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Laid-back in the extreme

Life in Nederland leans toward the unconventional, such as its mascot: a frozen human body. This is a scenic town with a sense of humor.

June 20, 2004|Cynthia Mines | Special to The Times

Nederland, Colo. — Tourists often flock to towns to pay tribute to late, great residents -- an author, perhaps, or a president -- but the homage paid to one deceased man by this Rocky Mountain mining town is as bizarre as some of its residents.

And that's the point.

Welcome to Nederland, a town of quiet beauty near the Continental Divide in north-central Colorado.

Despite its proximity to Boulder, 17 miles east, it had been largely overlooked since Gold Rush days. Hippies discovered it in the '60s, and such musicians as Elton John, Billy Joel and Dan Fogelberg frequented the nearby Caribou Ranch recording studio in the '70s.

The locals were so laid-back they barely batted an eye when Stephen Stills sat in on Saturday-night music sets at the Pioneer Inn. Indeed, they took great pride in their live-and-let-live attitude -- at least until 1994, when the frozen bodies of Grandpa Bredo Morstol and Al Campbell were discovered in a shed above town. That's when the 1,394 residents began to take sides on what to do with these two human guinea pigs from a cryogenics experiment that went somewhat awry.

I discovered Nederland while surveying Colorado road-trip options early this spring. I wanted a dog-friendly mountain cabin far removed from the fancy ski resorts but not too far from Denver.

A bit of Internet browsing suggested this place was not only scenic but also had a sense of humor. Where else could you find a town at 8,233 feet that sold "Frozen Dead Guy" merchandise and spawned Chip and the Chowderheads' musical rendition of "Grandpa's in the Tuff Shed" and an award-winning documentary of the same name?

I liked the idea of a semi-secluded mountain town with a high per capita number of restaurants, and I was pleased to find that the 23-room Best Western Lodge at Nederland welcomed dogs (Bosco, my faithful companion, came along for the ride) but disappointed that it was booked for the mid-March weekend I wanted. Turned out my visit would coincide with the third annual Frozen Dead Guy Days.

This sounded too good to miss, so I booked a room in Nederland for the Thursday night before the festivities and switched for the weekend to a cabin in Estes Park, a pretty 40-mile drive north along the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway.

As Bosco and I drove west across Kansas, I envisioned a setting populated by residents as quirky as those in "Northern Exposure." I wasn't disappointed.

The president of the chamber owns Off Her Rocker Antiques, and a fellow known as the Ice Man cometh every month to keep Grandpa Bredo covered with dry ice.

Befitting its most famous resident, the town seemed frozen in time. I was pleased to find not a single stoplight, Starbucks or golden arches.

The winding drive up from Boulder paid off immediately with a view of the vast Barker Reservoir. I easily found the Lodge at Nederland nestled in the center of town, a leisurely walk to the 200-acre lake as well as the main street, where shops such as the Rustic Moose beckoned. A sign in the window of the I & I Caribbean Cafe appropriately advertised Rogue Dead Guy Ale.

I instantly liked the tiny town and started considering a return trip in the summer to visit the numerous lakes in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area in the Arapaho and Roosevelt national forests or in the fall to see the mountains cloaked in autumn splendor. It also was near the popular local hangouts -- such as the Kathmandu Indian restaurant, Whistler's Cafe, the Pioneer Inn and the Acoustic Cafe -- where locals gather to take refuge from the wind and share the latest news about Grandpa and his eccentric grandson, Trygve Bauge.

Cryogenic clientele

The story of Grandpa's journey to the shed is a bit chilling, although no foul play was involved. He died in Norway in 1989, and his grandson, Trygve, had him shipped to California, where he was cryogenically frozen. Meanwhile, Trygve, who wanted to start a cryogenics business, and his mother, Aud, emigrated to Nederland in the early 1990s, built a house they thought could withstand earthquakes, bombs, floods and fires, brought Grandpa here from California and put him on ice. Grandpa and Al Campbell constituted the clientele.

Trygve was a little slippery about his visa, which had expired. He managed to elude the immigration service for a time but eventually was deported to Norway.

A reporter from Nederland's newspaper, the Mountain Ear, went up to the disaster-proof house to interview Aud, who was mumbling something in broken English about bodies thawing in the shed, and that's how the fledgling frozen people business became public.

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