So a yak walks into a bar ...
No, that's not a joke. It's just another Monday in Nederland, where a baby yak named Murray is, in fact, one of the regulars at the town's various happy hours.
Murray — or Bull Murray, as his owners call him when a full name is warranted — is an 11-month-old yak calf who, in the past year, has become something of a fixture in the mountain town.
"Everybody always asks me, 'When are you bringing Murray back?'" owner Anthony Ricketts said. "He's kind of become a little town mascot."
Ricketts and his girlfriend, Samantha Irizarry, originally bought a small yak herd as a way of healthier farming and getting more sustainable meat, milk and fur. Native to the Himalayas, yaks are accustomed to colder weather and higher elevations, which made them a perfect fit for the Boulder County foothills.
While most of their herd roams around on land near Magnolia Road, when Murray was born, Ricketts and Irizarry decided to try something different.
"Rather than have him be raised out in the field, we bottle-fed him and had him imprint on humans so we could handle him and go up to him," Irizarry said. "Murray pretty much thinks he is a dog."
Ricketts said he has a hunting buddy with a son who has spina bifida, and he raised Murray to be a hunting companion so they could eventually use Murray as a pack animal.
In order to get Murray used to all sorts of sights and sounds, Ricketts said they began taking him into town to socialize him. And despite the fact that Nederland is known for a festival honoring a frozen dead guy and once was home to a lemur, walking around with a 450-pound yak in the middle of town draws some attention.
"I love the reactions," Irizarry said. "I know Nederland has a reputation for being a place where you can see anything. This fits right in with that."
'It's like a big, 400-pound dog'
As Irizarry, Ricketts and Murray walked around town on Monday, people walking down the street would stop and openly stare at Murray, usually seconds before asking if they can pet him, which Murray happily obliges.
"It felt fuzzy," said 9-year-old Ronan Fredheim after petting her first yak. "Almost like a sheep."
While some were shocked to see a yak wandering the streets, other residents were already familiar with Murray, with several people shouting, "Hey Murray!" out their car windows as they passed by.
Murray has a few favorite hangouts in town, including Salto Coffee Works, Crosscut Pizza and the Rocky Mountain Oyster Bar, though no one has had the, um, courage to tell Murray just what they serve at a bull bar. Thankfully, for now, everyone there is just after his company.
"It's like a big, 400-pound dog," said Billy McGee, a manager at Rocky Mountain Oyster Bar. "It's a sweet little animal. Well, big animal."
McGee said Murray the yak comes in about once or twice a week, and patrons can't get enough of him.
"They're a little shocked at first, but then they love him," McGee said. "I've never seen a customer not love it."
After leaving the Rocky Mountain Oyster Bar, Ricketts and Irizarry stopped by Crosscut Pizza to meet friends and have a beer, while Murray got some water and plopped down on the sidewalk and calmly sat as a passing 4-year-old promptly used Murray as a fuzzy jungle gym and showed him her stuffed mermaid.
"He brings a smile to everybody's faces, and that's the best part," Ricketts said.
The sight of a small toddler playing with a not-as-small yak actually caused a traffic jam on nearby Bridge Street, as drivers' heads could be seen visibly snapping, while others simply stopped in the middle of traffic and tried to capture a picture on their cellphones.
Stephanie Davis was visiting from Denver last weekend when she saw Murray parked outside the Rocky Mountain Oyster Bar.
"I walked by and thought it was a giant dog," she said. "And I can't walk by a giant dog and not pet it."
So you can imagine Davis's surprise when she got closer and realized it was a yak.
"I thought, well, this is strange and amazing," she said. "I would not expect to see it anywhere else, but you're almost not surprised to see it in Colorado. Especially in Nederland."
Irizarry said she's used to Murray being mistakenly identified.
"Everybody thinks we are walking our bear, or buffalo, or a big Newfoundland (dog)," Irizarry said. "Someone thought it was Shetland pony. I was like, 'With horns?'"
Davis said she originally thought it was a buffalo and tweeted about it before finding out from a local that Murray was a yak.
"I went to CU, so I have an affinity for anything that looks like a buffalo," she said. "It kind of made my day."
'We want him to be the local yak'
Irizarry said they still regularly take Murray to reunite with his herd a few times every month to make sure he also socializes with his own species.
"We need to make sure every once in a while he still knows he is a yak," she said. "He still goes to see his mom and dad, and aunts and uncles. We're hippies up here, so I would cry if he didn't get to see his parents all the time."
But when he isn't roaming with the herd, Murray spends his time in the backyard and has 8 acres to roam at Ricketts and Irizarry's house in Rollinsville, where he hangs out with their dogs and various chickens.
"They love him; they're his pack," Irizarry said. "He and one of the pit bulls, they've escaped the backyard together before, and they'll go on little adventures.
"He also has a favorite chicken: Linda."
Irizarry said their eventual goal is to be able to use Murray to lead pack tours in the Colorado wilderness, and they are hoping to also use him to help train another newborn yak.
"It's a lot easier than taking a horse," she said. "He's more hardy; he's very sure-footed. He's built to be up here."
But all work and no play makes Murray a dull boy, so Irizarry said she wants Murray to still have a thriving social life in Nederland. Murray participated in the Fourth of July parade and she hopes he will someday have a place in Nederland's most famous event.
"We would love for him to pull a hearse during Frozen Dead Guy Days," Irizarry said. "We want him to be the local yak."