Tony Vagneur: If these tent walls could talk, oh what memories they would reveal
The “Four Pass Loop” hadn’t become a legend yet, but this camping activity started early for me. My grandmother Nellie Sloss and her sister Julia Stapleton started taking me camping when I was very young. Their favorite place was Lenado, as the two ladies had repeatedly taught in the one-class school there. The last time I looked, the building was still standing.
We would stretch out under the stars, without a tent, having prepared supper around the small campfire, and catch the shooting stars as the stories of days gone by were softly spoken, with the cool breeze whispering through the pines. Bears, oh yeah, bear stories, mostly because I would have asked for them, but they still seemed to be the friendly kind. My older cousin, Don Stapleton, accompanied us on occasion.
At one point my dad and his three brothers-in-law went to a large wall tent together, mostly on their big game hunting expeditions, but on memorable occasions during the summer, a family or another set up the tent, somewhere like Hannon Creek or Wilbur Gulch, and make camp for several days. Of course, the kids dispersed – some stayed with relatives, others like me chose to stay in the tent, and the last two nights we always had a big family party.
This tent caught my imagination and after bugging my dad about it for a while I got a smaller version for a now-forgotten special occasion. I was nine, or so, and thought I was a cool guy. As soon as I left school, the tent became my room in the courtyard, I slept there every night. After a few experiments it was quite comfortable and cozy – many afternoons, especially during thunderstorms, I would hide out there and let the world go by.
Later, this tent would be my bivouac on the plain, where my father left me and a few horses, either to repair a fence or to pack salt for the cattle. It started when I was 12 years old. Sometimes I would take a friend, but most of the time I was left alone. It was the same tent Roy Holloway and I later used on our hunting forays behind the ranch.
When they first started, it’s impossible to say, but what we used to call “steak frites” became part of our summer activities. They were simple ways for ranchers and friends to get together, at a pre-arranged location in someone’s neighborhood. They were always outside, usually along a stream, like Woody Creek, Snowmass, Capitol, or East Sopris Creek. This saved everyone from having to play the host. Each family or person brought their own equipment, including a steak and alcohol, and the party began. There were no vegetarian plates.
With all the hubbub in the city and valley these days, it is hard to imagine that we have accomplished such things in relative peace. Places always seemed to be somewhere along the road, with just enough space to park and get everyone close to the creek. Unlike today, the traffic was almost non-existent. If a vehicle passed by, there was a good chance we knew who it was.
The steak fries were great as I was older at the time and usually had a girlfriend but it would be remiss of me not to mention the picnics we had at Maroon Lake. Someone, usually Jack Flogas and his wife, owners of the Lenado Sawmill (a legendary place in its own right) would sympathize with others to set a specific date. Two or three couples were camping there the day before, preparing tables and other necessities for the big day. All of Woody Creek would contribute, and other family and friends from unknown locations would participate. Unlike today, our gathering might be the only event of any consequence on the lake, including hikers, and it was assured that there was plenty of parking.
My maternal side of the family, the Stapletons, occasionally had family picnics by the Roaring Fork River, just behind what is now the business hub of Aspen Airport. At the time, it was a special place known affectionately by the family as “pig pasture,” a small meadow along the river. Like this place and those good times I miss.
All of those old organizers are gone now, as are most of the peaceful settings we used to enjoy. And besides, in today’s world, you have to choose between competing activities, not to anticipate the only one on the horizon.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments to [email protected].