Staring at the four walls of my hotel room wasn't an option on a recent rainy day in Boulder, Colorado. I had to get out. A rain jacket and a sense of adventure coupled with internet access and a good map had me heading out to explore.
I was only one block away from the famous Pearl Street Mall, an outdoor pedestrian venue with shops, restaurants, cafes and galleries, so I splashed in that direction first. Windows full of interesting pastas, funky bowls, funny napkins, cookbooks and candies lured me into Peppercorn. This two-story shop is a foodie's dream come true with jars of hard-to-find items such as clotted cream and vegetables marinated in spices and oils. Also here are gourmet kitchen tools and linens to decorate any host's table. Candles nestle among other products, and a wander upstairs reveals household decor for any taste.
Back outside I snuggled my purchases under my raincoat and kept going. Plenty of shops on the mall sell rain and hiking gear, and I passed several places where I could have tasted one of the many microbrews that call Boulder home. But I opted for the Smithklein Gallery, where a life-size bronze dog waved me into the store. Oil paintings, glass sculptures and a windblown dog happily panting out of a real Volkswagen door are just some of the pieces on display.
Not far from there was Lolo Rugs and Gifts, which offered handmade Turkish rugs and brightly colored lamps arranged in various explosions of light and color. Some stood alone, while others were gathered into multihued bouquets that hung from sizeable chandeliers. The cacophony of color stopped me in my tracks.
The rainy mall exhausted, I hopped into my car. Years ago, when we lived in Los Angeles, my brother and I used to play "get lost" and do just that -- drive into the Hollywood Hills to get lost and find our way out again. We discovered amazing things well off the beaten path, and this seemed like a good idea for an inclement day in Boulder, too.
Fortunately, I was in luck. Canyon Boulevard turned into Boulder Canyon Drive and took me up into the Front Range of mountains that make up the westernmost side of Boulder. Steep, rocky inclines with strong Ponderosa Pines growing straight up their stone slopes flanked me, and Boulder Creek rushed down alongside the road. Every curve in this windy road was a feast for the eyes. And then, like a gem, Barker Meadow Reservoir, built in 1910, opened up in front of me with the little town of Nederland on its far end.
I later learned that Barker Meadow provides water to the city of Boulder and is a great place to catch trout and salmon from shore, but no boats or swimming are allowed in order to comply with Boulder's water regulations.
Curving around the reservoir, I found myself in Nederland itself and decided to stop in for a turmeric tea with honey at the Train Cars Coffee and Yogurt shop. True to its name, the cafe is literally three train cars: a 1905 Pullman car, an 1872 circus car that was once a railway post office car and a caboose built in 1910. It was off-season, so the barista told me I was out of luck for enjoying their signature mini doughnuts. But the tea was great, and I was able to drink it in a vintage railroad coach that still had brass window lifts, stained-glass windows and patterned red fabric on the ceiling.
Just around the corner on First Street I grabbed a sandwich and some chips at Mountain Peoples Co-op after wandering around in a gem and fossil shop and the Rustic Moose, where I found Colorado souvenirs for everyone on my list.
Farther down First Street I found several signs and references to Frozen Dead Guy Days. Evidently this town earned its fame not as the mining town it once was but because of the frozen man who was discovered in a woman's backyard in the mid-1990s. She and her son had been carrying her cryogenically frozen father around with them from Norway to California and eventually to Nederland, where he was discovered and became somewhat of a celebrity. Now Bredo Morstoel is kept on dry ice delivered bimonthly by locals and is celebrated in mid-March every year by the entire town of Nederland with their annual Frozen Dead Guy Days festival.
Heading back down the mountain pass, I spotted a sign for Boulder Falls and pulled over with several other cars to explore one of the shortest hiking paths I have ever taken -- safe for a drizzly day. Carefully carved rock steps lead up and down into a crag between two stone cliffs where a gushing stream explodes over a cliff and signs warn of imminent death for waders and those who would dare to venture off of the trail.
As I drove back to my hotel, the rain gave way to dappled sunshine that peeked down through the parting clouds overhead. Bikers and walkers were taking to the streets again, but my rainy adventure had unearthed things I would never otherwise have seen -- through art, humor and the sheer force of nature.
WHEN YOU GO Play on Pearl Street: www.boulderdowntown.com Navigate Nederland: www.townofnederland.colorado.gov Chill with Grandpa Bredo: www.frozendeadguydays.com