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Tony Vagneur: No matter the road, history follows

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

“Seems like sometimes history follows you around.” That was in an email I sent to a friend about a week ago, and truth be told, it appears as though I’m always looking over my shoulder to see what’s on my tail.

It was just a few days ago that I left the beautiful, sunny morning of the valley and headed for parts unseen near Collbran, Colorado on a mission formulated by the powers that be in Woody Creek Canyon.

Four-horse trailer attached, full tank of fuel, there is always something refreshing about starting a journey out of the valley, especially for a guy like me who spends maybe too much time attached to the land. Irrigation water, cows, grass, hay, clear or rainy skies, horses, distant horizons, watching the approach of dusk as darkness readies to throw its cloak over the land, all seem to consume most of my time, and as author Annie Dillard has said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”



The Debeque Cut-Off is one of those names given in the past with a simple mission of telling you where you’re headed. Which from I-70, it doesn’t, but if you’re leaving Collbran country and headed to Debeque, it is entirely self-descriptive. The name reminds me of the colloquially monikered ski run Bobbitt’s Cutoff on Aspen Mountain.

Had you asked me a couple of weeks ago if I’d ever been to Collbran, I’d have said yes, but as I found out, that would have been technically incorrect. Collbran is in the Plateau Creek Valley, so it only makes sense that Plateau Valley is the name of the area school, home of the Cowboys, a couple miles outside of town.




As I passed the school, a store of memories flashed back, especially upon seeing the athletic field, clearly visible from the highway. We played a couple of high school football games there, once as a freshman, again as a senior. The coach got on me for knocking down a pass instead of intercepting it, one of those unforgettable claims of fame I’d like to forget. Track meets were held there, and at least once in memory, where as a team we clinched first place, something that seemed impossible at the time.

Green and white are the school colors, and oh so clearly, I remember the cheerleaders with green and white tops and green panties underneath. Those are the things a high school kid notices right off. I might have fallen in love with one of them, but on second thought, maybe it was a Cedaredge cheerleader, in blue and white. Either way, life was exciting.

If you keep driving past the school, pre-K through 12, just like the Red Brick used to be, you finally come to the town of Collbran. If you want to stay on Main Street, you have to turn left, a nugget not obvious and furnished to me by Ty Bevin, local rancher. Population 369 according to the 2020 census, and peaceful.

Just across the creek, there is a well-kept fairground, with tons of room for parking. As I drove down Main, every occasional vehicle waved, and the several groups of ranch-attired people gathered here and there gave me a nod and friendly recognition. And I didn’t know any of them. Think about that the next time you hike Smuggler.

A young kid and an older gent, shoeing horses off to the side of the arena pens, laid down their farrier tools and came over to help me load the steers I’d come for. It was done in a flash and I shut my rig down for a lunch break.

Collbran and the surrounding area is a small ranching and farming community, but for its size, figures large in Aspen. If you remember Tom’s Market, Tom McFadden, grocery entrepreneur, came from Collbran. His son Jeffrey was a Skier teammate, his sister Wendy one of the resident sweethearts. Basalt cattle rancher Billy Grange also has a spread in the Collbran area. There are some notable Aspen ex-patriates there as well, who for now, shall remain nameless.

Additionally, for a couple of years yours truly either won or placed second in a GS ski race at nearby Powderhorn Ski Resort, part of the ever-popular but now extinct Coors Lazy Man’s Triathlon. Surely, I’ve written a column about that. Fellow ski patroller and mountain man extraordinaire, Tom Hicks, who spent years on the Aspen Mountain patrol, lives in nearby Mesa.

Anyway, like I said, history seems to follow us around, and for a day in my life, the trip to Collbran stood out as an excellent feature.

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


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