Boulder is steeped in mystery, tall tales, and myths. Some have some facts mixed in. Many are familiar to our readers and to many other Boulderites (if thee are any who are not readers).  Our list today includes the well-known tall tales as well as some of the more obscure stories from our Valley. So let’s agree to suspend our disbelief and shine some light on the depths of darkness and see what we find!

  1. The Curse of Chief Niwot: We are all familiar with the famous “Niwot’s Curse.” I first heard it in the form of “anyone who visits the Boulder Valley is doomed to forever return.” I know that is not true. I came here in 1975 and never returned! I suppose the fact that I never left the Valley once I visited might have something to do with it. Had I ever left instead of just staying here since 1975, I suppose I would have been cursed to forever return. I have no plans to go anywhere. Why would anyone leave Boulder?  Chief Niwot, or Chief Left Hand, Chief of the Southern Arapahoe Tribe, has left his name all over the Valley. What he did NOT leave was a picture of himself. It is believed that NO picture of our most famous Native American resident exists. No one questions that he really existed, and that he was in fact a GREAT Chief.  Since we have no idea what he really looked like he could very well be walking among us to this day. While this is referred to as “Niwot’s Curse,” it would be more aptly named “Niwot’s Blessing!”
  2. The Ghost of The Hotel Boulderado: Built in 1909, The Hotel Boulderado is one of Boulder’s and one of Colorado’s  oldest and most famous hotels. It is rumored to be haunted by the ghost of a woman who died there under mysterious circumstances in the early 20th century. Guests and staff have reported strange occurrences, such as elevators moving on their own and unexplained cold spots. Our house in Lafayette has unexplained cold spots. We attribute that to poor insulation and cold nights. For us it is more a matter of altitude than attitude.
  3. The Lost Gold Mine of the Flatirons: One of the most enduring tales is that of a rich gold mine hidden somewhere in the Flatirons, the iconic rock formations that overlook the city. According to legend, a prospector discovered a vein of gold but died before he could claim his find. Despite many searches, the mine has never been found. My personal suspicion is that the “gold” in fact exists in the form of the Valley itself, a touch of heaven on earth.
  4. The Blue Mist of Walker Ranch: Walker Ranch is a historic site with several buildings dating back to the 1880s. It’s said to be haunted by a blue mist that appears at night, believed to be the spirit of a settler who lost his family in a fire and died of grief. Hikers have reported seeing strange lights and experiencing sudden drops in temperature. If it is me, I am a poor reporter for this topic, since walking uphill can cause me to see spots of light, and if it is after dark or during the winter, sudden drops in temperature are to be expected. If the temperature is not wildly fluctuating, you’re probably not in the Boulder Valley at all! You don’t need a mist, you just need a topo map and a compass. Or a phone with a gps feature.
  5. The Secret Tunnels Under the University of Colorado: There are rumors of a network of secret tunnels under the University of Colorado’s Boulder campus. These tunnels are said to have been used for everything from moving illegal liquor during Prohibition to secret government experiments. While there are indeed maintenance tunnels, the stories have expanded to include all manner of intrigue and mystery over the years.Personally I believe that while the tunnels might be used in part for maintenance access across campus, other uses are not only likely, they are almost certainly partially true. Whether it was smuggling alcohol around campus when Boulder was a “dry town,” or smuggling cannabis when it was illegal  to possess it, the tunnels were likely not restricted to legal uses only. And yes, the city of Boulder was a dry town until 1967. Under the “truth is stranger than fiction, this is NOT a myth or legend, but is history! Joe Gold’s parents owned and ran “Goldines,” a bar and grill just outside of the then city limits. It was the closest legal bar to the dry city of Boulder. Joe’s parents were loved in town and held in high regard.
  6. The Legend of Green Mountain’s Wizard: It’s said that in the late 19th century, a recluse known as the Wizard of Green Mountain lived in a hidden cave somewhere on Green Mountain, overlooking Boulder. He was believed to possess magical powers and knowledge of hidden treasures. Hikers sometimes claim to find odd trinkets or feel a mysterious presence, attributed to the lingering spirit of the wizard. As you know, Green Mountain is capped by the pyramid-shaped peak, Bear Peak, which stand 3000 feet (915 meters) immediately above the Flatirons. It is visible from about anywhere in town. Trailheads are from Chautauqua or from Gregory Canyon. Gregory Canyon is immediately North of the Flatirons, and during apple season it sports many apple trees laden with wonderful fruit! Whether or not the Wizard of Green Mountain lives above Chautauqua, I am confident that he or she is not an apple hog!. Even our reclusive residents share the fruits of labor.
  7. The Phantom Jogger of Boulder Creek Path: A modern urban legend involves the ghost of a jogger on the Boulder Creek Path. According to local lore, this spectral runner appears at dusk, wearing 1980s jogging gear. Witnesses report that he runs silently beside them for a short distance before vanishing. Some say he’s the ghost of a local athlete who met an untimely end while training. I know that every time I am walking up a trail, I am passed by joggers. I might be wearing a puffy, gloves, hat and scarf, while the joggers are wearing shorts and running shoes. After I’ve been walking uphill for a while (anything more than 10 minutes of walking uphill) everyone takes on a ghostly appearance as my eyes roll back in my head and my lungs scream insults at me.
  8. The Haunting of Macky Auditorium: Macky Auditorium, a prominent concert hall on the University of Colorado campus, is rumored to be haunted by the ghost of a construction worker who died during the building’s construction in the early 20th century. Students and faculty report unexplained noises, sightings of a ghostly figure, and instruments playing by themselves, especially around the attic and the backstage area. The Auditorium has great ghosts and even better acoustics!

