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4 Quirky Traditions in Small-Town Colorado

Maybe it's in the air? From coffin races to dead guy days to non-festivals, these Colorado towns have some unique traditions.

Sometimes there’s not much to do in a small town, but that's just not the case in many of Colorado's communities, with the almost endless number of mountain activities and scenic expeditions to be had. What's more, these towns' outdoor options are often coupled with some quirky traditions. You can blame it on the fresh air (or perhaps the lack of oxygen in some of these high-elevation towns), but there is no shortage of creativity when devising small town traditions, and these four quirky festivals prove it.

Emma Crawford Coffin Races | Manitou Springs, Colo.

Situated just south of Colorado Springs, backing into the foothills, Manitou Springs is the entryway to Pikes Peak and attracts visitors to its picturesque downtown shops and restaurants. The quaint town was founded in 1872, for the beautiful setting and natural mineral springs said to teem with healing water. 

Though a quintessential tourist town, especially during summer months, October rolls in an event unlike any other—the Emma Crawford Festival & Coffin Races. Visitors will find enthusiastic teams dressed to the nines in themed costume production—Wizard of Oz monkeys, bloody surgeons and superheroes—pushing in-theme coffins uphill to the finish.

Who? What? Let’s back up ….

Emma Crawford came to Manitou Springs in 1889 in search of the healing mineral waters to cure her tuberculosis. Crawford lost her battle with the disease in 1891, and her dying wish was to be buried on top of Red Mountain. Her husband along with 11 men honored this wish and carried her casket up 7,200 feet. Years later, in 1929, several bones were found at the bottom of the mountain along with the casket’s handles and nameplate.

Since October of 1995, Manitou Springs’ townspeople have carried on a tradition in honor of Crawford—the Emma Crawford Coffin Races. Fifty teams put on a show in front of a crowd of locals quite familiar with the elaborate production and visitors intrigued by the town’s interesting sense of character and festival judgment. 

Emma Crawford Coffin Races
Emma Crawford Coffin Races (©Manitou Chamber)

Frozen Dead Guy Days | Nederland, Colo.

Grandpa Bredo lives in a Tuff Shed. He is 109 years old, resides in Nederland and has a weekend-long festival each March held in his honor. Oh yes, and he passed away in 1989 from a heart condition in his home country of Norway.

Following his death, Grandpa Bredo was packed in dry ice and traveled to California’s Trans Time cryonics facility where he spent four years in liquid nitrogen. Next, he made his way to Nederland where he has “lived” with family ever since—even prompting municipal code changes in regards to the keeping of dead bodies.

Each March, Grandpa Bredo’s past-life community of Nederland celebrates the ending of winter with icy events. Gaining international attention, Frozen Dead Guy Days coffin racing, polar plunging, frozen salmon tossing, ice-turkey bowling, brain-freeze contests (yes, brain-freeze contests) and many other quirky activities attract costumed attendees from near and far.

The costumed "Polar Plunge" at the Frozen Dead Guy Days in Nederland, Colo. (Courtesy Frozen Dead Guy Days)
The costumed "Polar Plunge" at the Frozen Dead Guy Days in Nederland, Colo. (Courtesy Frozen Dead Guy Days)

Mike the Headless Chicken Festival | Fruita, Colo.

Created in honor of a chicken’s will to live, Mike the Headless Chicken Festival—as morbid as it may be—is truly based on a chicken’s living moments with his head cut off. 

Held in Fruita, Mike the Headless Chicken Festival takes to a theme each year, with 2014 as “Country-fied Mike.” Activities have included live entertainment, backyard games, chicken-wing and Peeps eating contests, a 5K race and disc golf tournament.

The Nothing Festival | Telluride, Colo.

In one of the many mountain towns of Colorado that draws in heaps of visitors each year and hosts numerous well-attended festivals, one resident decided enough was enough. A letter was written to the city and a non-festival permit was requested. In ironic fashion, the permit was granted and the Telluride Nothing Festival was founded in 1991.

With no crowds and no traffic, Telluride residents enjoy their summertime Nothing Festival with regularly occurring sunrises and sunsets and event-free streets. The sarcastically produced website provides all the details of the non-event.