Vagneur: Rain-soaked May isn’t freaky by any means

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

“Have you ever seen it rain like this?” comes the question with increasing frequency, as though I might have been around long enough to give credence to the burgeoning idea that it has never rained like this before.

Sorry. “Yes, I have,” goes the answer with staid consistency. Whatever you may think, this ain’t freaky by any means. Oh, total inches and severity of the daily poundings may vary in degree, but to get technical is to avoid the question. Or the answer. Jim Markalunas has the details, if you wish.

Before this latest siege of wet weather started, I remarked to a neighbor that some “crazy” rain was forecast for the next week. “I’ve never seen ‘crazy’ rain around here,” said the Aspen native, about 20 years my junior. Which naturally led me to explain the deluge we had in the 1950s that washed untold tons of mud onto our Woody Creek hay fields, created deep washouts in those same fields and filled the basement of our house with about three feet of red mud. Woody Creek Road was closed for days while the county put together a repair plan. Further down valley, the old, two-lane Highway 82 (and the only road at the time), leading into Basalt from the east was about 50 percent washed out, leaving one-lane traffic in that area for about a month. It was an exciting event.

There was the time, in the early 1960s, when my parents took off on a summer pilgrimage to the upper Midwest leaving me in charge of the Elkhorn Ranch. It was haying season and we’d had about a week straight of excellent weather, blue skies and no rain, and the outlook seemed to be good. In two or three days I laid down about 40 acres of hay in short order (with ’60s equipment), finishing the cutting of our land in the canyon and had moved to one of our upper mesas in anticipation of setting some sort of record with my extremely fast swath through the rest of the first cutting. My dad arrived home that evening, and as I proudly explained what I’d been up to and how I was planning to continue onward in the morning, he said, “Why don’t you give the guys on the rake and the baler a chance to catch up, and we’ll see how the weather goes.” That’s why dads are in charge, I reckon. The next afternoon it started raining — hard — and didn’t let up for a couple of weeks. That 40 acres of hay wasn’t what you’d call “good quality” by the time we finally got it put up — it was more like fermented, but maybe the cows liked it that way.

We ran ’em through the corral every day, about 80 head of horses, up at the T Lazy 7 Ranch, and it wasn’t any big deal. Until it rained for most of one July, the exact year I can’t remember (1970s). It was absolutely miserable. The mud in the corral, continually churned by the sloshing and sucking of the horse’s hooves, got deeper and deeper until taking a walk through the mess involved sinking up to your boot tops with every step. It got so bad, we were glad to see the horses slip and slide into the puddle of water that masqueraded as the corral each morning, just so their feet would mix the water and mud together, making it a little more palatable.

We could have sat it out on the porch and played dominoes or cribbage, except that it was July (I mentioned that, didn’t I?), the busiest month of the summer and people were braving the elements, trying to smile through a vacation that could have been much more pleasant. We had trouble getting the cook fires lit for breakfast rides, flipped coins to see who had to wade through the muck next to catch the mounts for an enthusiastic group and felt sorry for the horses, going out the gate into more mud, time after time. On the upside, it was the best morel mushroom season ever.

And to think it all started with an aborted pack trip to Snowmass Lake, an expedition that was supposed to last five or six days. About three miles into the journey, I called it off due to the heavy rain that seemed to have no end, horses that had lost their enthusiasm, and a fear of drowning. I still occasionally catch hell about it from Stoney Davis, trip organizer.

Although we’re out of time, there’s more, but trust that this string of rainy days is not all that unusual and will likely not be the last of its kind. A couple days of sunshine along with a few gasps of a steady breeze and we’ll be kicking up dust.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at