    Photo Credit: Reinhardt Greiff. Macky Auditorium.

  9. The Enchanted Forest of Enchanted Mesa: Enchanted Mesa, just west of downtown Boulder, south of Chautauqua, is the subject of Native American legends and modern tales of strange occurrences. Legends tell of an enchanted forest atop the mesa where time flows differently, and people entering the forest may find themselves emerging hours later, though they felt they spent only minutes inside. This has led to stories of portals to other dimensions and encounters with beings from other worlds. Regardless of the legend, it is indisputable that Enchanted Mesa is enchanting, gorgeous, and an easy walk from the parking area. Lunch or dinner at the restaurant at the parking area is a great experience, offering excellent food and incomparable views.
  10. The Mysterious Lights of Flagstaff Mountain: For decades, residents and visitors have reported seeing mysterious lights dancing on Flagstaff Mountain. These lights, often described as flickering or pulsing orbs, have been attributed to everything from ghostly lanterns of miners searching for lost companions to natural gas emissions. Despite attempts to explain these phenomena scientifically, the lights continue to be a source of speculation and mystery.

Each of these tales, whether steeped in history, the supernatural, or pure folklore, adds another layer to Boulder’s intriguing and mysterious ambiance, captivating the imagination of those who hear them.

Lenny Lensworth Frieling

Shared Knowledge is Power!

  • Senior Counsel Emeritus to the Boulder Law firm Dolan + Zimmerman LLP : (720)-610-0951
  • Former Judge
  • Photographer of the Year, AboutBoulder 2023
  • First Chair and Originator of the Colorado Bar Association’s Cannabis Law Committee, a National first.
  • Previous Chair, Boulder Criminal Defense Bar (8 years)
  • Twice chair Executive Counsel, Colorado Bar Association Criminal Law Section
  • NORML Distinguished Counsel Circle
  • Life Member, NORML Legal Committee
  • Life Member, Colorado Criminal Defense Bar
  • Board Member Emeritus, Colorado NORML
  • Chair, Colorado NORML, 7 years including during the successful effort to legalize recreational pot in Colorado
  • Media work, including episodes of Fox’s Power of Attorney, well in excess of many hundreds media interviews, appearances, articles, and podcasts, including co-hosting Time For Hemp for two years.
  • Board member, Author, and Editor for Criminal Law Articles for the Colorado Lawyer, primary publication of the Colorado Bar Assoc. 7 Years, in addition to having 2 Colorado Lawyer cover photos, and numerous articles for the Colorado Lawyer monthly publication.
  • LEAP Speaker, multi-published author, University lectures Univ. of Colorado, Boulder, Denver University Law School, Univ. of New Mexico, Las Vegas NM, and many other schools at all levels.