Aspen Tree Tells A Story

Carvings are prolific among the aspen trees of Gray Head and Deep Creek Mesa. Many are simply graffiti but some record a history and tell a story…

History: As early as 1850 and until WWII, large numbers of Basques came to the American west to seek their fortune. Most became sheepherders and their history can still be found carved into the Aspen trees. These carvings, or arborglyphs, are a reminder of the widespread sheep industry that once existed not only on San Miguel County, but throughout Colorado and the country. 

One Basque historian describes these arborglyphs as a “vast and secret living-forest museum”. Most carvings feature a name and date but some “communicate the sheepherder’s feelings: loneliness, missing their native land, and often longing for female companionship.” Today, there are very few aspen carvings dating before 1900 since aspen trees only live to about 100 years and many are cut down before they die.

Story: I was driving on Last Dollar Road, just past Hawn Lane, and noticed a family gathered around an aspen tree with a heart carving. I stopped, wanting to inform them of where they could see “real” arborglyphs… turns out this tree carving had a very special meaning for them. Here’s their story and photos:

“It all started in the 1970’s.  My parent stumbled upon Telluride while on one of their “excursions” to see the fall colors.  Every fall they would travel during their anniversary.  They fell in love with Telluride and soon purchased a lot on main street.  That lot was later traded for an apartment/condo slightly above and to the right of the old Monica’s Bakery.”  

“We spent a lot of time there as a family.  Sometime in the early 80’s, we’re guessing around 1983, my dad carved their initials into one of the trees on Last Dollar Road.  Through the years, they have visited the tree and taken pictures.  Then, last September, my mom (Kathryn Ralston) passed away after having Pancreatic Cancer.  This summer we wanted to come and find the tree again so that my dad could see it and I would know how to find it again.  It is a very special place that I will always hold in my heart.” Molly McCormick, daughter


This aspen heart can been seen on Last Dollar Road, after you pass Hawn Lane, heading west, on the right side of the road. DR + KR lives on as a Gray Head love story. Thank you Molly and Dick for sharing your story and photos.


Great additional reading about arborglyphs in our region: Arborglyph Story in The Watch

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