Tony Vagneur: If these tent walls could talk, oh what memories they would reveal

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

The “Four Pass Loop” hadn’t yet become a legend, but this camping out business started early for me. My grandmother Nellie Sloss and her sister, Julia Stapleton, started taking me on camping trips when I was very young. Their favorite haunt was Lenado as both ladies had taught at various times in the one-room school house there. Last time I looked, the building was still standing.

We’d lie under the stars, no tent, after fixing supper around the small campfire, and catch the falling stars as stories of days gone by would be softly voiced, along with the cool breeze whispering through the pines. Bears, oh yes, bear stories, mainly ’cause I’d ask for them, but they always seemed to be of the friendly sort. My older cousin, Don Stapleton, would go with us on occasion.

At some point, my dad and his three brothers-in-law went in together on a large wall tent, mostly for their big-game hunting expeditions, but on memorable occasions over the summer, one family or another would set the tent up, somewhere like Hannon Creek or Wilbur Gulch, and make a camp for several days. Of course, the kids would scatter — some would stay with relatives, some like me would opt to stay in the tent, and the last couple of nights, we’d always have a big family party.

That tent caught my imagination and after bugging my dad about it for a while, I got a smaller version for some now-forgotten special occasion. Nine years old, or so, and thought I was one cool dude. As soon as school was out, the tent became my backyard room, slept there every night. After some experimentation, it was quite comfortable and cozy — many afternoons, especially during rainstorms, I’d hole up there and let the world go by.

Later on, that tent would be my bivouac on the open range, where my dad would leave me and a couple of horses, either to fix fence, or to pack salt for the cattle. That started when I was 12. Sometimes I’d take a friend, but mostly I would be on my own. It was the same tent Roy Holloway and I later used on our hunting forays behind the ranch.

When they started, it’s impossible to say, but what we called “steak fries” became a part of our summer activities. They were simple ways for the ranchers and friends to get together, at a prearranged spot in someone’s neighborhood. They were always outside, along a creek usually, like Woody Creek, Snowmass, Capitol, or East Sopris Creek. This saved everyone from having to play host. Each family or person brought their own accoutrement, including steak and booze, and the party was on. There were no vegetarian plates.

With all of the hubbub in town and the valley these days, it’s hard to imagine that we accomplished such things in relative peace. The places always seemed to be along the road somewhere, with just enough space for parking and getting everyone near the creek. Unlike today, traffic was almost non-existent. If a vehicle did happen by, odds were we knew who it was.

Steak fries were great, as I was older then and usually took a girlfriend, but it would be remiss of me not to mention the picnics that we had at Maroon Lake. Someone, usually Jack Flogas and his wife, owners of the Lenado sawmill (a legendary place all its own) would commiserate with others to set a date certain. Two or three couples would camp there the night before, getting the tables and other necessities set up for the big day. All of Woody Creek would contribute, and other family and friends from points unknown would participate. Unlike today, our gathering might be the only event of any consequence at the lake, including hikers, and it is assured there was plenty of parking.

My maternal side of the family, the Stapletons, had occasional family picnics down by the Roaring Fork River, just behind what is now the Aspen Airport Business Center. At the time, it was a special place known affectionately to the family as the “hog pasture,” a small meadow along the river. How I miss that place and those good times.

All those old-time organizers are gone now, as are most of the peaceful settings we used to enjoy. And besides, in today’s world, the choice has to be made between competing activities, not to anticipate the only one on the horizon.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at