‘Girl’s Life on the Marolt Ranch’: An expert guide to locals’ Aspen, circa ’50s-’60s

Tim Willoughby
For The Aspen Times
Marolt ranch on the north side of Highway 82 in the 1930s.
Willoughby collection/Courtesy photo

“Walking on Fences: A Girl’s Life on the Marolt Ranch in Aspen,” by native Vicki Marolt Buchanan, provides readers with three interesting components blended into one book.

One is her personal story of growing up in a changing 1950s-’60s Aspen. She chronicles a child’s challenges in the context of an extended family, friends, and the Aspen community.

She begins with a history of her family in Aspen. Her father’s side was from Slovenia, coming to Colorado, to Leadville and then Aspen in the 1880s-’90s. Her grandparents opened a bar and boarding house in Aspen in 1900. They sponsored other Slovenians who also came to Aspen, families including Garish, Zupancis, Skufca, Oblak, and Tekoucich.

Her mother’s side were Petersons, who came from Sweden to Colorado, then Leadville and then Aspen in the 1890s. Through intermarriage, that side extended to longtime Aspen families Stapleton, Bishop, Gerbaz, and Elisha.

The families listed above were the backbone of the Aspen community, all in their third generation in Aspen when Buchanan was born.

While not intentional, the book, for those of us who lived through the same period, mourns the loss of having extended families with members all living locally and the end of a sense of the deepest definition of community.

Buchanan’s family was a mainstay of Aspen’s community. While she does not mention it because it happened before she was born, Marolts were original members of the Aspen Ski Club that began Aspen’s skiing in the 1930s.

The second component is her detailed connection to the Marolt Ranch, everything from when different flowers bloomed to the vast irrigation system. The Marolts bought part of it in 1916 and an additional section in 1926, extending the ranch all the way from Red Butte to where the Prince of Peace Chapel is now. The final acquisition in 1932 was land along both sides of Castle Creek that had been the Holden Lixiviation Works, Aspen’s smelter.

They raised cattle until they lost their Maroon Creek grazing rights, hay, and potatoes. She has wonderful memories of the building they used for a workshop and granary, now part of the Aspen Historical Society Museum. Her home was originally the assay office for the Lixiviation. She remembers many of the renovations the family made to make it their family home.

She also describes the lower Castle Creek Valley and its water flumes that not only transport you back in time, but also to the sensory satisfaction of wandering in that part of the valley. The family also had an interest in the Montezuma Mine, and she details family picnics at the mill before it burned down.

The third component, using what had to be a thick diary full of details, includes highlights of her memory from all of her years in Aspen’s schools, the Catholic Church, and the larger community.

She describes learning to ski on Aspen Mountain and skating at the community rink across the street from the school.

Something not common today, she describes picking chokecherries. I enjoyed two of her memories with her older cousins, Bill (Billy) and Max Marolt. One was when Billy and friends built their own chairlift inside the Lixiviation building, and another when Max was helping her fix her ski bindings.

To her, they were cousins. To us, they are Aspen’s first Olympic skiers.(1960, ’64)

Buchanan’s book, told through her own experiences, chronicles several decades of Aspen’s history. To help get into her book, I suggest you visit the Holden/Marolt Mining and Ranch Museum. Wander the buildings and grounds while thinking of growing up there. Read the book, and then come back again having been given a tour guide from a real expert, a Marolt.

The book is available at the Aspen Historical Society, Bookbinders Basalt, and Explore Booksellers.