Locals treasure the beauty of Boulder, Colorado, and tourists often gaze in awe at the city’s towering mountains to the west. Jock Bartley fell in love with the hip university town in the late 1960s, and it really paid off.
Bartley built a career as a guitarist in Boulder and founded Firefall, a nationally known rock group with hits that went high up the charts in the 1970s. As Firefall releases its new album Friends & Family Friday, Bartley explains to visitors what brought him to Boulder and what they should make sure to see.
“Boulder was a beautiful, amazing and diverse college town that had a thriving music scene already going in 1968, when I went to the University of Colorado as an art major,” recalls Bartley, who was born in Hutchinson, Kansas, and moved with his family to Green Mountain Falls, Colorado, at age 8. “My musical capabilities and tastes were already formed, but, in Boulder, they certainly expanded.”
Some of Bartley’s “don’t-miss” sights are the Flatirons and the Chautauqua area, but no one visiting Boulder can miss the Flatirons. They are the majestic vertical rock formations that protrude to the west of the city, providing a jaw-dropping view when one arrives from Denver or elsewhere on U.S. Route 36. Chautauqua Park also provides incredible Flatirons views and mountain trails for walking and hiking.
Bartley, who bought a house in Boulder in the 1970s and lived in the area until buying a house 20 miles south in Westminster in 1993, has a deep love for Boulder Canyon. The canyon connects Boulder to Nederland, a mountain town about 17 miles west with an elevation of 8,241 feet, nearly 3,000 feet higher than Boulder.
“Boulder Canyon is craggy and steep with Boulder Creek flowing down next to the two-lane highway,” Bartley says. “There are very few houses and cabins nearby. The reason I love Boulder Canyon so much is that it has led to many incredible musical and social situations for me.”
Bartley says he traveled up the canyon to play music at the homes of Dan Fogelberg, Byrds founding member Chris Hillman and Mark Andes, who played in Spirit, Firefall and Heart. He also fondly recalls traveling up the canyon to Nederland’s Pioneer Inn in 1973 to play with Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons and then accepting an invite to join Parsons’s Falling Angels band.
The Pioneer Inn was a gathering place where Fogelberg, Billy Joel, Rod Stewart, Stephen Stills and other stars jammed during the early 1970s, and it still offers live music today. The inn “is a classic rough-hewn wood bar,” the Pioneer Inn says on its website. “There is Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap, regulars who can tell you yarns of the historic past and the best cheeseburgers in town!”
“I also went up the canyon,” Bartley adds, “to spend the night in a friend’s tie-die teepee. Memories light up Boulder Canyon for me.”
Boulder, he says, is “a small, laid-back city (population 102,000) with world-class scientists, world-famous musicians, a thriving artist and writing community and now a nationally prominent college football team with Deion Sanders as the new coach.”
Bartley expands on his Boulder profile.
“Boulder is a high-end small city that has college students, hippies, yuppies, fantastic artists and musicians, and, I heard, the highest number of PhDs per capita in the U.S.,” he says. “The high elevation (5,430 feet) draws many countries’ top athletes to train at altitude. I remember sitting on my front yard on 4th Street and watching international teams of bicyclists, distance runners and future Olympians run or pedal by my house. Dozens of countries’ elite athletes train in and around Boulder. Why not? It’s a beautiful city at the foot of the Rocky Mountains — very health food and active lifestyle conscious — with plenty of fun things to do in the area.”
Downtown, another section of Boulder Creek “is cool, and there are lots of great restaurants and clubs to go to,” he says. “The historic Boulder Theater is where many national acts play. Walk around the Pearl Street Mall which captures the laid-back hip quality of Boulder. The CU (University of Colorado) campus is wonderful. And you’re minutes away from the Rockies, 45-90 minutes away from many world-class ski areas, and Red Rocks Amphitheater is nearby.”
Bartley recommends two of his favorite places elsewhere in Colorado: Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park and Independence Pass near Aspen. Trail Ridge Road stretches 48 miles from Estes Park to Grand Lake and ascends above 12,000 feet.
“Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous paved road in America, crossing the Continental Divide at 12,183 feet,” Bartley says. “It is not for feint-of-heart flatlanders, especially with no guardrails in some places.”
Trail Ridge Road and Independence Pass are closed in the winter, but make sure not to miss the pass, because it “is a once in a lifetime driving excursion for visiting flatlanders,” Bartley says. Independence Pass crosses the Continental Divide at 12,095 feet and comes down on its eastern side at Twin Lakes near Leadville.
“It is steep, narrow and treacherous with some tight curves that can only fit one car passing at a time,” Bartley warns. “It’s scary for folks not used to extreme mountain driving, but it is a wondrous and spectacular trek through the Rockies that will imprint itself on your brain. Drive safe!”