Wilderness Wanderings: How did fish find homes in Steamboat’s alpine lakes?
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Have you ever wondered where the fish came from that thrive in our high alpine lakes and streams?
Well, no, they weren’t always there. And, yes, they were stocked many years ago. But, by whom?
Pull up a chair for a story or three by Routt County’s legendary rancher Ray Heid.
Ray, who turns 82 next month, shared an hour earlier this week in between ranch chores and before heading to California’s Sierra Nevada for a seven-day, 55-mile backpacking trip in the John Muir and Sequoia-King’s Canyon wildernesses. He will be hiking on foot with a 30-pound backpack and not on the back of his trusty steed Buddy, but that’s a different story.
Every week during summers in the 1930s and early ’40s, Ray or members of his family would drive up Buffalo Pass to the Continental Divide to deliver groceries from their store, Boy’s Market, to the herders who summered sheep in the high country. The market made up one-half of what today is F.M. Light & Sons store in downtown Steamboat Springs.
The Heids drove the family’s old truck, equipped with wooden spoked wheels and nicknamed Zora after its former owner, stopping at each camp along the Divide to supply the sheepherders.
Originating in Rawlings, Wyoming, the sheep would be driven through what is now the Mount Zirkel Wilderness to Rabbit Ears Pass. The section of 1101 Trail between Gold Creek Lake and Three Island Lake trails is still known as “Sheep’s Draw” in reference to the sheep activity through there.
Ray confesses it wasn’t the Jeeps that originally caused the wheel ruts that still scar sections of the 1101/Wyoming/Continental Divide Trail between Summit and Luna lakes. It was their truck and others like it well before the first Jeeps even came to Steamboat in the early 1940s.
The Heids also used Zora to help stock the fish that many generations later now populate some of the alpine lakes along the Divide.
“We would go to the fish hatchery downtown by the Yampa and fill five-gallon milk buckets full of minnows and drop them off at all the lakes every time we would go up there,” Ray said.
They drove as far as they could “bushwhack” and then carried the buckets the rest of the way to a lake.
The fish grew up to become large cutthroat trout that the Heids and others fished, practicing catch and release even in those days.
Ray also shared that he and his cousins would bring boats up to the lakes.
“We would skid them along and stash them up in the trees to keep the porcupines from chewing holes in them,” he said.
The term “Leave No Trace” for outdoor ethics wouldn’t come into the outdoor vocabulary until the early 1960s, but the Heids were early advocates for leaving the backcountry as pristine as they found it. Ray’s father Bob even required that they kick and disperse all the manure whenever breaking camp, rather than leave the piles for nature to disintegrate at a slower rate.
Today, the Heid’s hunt camp in Encampment Meadows is as clean as can be even with the regular activity of the many hunters and other outfitting and horseback riding clients of their Del’s Triangle 3 Ranch. Visiting there, you would not know that you are standing at the site of a regularly used camp other than a small fire ring that also receives use from backpackers.
But before hunting season gets too far along, Ray is off for a vacation. Six months ago he got lucky with a midnight phone call to reserve a wilderness permit — one of just 19 issued for each day — for his Sept. 8 to 14 backpack on the John Muir Trail.
Ray will climb three 13,000-foot passes and skirt three 14ers, including Mount Whitney.
He’ll be accompanied by two others including Irene Barba, a retired employee from the National Park Service. Irene has been helping Ray write his memoirs over the past two years — with the book possibly going to press this fall. But that’s another story.
Bob Korch is trail crew leader with Friends of Wilderness, which assists the U.S. Forest Service in maintaining trails and educating the public about the Mount Zirkel, Sarvis Creek and Flat Tops Wilderness areas. For more information, go to http://www.FriendsofWilderness.com.
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