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Boulder and Nederland Thursday, May 21, 2009

Boulder's Pearl Street Mall offers a mix of upscale and funky shops to visitors on a sunny Saturday afternoon in May.

As it turns out, I had time after work Saturday morning to return to my hotel and check out before noon. But I didn't know that when I called the desk at 6:45 a.m. to request a late checkout time. Let me back up a bit to tell this story:

I'd arrived in Fort Collins about 10:30 Friday night—before dinner—and still had to charge all of my batteries, resort three dozen name cards that got shuffled earlier in the evening, and check my emails. It turns out that getting to bed at 12:30 for a 5 a.m. wake-up call is a bad idea, especially when you're in a different time zone than you were the day before. I felt surprisingly good when I lay half awake in bed the next morning waiting for my alarm to go off. So I decided to check the time.

AAAACK! 6:29! I was due somewhere I'd never been, about a 10-minute drive away, at 7. So much for breakfast, and showering. I hurriedly brushed my teeth and put on my clothes, packed my gear and called the hotel to let them know I'd be checking out late.

[right] A bee visits Persian Onions (Allium aflatuense) growing in in the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, Colo.

"I'm sorry, I can't give you a late checkout today."

"Well what time is checkout supposed to be?"


"Well, listen, I'm running a little late for work right now, and that's going to be pretty tight. Can we do 12:30 or 1?"

"No, I'm sorry, we have a lot of guests coming in tonight so I'm not allowed to give anyone a late checkout today."

Damn. I've never heard a hotel denying that kind of request before. But I didn't have time to try to negotiate. Now, in addition to all my photo gear, I had to throw all my personal belongings into their cases and haul those out to the car as well. I called my partners on the way to let them know I was on the way, just a few minutes late.

Sure enough, I got there by 7:10, with lots of time to get ready for the ceremony. Which happened to be shorter than average. We were done by 11.

Having already checked out of the hotel, I had the rest of the day to do as I pleased. I drove south through Fort Collins and found lunch at a Mexican joint.

(This might be a good point to mention that, living in Oregon, we get spoiled in two respects: we don't have to pump our own gas, and there's no sales tax. The latter point hit me every time I spent money in Colorado, where the price I had to pay was always more than I expected.)

My plan for the afternoon was to drive down to Boulder, then drive into the mountains around there to see what there was to see. Unfortunately, having checked out of the hotel before work, I didn't have anywhere to change out of my suit. I feel comfortable in saying that I was the best dressed guy in the Rockies that day, but dress shoes are not ideal footwear for hiking.

[right] The town of Nederland, Colo., sits at the west end of Barker Reservoir, about 15 miles west of Boulder.

After checking out the Pearl Street Tourist Trap Mall and watching some of the buskers plying their trade there, I found my way onto Highway 119 which winds up into the mountains to Nederland.

Nederland is a former mining town (silver and tungsten mills), now with a population of about 1300. The economy is clearly focused on mountain tourists from Boulder and Denver, with their little artsy main street, and a small collection of hotels and mountain bike shops. I looked around for a couple of minutes and stopped for an ice tea in a small, empty cafe on a side street. Then I headed out of town on what appeared to be the continuation of the route I came in on. It wasn't well signed, but it clearly looked like a highway, and according to the Avis Car Rental map I had, there was only one highway anywhere near Nederland (actually, Nederland isn't even on the map). I mean, how many highways could the hamlet have?

[left] Somewhere along Highway 72 north of Nederland.

It turns out, two. After driving the winding route through some scenic high country for much longer than I'd expected towards towns that weren't on my map, I finally found a sign that said it was Highway 72, which runs basically north from the town. Nuts. So I turned around and headed back to Nederland, found the right road and continued south.

That route (much shorter) ran through the casino town of Black Hawk (reminded me of South Lake Tahoe), down into Golden, and then (along I-70) back into Denver.

I checked into my hotel with an excessively helpful clerk, found a nearby restaurant for dinner, and went back to the hotel for an early bedtime.