For someone like me who has lived a full and very active life, the cold winds of fall that precede the holiday season blow more than the leaves … they awaken special seasonal memories that warm the heart. Being more than 80 years old causes one to accept that physically some wonderful times can never be experienced again … but, the mind can remember and share.
Partly because of my Cherokee ancestry, but mostly because my family was not rich and couldn’t afford a saddle, I fell in love with riding horses bareback in the North Georgia Mountains. Therefore, horses and cows have always held a special place in my heart, and I have done a little “cowboying” every chance I could.
A little bit less than 10 years ago, I had what would be my last opportunity to feel the thrill of controlling the massive muscles of a big quarter horse named Gunner while working cows in the magnificent Rocky Mountains with some of the best wranglers I have ever known. Though I have ridden horses off and on since childhood, I learned more about them during my time being around Terry Wegener. He is the best cowboy I’ve ever seen, and it was an education in the mannerisms and psychology of horses while working with him.
It was a perfect time of year when the weather was like summer with midday temperatures reaching into the high 60s and falling to the 40s at night. Soon the mercury began to fall, and all the bright, golden Aspen trees changed their color in two days. During the last part of the week, we were blessed with a blanket of more than a foot of powdery snow. It was the ideal time prior to the holidays to experience the gorgeous metamorphosis that occurs annually in the mountains and valleys of Northwestern Colorado! Much of our time was consumed riding or cowpunching in the National Forest and the wild and beautiful Mt. Zirkel Wilderness Area. The snow-covered Rocky Mountains glistened as the sun hit them, looking like a painting out of a winter picture book. There is just something special about riding a horse through such spectacular beauty that rekindles the old-fashioned holiday spirit.
In my spare time, me and a true hero from the US Army’s Special Forces, Brandon Martin, caught dinner for the other wranglers. The possibilities ranged from small creeks to rivers, to still water lakes and from very simple fishing to extremely difficult. Rainbow, Cutthroat, Brook and Brown Trout were caught as well as Mountain Whitefish and Grayling.
Those unforgettable cowboy dinners cooked over a blazing fire complete with interesting stories told by a dying breed of men that will never be duplicated has been the basis of many fond memories. The camaraderie was genuine and unique, and I know that my heart will never know that exact feeling again. It was the most opportune moment for the best photography (which I will share) in the fall season, and I will cherish that last roundup until I die!
Photos: by Bill Vanderford