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A trip to Nederland is a trip back in time

NederlandJudith Nelson

Nederland, CO


Drawn by descriptions of a unique community, we decided to explore Nederland on a recent excursion. The weather had been somewhat rainy, so we didn’t know what to expect. I was hoping for a scenic drive, at the very least, which is what we got. The winding mountain roads leading to the remote town provided expansive views of distant mountains as well as wildflowers along the way, in spite of the threatening weather. We came from south of Denver so we took 470 West to just past Golden, then Route 6 (Clear Creek Canyon Rd) to 119 which turns into the Peak to Peak Hwy on into Nederland. It is very windy and steep, but affords incredible vistas. You can also reach it more directly from Boulder, or if coming from the west, get off I-70 at I-25 north to 36 and follow it to Boulder.

Fabulous vistas near Nederland
Fabulous vistas near NederlandJudith Nelson

We had heard of the Carousel of Happiness, an amazing carousel with hand-carved animals that took decades to build. We knew we could duck in there and enjoy the sight if the weather was inclement. As it turned out, when we got to Nederland, it was the first place we saw, so we went in. It is definitely a must-see for anyone in the area, and even worth a special trip. The 100-year-old carousel base and military organ have quite a history and were grasped from the jaws of demolition by the creative and insightful owner. His dream was to make a beautiful carousel for the sole purpose of making children and adults happy. He definitely accomplished that; and, at $1 admission, there is no reason to pass it up.

Alongside the Carousel building is an old 1918 American Express railway luggage wagon. Across from the building is an ice cream shop made of two old “Wild Bill” train cars set at right angles from each other. Across from that parking lot, are examples of old original ore cars and a well-type apparatus. There are shops across the street, including a unique Alpaca shop. It is worth the visit, as a gentleman who currently runs an alpaca farm runs the shop. He shears the alpaca then sells the precious sheared fur to companies that turn it into the spectacular products he carries. He freely describes the unique characteristics of alpaca fur fibers, as opposed to typical wool, and will even show you a rare video on his phone of a baby alpaca being born. It turns out that there are major distinctions between alpacas and llamas, in height, appearance and fur. Who knew?

The beautiful sweaters, shawls and other alpaca products he carried awed me, but I was also skeptical, as I am extremely allergic to wool. However, it turns out that alpaca is quite different from typical sheep’s wool. I can usually tell a fabric’s wool content by simply touching it, as I unfailingly feel the telltale prickliness of the wool. I was amazed that the alpaca produced no such reaction, and discovered that it had to do with the individual hair fibers of the alpaca-- they are hollow! This hollowness makes them smoother, and provides much better insulation. I could not resist one of the magnificent magenta sweaters for sale—it was as he said—not itchy, but soft and had just the right amount of cling. I can’t wait until winter to be able to wear it, but it was perfectly comfortable over my tee shirt—something I could never do with a wool sweater. He suggested that we visit a friend’s alpaca farm to get a better idea of the unusual animals and their fur. We definitely plan to do that on a future trip to the area.

Driving the few blocks to the “downtown” area of Nederland, we spied a picturesque covered bridge and decided to explore while there was still a break in the clouds. The bridge leads to a lovely, lush and wooded trail which runs along the rushing creek and eventually to a children’s play area, a small veteran’s memorial, and further on to a dam.

We walked there and back, and decided to explore the “main street” which consisted of about a block of pubs and eclectic shops. One such store was a true throwback to the 60s—a coop, where one could find everything grown locally and naturally, from wrapped sage for cleansing the aura of a dwelling to grains and other products. Naturally it was all over-priced, but not at all touristy, and quite useful and interesting. I bought the sage wrapped with beautiful wildflowers because I liked the way it looked. I never considered burning it until the checkout girl gave me instructions. It is amazingly fragrant when burned, it burns enthusiastically, and quickly fills a house with the cleansing and pleasing scent.

We were then drawn to a shop next door with a host of seriously eclectic articles, and inexplicable references to “Frozen Dead Guy Days”. That was irresistible, and we had to find out what that was all about. The nonplussed owner answered our confusion with a question: “What would you expect us to do in March after a long cold winter, other than frozen turkey bowling, coffin races, a frozen salmon toss, and a frozen t-shirt contest?” This was clearly a trick question, but we vowed to attend the very strange festival next March.

When it began to get dark, we realized we’d better get something to eat before the long drive home. This was dicey, as only a few bar/pubs seemed to be open. We chose one that had a back deck (which overlooks a parking area and some houses), but when it began to rain, we headed inside. It didn’t end up being a good choice for food (or atmosphere), as their idea of sautéed veggies was kind of a mush. Also, someone turned off the lights in the restroom when I was in there, and it took ages for me to find my way out. So, our next trip will likely be BYO.

The road back was a bit more challenging in the dark, but it was a lovely drive. We will definitely return to this eclectic town to see more of it, and discover what the “Frozen Dead Guy Days” are all about.