Sultry art or graffiti?

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tree carving

How’s Your Aspen?

You never know what you’re going to stumble across ski touring among the aspen trees of Routt County. Take this crop of sultry artwork, for instance, adorning a stand of aspen trees up on Buff Pass. While similar artwork belonging to lonely sheepherders has been found—and recorded— throughout Routt County, this batch seems slightly more modern, given the snowboard attached to one figure and the relatively newschool swimsuit attire fashioned to the others. But they add to a trove of such drawings that can be found in our backcountry. 

“They’re all over the place up here,” says Kent Vertrees, manager of Steamboat Powdercats, whose guides know the region’s aspen groves better than anyone and have given certain areas not-entirely-PC monikers. “Sometimes we’ll show our guests them when we’re in a certain stand of aspen trees.”

Leslie Lovejoy, who heads up nonprofit Friends of the Routt Backcountry, has been chronicling and recording her tree art finds for years, many as many as eight decades older than these more modern additions. “They’re very prevalent,” she says. “I have hundreds of photos of them from up in our neck of the woods. Many are dated and go back to the 1920s and 1930s.”

Just be warned lest you think of adding to this arsenal of artwork: Stumbling upon them while backcountry skiing or riding your bike is fine, but defacing the forest is frowned upon.

“I don’t have any information on how old those carvings are in your pictures, but tree carvings cause resource damage and can sometimes result in the death of that tree either from girdling or opening an avenue for disease because the tree’s protective bark layer is removed, Tree carving is a prohibited activity on National Forest lands and can result in a citation.”

Brendan Kelly, district recreation program manager for Medicine Bow and Routt National Forests.

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