NEDERLAND, Colo. — For 30 years Colorado's Rockies have been my go-to destination for the great American mountain breakfast at the Sundance Cafe. You, as a reasonable person, may consider an 18-hour drive from Chicago excessive for a good meal. But consider the side benefits: mile-high peace, love, harmony, make-you-feel-at-home friendly people, and one of the best views from any restaurant.
Perched on a slope overlooking the scenic Peak to Peak Highway (Colorado Highway 119), the cafe is a local institution. Rock stars hung out there in the 1970s. Stephen Stills, who then lived in the nearby mountains, hoped to buy it.
Today neighbors, families and drive-bys come for food with a view. Favorites include The Works, an eggs benedict with mushrooms and No. 1 sauce; homemade peach/mango jam; lean burgers; St. Louis-style ribs; and snow crab legs, to name just a few from the large menu. Wash it down with a "monster" bloody mary, a margarita or a mimosa.
Sundance is only a mile south of Nederland (25 minutes west of Boulder, an hour northwest of Denver and 1,000 miles west of Chicago). Yet, as a soft breeze passes over your scrambled eggs and you view white-capped Navajo Peak (13,409 feet), the eatery feels like a remote hideaway.
It all began with a discarded World War II Texas Army barracks dragged to Boulder in the 1950s and used for 10 years as a motel. In 1964, when local entrepreneur Bob Ide learned it was going to be torn down, he grabbed it, cut it into seven sections and hauled it to its current mountain home. The Rocky Mountain Lodge (motels were not allowed in a forestry zone) opened the following year, the same year the Eldora Mountain Resort ski area opened a few miles deeper into the mountains.
One of the original 15 rooms was left vacant to provide coffee and doughnuts. Hungry skiers wanted more, so two more rooms were converted into a small full-service restaurant with a dozen tables. An institution was born in the 1970s, when California owners added a deck with several picnic tables and renamed the restaurant and 12-unit lodge Sundance.
The current owner and Connecticut transplant Hillary Stevenson started waiting tables in 1990 and bought the business in 1998. "I have a double degree in psychology and business — perfect for this job," she said. It's open seven days a week, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., but a 7-foot snowfall closed it in March 2003. Electricity was off for three days, but gas enabled her to melt snow for water and serve hot meals for the 15 employees and lodgers.
Year-round, the Sundance Cafe serves its to-drive-for meals. Winter offers skiing on Eldora Mountain — not so great for Coloradans, perhaps, but not bad for the flat-landers. And who wants to miss the annual Frozen Dead Guy Days (March 7-9, frozendeadguydays.org) and its frozen T-shirt contest, coffin racing, frozen salmon toss, snow volleyball and cool music? Spring and summer are more mundane — hiking, biking, fishing, new vistas around every rock; you know, usual boring mountain stuff.
To get deeper, trek to The Sundance Stables (303-258-1176) across the road. The owner, Cindy McCollum, 56, began her career as a guide at age 14. She and her employees escort riders on day trips to places truly away from it all. She hopes her granddaughter, Rylee Kutscher, 10, will one day take over the business. But Rylee is the sixth generation born in nearby Eldora and may just want to ride out of town. (Closed for the season, the stables reopen next May.)
Just a country mile north, Nederland (population 1,470) boasts the restored 1910 Carousel of Happiness; The Renaissance Woman (720-938-3184), featuring period dresses and armor created by a woman named Raven; The Blue Owl coffee shop and used-book store (303-258-3695, blueowlbooks.com); Nature's Own fossils and rocks (303-258-3557, naturesown.com); and the Pioneer Inn (303-258-7733, pioneerinnnederland.net), an authentic Western bar that was a rock 'n' roll hot spot in the 1970s.
Half an hour south are the casino towns of Blackhawk and Central City, which also claim their share of history. Nineteenth-century mines, an old steam engine and an 1850s opera house still in use take the edge off the ringing of the slots. Well kept 19th century bungalows overlook downtown. For cemetery aficionados, there are two from the 1800s atop the hill. If you need a respite from your respite, a simple day trip brings you into 21st century Boulder and Denver.
The Sundance Lodge & Cafe is at 23942 Colorado Highway 119, Nederland, Colo. Cafe phone: 303-258-0804, sundance-lodge.com. Lodge rates start at $89; phone 800-817-3797.Copyright © 2015, CT Now