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Tony Vagneur: Scenes from the mountain

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

Vignettes of life in the valley. Some you may have heard; hopefully, others will be new.

After getting a few last-minute groceries in El Jebel, I was changing my boots in the horse trailer tack room when a middle-aged, attractive, auburn-haired woman walked right up and started a conversation.

“Are you a rancher,” she asked. “Yeah, you might say so,” I replied, with some reservation, figuring I was either going to get some naïve blathering about how terrible ranchers are, or a come-on from a gold-digger, but it came down somewhere in the middle. “Well,” she said, “I’m looking for a rancher or a cowboy, someone who needs a woman around and who would appreciate my help. I just love the lifestyle”



I sat down on the stoop of the trailer door, one boot off, one on, and replied, “Hell, I know a bunch of ranchers around here. Why don’t you come up to my place for a day or two, for a try-out you might say, so I could recommend you to my friends with confidence.” As Naomi, a previous editor of my column once said, “You never quite tell us how these stories end!”

We were taking a ride up Hannon Creek, well-known habitat of black bears, especially in the spring. A different woman and I had never spent time together before, and were having a grand conversation of giving our histories with horses and of living in the valley. Suddenly, in front of us was a momma bear and two cute little cubs. “Oh, my God,” she said in a loud voice as they trundled off into the woods. “I have never seen a bear in the wild,” she exclaimed, still talking with high volume.


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“Hold it down,” I whispered. “If we’re quiet, we may get another chance to see them.” She wanted no part of that, “I don’t want to see them again, they scare me.” OK then.

When I was at the T Lazy 7, we had three old gentlemen, a triumvirate of horses retired from the world of work, who were a clique all their own. Ace, Cinnamon and Thunder, who had years before passed old-age, and knew Maroon Creek better than almost anyone, split from the herd one summer and took up residence near the base of Aspen Highlands, above Glen Eagles Drive. The grass was tall and lush throughout the aspen forest, with plenty of water. No doubt the next best thing to heaven for horses and we left them there to flourish.

Some one complained to the animal control department, you know the kind, and one of their officers said we had to remove them. After some argument, “Meet you out there,” was my reply. The officer seemed very understanding as I whistled and shook the oat can. Soon, we heard the old boys running down the hill, crashing through the tall grass and downed trees, no doubt curious to hear from known civilization. With that commotion, the officer panicked, “Geezus, here they come,” and took off at a dead run for the safety of his truck. My timetable for removing them became much more relaxed.

It doesn’t all happen in the summer. A few years ago, I jumped on the Ajax Express (#3) with three younger guys who wondered if I knew how to get to Bell Mountain, as they drooled at the looks of Hanging Tree. “Sure, I’ll take you over there, it’s kind of hard to find at first.”

“Can’t you just tell us? We’re from Vail and we ski pretty fast.” They missed it, but I distinctly heard the thrown gauntlet hit the hardpack under the lift.

As I waited for them at the bottom of 6, they must have thought it was a fluke I beat them down. We next ripped down International, hit the road to Perry’s, and non-stop to Spar. As soon as I was sure they could see me, I headed down Spar, across the top of Nell and stopped at the Slalom Hill, figuring that to be the last challenge on my tour.

“We can’t go down there — have to meet our wives for lunch,” was the collective whine. They headed around Tower 10 Road to get to the gondola as I hollered after them, “If I ever get to Vail, I’ll look you up.”

Anyway, nothing big. Just a little fun. I’m sure you have your own stories to share.

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


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