The line of cars extended as far as the eye could see. License plates read like a convention — Nebraska, Illinois, Texas, Florida, Missouri. Watching these tourists to the Rocky Mountains trying to navigate our little town of Nederland was even more amusing.
You see, Nederland, with its population of 1300 hearty souls, doesn’t even have a stoplight. What it does have is three scenic byways coming together, all converging on a rotary or circle. It was clear from watching the cars that these motorists hailed from places that didn’t have traffic circles. People seemed hesitant what to do. Who had the right of way?
Some took the tactic of just plunging into the fray — no yielding or waiting to see who was in the circle. I have to admit, having driven in circles in foreign cities with large populations, I could see how this method could or would work. Nederland with our tiny circle of one lane — not so much.
Others were confused as to what to do once they got in the circle — should they stop, be courteous, and let people in who were lined up on the roads leading in? Nope, also not the best tactic as you risk getting rear ended by the person behind you. Circles are weird — there is no right of way, but a left of way instead.
But is even more strange is to witness my tiny hometown experienceing its very own traffic jam with cars in every direction. This is what happens to mountain towns during the dog days of summer, when everyone wants to escape the heat — whether it be the heat and humidity of the midwest, or the heat from Denver and the plains.
In a way, we’re lucky. Though more and more people choose to make their way through Nederland on their scenic drives along the Indian Peaks Wilderness, for the most part, traffic keeps moving and it still take mere minutes to make your way through town.
Not so an hour to our north, in Estes Park, Colorado — gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. The traffic can be so bad, that it can take up to 45 minutes just to drive 4-5 miles through the town to the park entrance. The seemingly endless line up of festivals the town plays host to throughout the summer don’t help ease the congestion, adding gaggles of pedestrians crossing the roads to the mix of the gridlock of cars.
I actually think the traffic problems of Estes are contributing to the traffic in Nederland. The most typical routes leading from the east to Rocky Mountain are via Highway 36 from Boulder and Highway 34 from Loveland. But the traffic snarls have tempted tourists to opt instead for the scenic byway of the Peak to Peak highway instead, which sends park tourists right through the thick of Nederland and its baffling traffic circle.
I really can’t complain. My commute to and from work is only 10 minutes, and all those tourists make my job working at the local mining museum worthy of a paycheck. Plus, it provides for great entertainment during the lunch hour. Just remember — look left, not right!