorado each year with a short list of things to see while they’re here: Pikes Peak, Garden of the Gods, Estes Park, the Coors brewery and the like. But for some 'elongate collectors', the pilgrimage to these locations is made to obtain more than just new memories.
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Lynn Hunkins from Colorado Springs has been smashing pennies for years, as well as trading them with likeminded people she’s met online. Her collection now exceeds 10,000 pennies, most of which are neatly filed in three-ring binders.
When friends visit Hunkins in Colorado Springs, she often takes them on “squishin’ missions” to all the local machines as way to see the sights. Penny smashing also is a great way to make friends with collectors from coast to coast. In the wake of last year’s Waldo Canyon fire, people from across the country sent her pennies to show their support.
Hunkins has penny smashing down to a science. She wants shiny pennies, but she also wants pennies made before 1982 – that’s when penny composition went from solid copper to predominantly zinc with a copper shell. Her solution is to go to her local coin shop and track down uncirculated rolls of pre-1982 pennies.
There’s one nightmare shared by devoted penny smashers, Hunkins said. You’re smashing away at a machine when a little kid comes up and wants to use it. You graciously let him smash his penny, but he jams the machine. “You drive 400 miles for this one machine and it’s broken – you’re almost in tears,” she said. This has happened to her in Estes Park and Albuquerque, but she was able to get those pennies later.
“I pick where my next vacation is because of pennies,” Hunkins said. “The places where there are machines are places you want to go to anyway.”
And that’s the truth. My wife and I are currently planning our summer vacation, which we hope will be a road trip to southwest Colorado. Mesa Verde National Park’s main attraction might be its awe-inspiring ancient cliff dwellings, but it also has three penny machines I’ve been dying to visit.
Our Top 13 Penny-Smashing Attractions
THESE ARE A FEW of our favorite penny-smashing destinations in Denver and along the Front Range, but you can find dozens more at pennycollector.com to help you plan your own penny road trip.
1. Pikes Peak Summit House
Pikes Peak Highway, Cascade
You might go to Pikes Peak for the view (and the pennies), but while you’re there, be sure to try the special donuts made at 14,110 feet above sea level.
2. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
4250 Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Rd, Colorado Springs
Smash pennies at four machines, then feed giraffe food (which bears an uncanny resemblance to rye crisps) to the adorable giraffes.
3. Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center
1805 N. 30th St., Colorado Springs
If Martians built castles, they would look exactly like the incredible red rock formations you see while you smash Garden of the Gods pennies.
4. Denver Art Museum
100 W. 14th Ave., Denver
The museum buildings are works of art in their own right, and you can take home likenesses of them in penny form.
5. Downtown Aquarium
700 Water St., Denver
You can talk to a mermaid, pet a stingray and see sharks and swimming tigers – and, if you’re so inclined, have a cold one at the aquarium’s bar.