Basket lid man | AspenTimes.com

Basket lid man

Tim WilloughbyAspen Times Weekly

Contributed photoSledding supplies up Castle Creek.

An elementary teacher asked Bill Jordan where the coldest place on earth is, expecting his answer to be one of the polar regions. He actually responded, three miles up Castle Creek. That was where his familys ranch was located. Owing to a lack of winter sun augmented by an active cold air drain, the lower stretch of Castle Creek is certainly one of the coldest areas around Aspen, as it was one day in 1926 when my father caught up with Jordan as he headed up the valley.Just out of high school, Father was working at the Midnight Mine. At the time the mine was not producing ore. A full-time crew there was driving a two-mile tunnel from Queens Gulch along the Castle Creek fault to connect the lower levels of the Midnight shaft in Little Annie Basin. Most of the miners lived at the Midnight boarding house in Queens Gulch, especially in winter when they could not drive there. Father, with young legs and social interests, made many trips to town. He enjoyed a quick trip to town by climbing from the Midnight to the top of Buckhorn and skiing the rest of the way. The return trip was a slower hike up Castle Creek and the Queens Gulch road. Carrying skis made more work of the trip, so he developed an arrangement with Bill Jordan.Bill Jordan was the teamster for the Midnight; his Belgian horses pulled tons of supplies to the mine. As a child, Jordan commuted to school in Aspen by horseback from his Castle Creek ranch. As an adult he traversed every road in the area, especially the Ashcroft to Aspen route. As Jordan lived next door to my grandparents in town, Father would throw his skis on Bills sled for free transport back to the Midnight.Father was on his early morning trek to work when he caught up with Jordan, who was hauling a heavy sled full of explosives, carbide for miners lamps, and baled hay for the mine mules. Jordan had made it only to the John Perla ranch, about a half-mile above what is now the Music School campus, because the going was difficult. The combination of new snow, low temperature and wind rendered the road indistinguishable from surrounding fields. When Father arrived, Jordan proposed that he would unhitch the horses and walk them up the road a mile and back to tramp down the snow and thereby to make the uphill struggle easier. Father was to watch the sled and to shovel an area for the horses to turn around when they returned.After shoveling for a while, Father spotted a man coming down the valley. It looked like he walked on snowshoes. Though it was unlikely that anyone approaching down the valley would be unknown to my father, as the man grew closer Father realized he was a stranger.When the stranger came within talking distance, Father noticed that he was not on snowshoes, he was walking on bushel basket lids, thin platters of wood tied to his boots with rope.When Father asked where he came from, the stranger responded, the other side of the range. The stranger said he had spent the night in an abandoned cabin up the road, but offered no additional information. Father also noticed that the man wore no gloves, carried no pack or food, and was coatless. He appeared to be about 30 years old; his face showed signs of a rough night and a tough life, but there was no sign of frostbite.Father offered the man a few dollars for breakfast in town (which he declined) and suggested that he follow the path back to town that Jordans horses had trod on their way to that point. The stranger discarded the basket lids and headed off in the direction of town.Jordan returned to report that, although he had seen strange round footprints near the road, he had not seen the basket lid man. When father and Jordan returned to town later in the week they inquired about the stranger, but no one had seen him.An escaped convict? A tough mountain man? Maybe someone from Gunnison County on the very edge of sanity? No one knows the origin or destination of the mysterious Basket Lid Man.

Tim Willoughbys family story parallels Aspens. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at redmtn@schat.net.Yore Aspen is a regular feature of the Aspen Times Weekly.

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