Tony Vagneur: Kobey Park’s magic comes in its serenity | AspenTimes.com
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Tony Vagneur: Kobey Park’s magic comes in its serenity

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

It’s a big, reasonably flat area, perched on a very wide ridge between the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers. If you’re in the right spot, the views are excellent and can almost burst your heart with magnificence.

Mostly, it’s a series of interconnected open spaces, separated by various stands of conifer and spruce. If one wishes to explore, there are numerous, seldom-used trails going from one opening to another.

My first exposure to the area was as a young lad, maybe 6 or 7, when Grandpa said we needed to check the cows in Kobey Park. Like many people, I reckon, “park” had a different meaning in my lexicon, other than being a synonym for “meadow” or “clear area.” I pictured swing sets, merry-go-rounds, and kids having fun.

Fortunately, I never mentioned my vision to Gramps, but clearly remember our first visit to the park, slowly realizing that my wild anticipation was solidly misdirected. One last chance, maybe over the next hump we’ll see my dream, I hoped. Quickly, however, my disappointment was overridden by the enormity and emerald glaze of the place.

In those days, the remains of the Harris Kobey sawmill were visible on the left as one entered the park from the Collins Creek side. Several old buildings, one of them surely a boarding house, another likely covering the sawmill itself, still stood. A large steam boiler lay tipped over next to the buildings, almost lying in the head of Little Woody Creek. Some 1970s jerk, with no regard for history, and with the use of a cutting torch, had cut a large piece out of the boiler for his own personal uses.

We don’t recognize them today, but there was a plethora of sawmills in the high country around Aspen. Woody Creek had three or four, including Lenado; at least two around Kobey Park; Hunter Creek the same, and if one looks carefully, there are still the remains of old cabins strung out up there, where men lived during the summer while felling trees and then skidding them out in the winter. Old boilers can still be found at the deserted camps. Think how busy those mountains must have been. My great-grandfather and grandfather partnered in a sawmill on the Woody Creek ranch for many years.

There comes a time most years when Kobey Park is a no-man’s land. It becomes the back of the back of beyond, and that is when its poetry is most alive. Two, three feet of fresh snow frosted across the meadows when there’s no hunting season, no one else around, creates a wild world of make believe.

For me, it is the aloneness that brings the magic. Riding into the park from the west during a snow-roiling blizzard, unable to see all but the faintest outline of white-battered evergreens across the openness, is a breathtaking view unparalleled. If something went wrong here, 2 or 3 miles from camp, it might mean death, but those thoughts are banished to the underground.

There was the year my big bay horse, Willie, and I were scouting the park on a day like that mentioned above. It was hunting season, but none were brave enough to be out; it was late-afternoon cold, down around zero, and we were about to head for the cabin when a very large coyote trotted out in front of us, about 50 yards distant.

It was like a greeting; he stopped, showed us his profile, and if visibility had been better, one could almost see the wonderment in his eyes as he surveyed my horse and me. My cousin, Wayne Vagneur, after hearing that story, insisted that we had seen a wolf. It did, it looked like a wolf, but I wasn’t convinced. Wayne was, and he mentioned other sightings he’d had. Either way, it just adds to the magic.

The thing to remember about Kobey Park is that it is very fragile tundra at almost 11,000 feet. Years ago, the Forest Service closed all roads through the park, and motorized travel is prohibited. Some people think it is OK to rip in there with an ATV, or sometimes others like to shorten their distances by driving pickups or dirt bikes through the beauty. Please don’t. It can be a marvelous, quiet hike on foot or horseback.

If you spend enough time there, you may find that on some sleepless night at home, memories of past excursions come forth, or visions of expeditions yet to be had. And as shooting stars fall from above, as frost begins to cover your canvas-covered sleeping bag, dreams come fitfully, but surely.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at ajv@sopris.net.


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