If you drive into Boulder  from the east, the mountains grab your attention as you head west. But then you begin to wonder about the distinctive building just below those magnificent rocks. It’s the National Center for Atmospheric Research (1850 Table Mesa Dr., 303/497-1000, www.ncar.ucar.edu , Mon.–Fri. 8 a.m.–5 p.m., Sat.–Sun. and holidays 9 a.m.–4 p.m.), a federal research center that studies all aspects of weather.
There is a lot of important and fascinating work going on here daily, but the building and its surroundings have a reputation and history all their own. The building was designed by renowned architect I. M. Pei, whose 1960s design was influenced by Native American cliff dwellings in southern Colorado and the dramatic rocks above the site. The building was immortalized in Woody Allen’s film Sleeper.
Free guided tours are offered daily at noon, there’s a gift shop and art gallery inside the building, and outside you can walk the Walter Orr Roberts Weather Trail to learn about local weather and take in the view of the city below. Organized group tours require reservations, but audio tours and self-guided tours are available anytime the National Center for Atmospheric Research is open.