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Big Jack and Nederland

“I was just 19 when I came here the first time. I walked in and there was this mountain of a man with a long beard and big, bushy, hair down to his shoulders.”


So began the story being related to me by the fella I’d sat down beside at the bar in the Covered Wagon, a self-proclaimed restaurant and saloon in Nederland, Colorado. It earns the title.

Photo of two story red wooden building with a very large spoon, knife and fork hanging from the second floor.
That's some pretty big silverware outside the Covered Wagon Restaurant and Saloon. **

If you’ve followed my posts before, you know I love a good story from a stranger at a bar. This one certainly ranks among them.


The gentleman beside me was somewhere in his 50s now and you could tell he was no stranger to having a beer or three. He’d come to Nederland as a teenager, left, and was always drawn back. He set up permanent residence seven or eight years ago.


As he described the big man in the bar, images of Hagrid from Harry Potter raced through my head.


“He was sitting in that booth right there, all by himself. He never said a word, just made this grumbling sound, kind of like he was growling. Rrrrrrr!


“The bartender brought him over a shot of whiskey. The guy finished it and growled again, Rrrrrr!


“The bartender brought over another shot. It happened four times. Every time this guy would just growl and the bartender brought over a shot.


“The fifth time the bartender shouts over to him from the bar: ‘Jack, you know the rules.’


“The guy gets up from the booth and walks over to the bar. I’m wondering, what the hell is going on, thinking maybe he was going to start something and making sure I knew where the door was to get outta here.


“He’s wearing this big, long coat. He reaches inside, pulls out two pistols and puts them on the bar.


“The bartender reached over, picked up the guns, put them behind the bar and handed him another shot of whiskey.”

Nederland town hall, a wooden building with peaked roof and American flag in front.
Nederland town hall looks like it came straight off a Hollywood sound stage. **

Nederland is a great town. Filled with some combination of old hippies and rednecks.


It’s small, the total population is just 1,500, located about a half hour’s drive due west of Boulder. Of course, your drive time may vary depending on how fast you navigate around sharp mountain curves.


Before you get the wrong impression, Nederland is not a rough town, not at all. In fact, it’s very much a tourist town. During the warmer months of the year, people of all types, shapes and sizes flock through, enjoying this little town that is, quite literally, tucked into the Colorado mountains.


The first time I was in Nederland was March, 2022, when I ventured there to see the Carousel of Happiness. The carousel’s menagerie of elephants, tigers, bears and countless other animals were all created by one man as his way of dealing with PTSD from the Vietnam War.


Carousel with a sheep, panda and ostrich for riding.
Nederland's Carousel of Happiness, creation of PTSD therapy. **

Making the circuit around Nederland I thought it was a very cool place, but I just didn’t have the time to stay long on that trip so I left, hoping maybe I’d have a chance to come back through again.


This past September was my chance.


Nederland has a wide variety of fun little touristy shops, restaurants, a couple of bars and even a pair of breweries.


For a place to spend the night, Boulder Creek Lodge is a rustic place, situated right along the beautiful stream that divides the town and within walking distance of everything there is to offer.

Covered bridge with mountains and clouds in background.
A covered walkway takes people across the water between Boulder Creek Lodge, just to left, behind, and downtown Nederland. **

Sidenote here, the lodge locks the exterior doors after dark. The photo on the front desk, of a bear roaming the hallways, explains why.


There are two museums, the Nederland Mining Museum and the Gillaspie House Museum.


Neat thing about the Mining Museum, one of the few remaining steam shovels used to dig the Panama Canal sits outside.


There’s also the Wild Bear Nature Center with some great kids programs. The woman working there when I stopped by told me they are getting ready to move to a new, bigger and better, location.


Of course, nothing beats the mountain scenery surrounding Nederland.


If you’re driving in from Boulder, make sure to check out Boulder Falls, about halfway between Boulder and Nederland. It’s just a short walk from the parking area to the falls and well worth a quick stop. I also wrote about it after my last journey that way, Moments of Joy, Boulder Falls.

Large shed painted with colorful images of cats
"Fred lived in a time when music flowed from the Caribou Ranch, Miner Tom was dipping for Gold, and a stray cat was voted Mayor by townsfolk." Nederland is filled with colorfully painted shops and buildings. **

Also, the Peak to Peak Highway will take you straight north out of Nederland to Estes Park, about an hour away. I met a couple who were camping up at the park and had driven down to Nederland for just the day.


One final piece of advice, check the calendar before you come if there’s something specific you want to see, especially in the off-peak months. I was there on a Tuesday, again, in September, and a number of places were closed the first part of the week.


Don’t worry, big Jack isn’t around anymore. That was more than 30 years ago and everything is a whole lot tamer these days.


P.S. This year's Bizarre Cat Bazaar celebrated their former cat mayor.


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**I allow use of my photos through Creative Commons License. I'm not looking to make money off this thing. I only ask you provide me with credit for the photo by noting my blog address, alansheaven.com, or a link back to this page.

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