Saturday, October 1, 2011

Naked in the Rockies: "Budfests" at the Cap-K Ranch Part I

The Cap-K Ranch and I were born the same year: 1955. But, as any good armchair buddhist knows, we each existed in different forms before our current incarnations, I as a trout, no doubt (hence my astrological sign), and the Cap-K Ranch as a cattle ranch on the Fryinpan River, 8 miles up the road from Basalt, CO, under a name that I should, but do not, know. But I do know that Miller Nichols and his partner Joe Gregg bought The Ranch in 1955 and named it after their wives: Cappie Gregg and Katie Nichols (she may have gone by Kay, but as with all my stories I can't vouch for the veracity of anything I say, since I can barely remember my phone number from day to day...). It is here at the Cap-K where the Budfest was born, long before Perry Ferrell's parents even had a glimmer of their little burning man.

When I first started dating Miller's daughter Lynn (known here as The Bud) our first year at CU in Boulder, I had no I idea I was also embarking on a relationship with The Ranch. For the safety of myself, family and Boo the pup, this litte collection of vignettes sticks to stories where The Ranch, not the frisky, steamy, passionate, all-consuming once in-a-lifetime puppy love affair with The Bud (oh dear see I've already gone and said too much) is the glue.  Just imagine that in the spaces between the events desribed here was a never-ending parade of wild group sex, which these days is just another humdrum yawn so I'll just leave all that out. Okay?

To say that the Cap-K is a magical place, or was back in the 70s when we did the most damage there, would be an understatement and not entirely accurate. It still smelled of leather and cow shit, the requisite flies were always close by, the ponds were cattle tanks and irrigation holding pens as they were originally intentioned, and Miller Nichols, the grand patriarch of it all, was alive and kicking in his powerful and determined way. It was and still is a working ranch, though today the cattle are grass fed and go to market as "organic" beef, and the big trout in the ponds are edible after being "poisoned" by brine shrimp for years. But we didn't fish when we visited there in the seventies, not in the ponds or the river (which is "gold medal water" for it's fly fishing characteristics). We did a little horseback riding, but the majority of the time we used the ranch as a staging area for adventures into the high country, either day trips or several day backpacking soirees. In the winter we either cross country skiied in the high country or headed to Aspen Mt. (Ajax) to destroy our knees in the bumps under the Bell chair or Ruthie's Run. (Seventies skiing = short skis, dull edges and "avalement", the opposite of today's carving culture.)

After everybody had graduated from Boulder and the California contingent had been introduced to the Kansas City contingent, and "The Bud" (our hostess) had been through several boyfriends and was basically living alone in a circa 1907 log cabin (that was once the bunk room for the hay hands), we initiated the "Budfests". "Bud" in this case refers not to the sticky wad of skunky purple vegetation (though it was liberally employed at the Budfests), nor to Spuds MacKenzie and the King of Beers, but to "Buddies", or friends close enough to be referred to as "Buds". So, a "Budfest" was generally a Central (Bud's high school buds) meets West (Bud's college buds) which ultimately proved to be a test to see which breed grew the bigger schlongs or bouncier boobs.

The test was initiated by the boys from Kansas City (except for the one who went to CU Boulder who had been adopted by the West Coast buds, which also, by the way, included a bud from Chicago and a bud from Dallas). It isn't clear what drove them to initially disrobe - perhaps growing up in an area where cow-tipping consitituted a letter sport, or that an accepted invitation to group sex was to prance around the living room naked, or that beer and nudity were just part of the cornfield gestalt (who knows what those boys could do with a cob of corn and a couple of sixpacks.) Let is just be said that one midsummer night's eve, as all the buds were gathered in The Bud's living room after dinner, drinking wine and passing the other kind of bud, three of the KC contingent came bounding down the stairs from Bud's modest sleep chambers, completely naked, and simply pranced around the group, practically inviting those of us who thought it was a rather chilly night to let the big dog eat, to get down and get naked. They ran out the front door onto the lawn, joyously leaping through the garden, then back into the living room for a quick dosie doe and then up the stairs, leaving some suppressed giggling and a few jaws seriously dropped. They were soon back, fully dressed as if nothing had ever happened, and joined in with a rousing good-night "kum bay ya" before everybody headed off to their tents on the lawn.

What were the West Coasters to think, if anything? Nobody had appeared to be that drunk or stoned, and the next morning hangovers were not in evidence. But clearly the gauntlet had been laid - unless you had something dreadful to hide, it now seemed that getting naked had been established as a condition that would make a "budfest" something more than a run of the mill Big Chill post-graduate get together (which had not been released yet) raising it above the level of heart-to-heart chats with old  friends during hikes above the timberline to a barnburner the could perhaps result in "Budfest" babies of mysterious origins. But at this point three thirty-something midwest fellas jumping naked on the furniture was, at least in my mind, a temporary aberration of summer camp pranksterism. I couldn't have been more wrong.

The very next day, in the middle of a convoy (there were several carloads of buds to be ferried about) to a hike to a high alpine lake in the Holy Cross wilderness east of the Roaring Fork valley, I rounded a corner above Reudi reservoir with 4 other buds in my Toyota Corolla wagon to find five naked midwesterners in the pullout, prancing around their vehicle like Arapahoe at a buffalo barbecue. Lest we cause a high altitude rear-ender that might result in a pileup, I pulled off the road. When the next car in the convoy rounded the corner and the nudists were assured that their jiggling genitalia had reached the broadest audience of buds, they piled back in the vehicle and continued to lead the convoy, I assume with their naked bottoms sliding side-to-side on the vinyl seat cushions as they rounded every mountain curve, to the trailhead almost an hour up the road.

Of course when we had all hiked to our destination lake (which if I recall was Savage Lake that in retrospect couldn't have been a better name given the circumstances) even the shyest among us got naked for the mandatory heart-stopping dip in the icy alpine waters.  That we remained naked, all 15 or 20 or us, sprawled across a huge boulder that jutted out into the lake for all the other un-indoctrinated hikers to uncomfortably see, was perhaps the beginning of a deeper sense of camaraderie between the West and Midwest buds, plus it allowed for detailed studies (since we were all hiding behind our Vuarnets and Ray-Bans with caps pulled down low against a more proximate sun) of nipples and penises of varying varieties. I don't recall that genitalia at this or at any point in the Budfest became a point of conversation (as in "wow that's one fine set of hooters you have there Alise", or "it must be uncomfortable packing that much meat around between your legs, Bob"), despite all the obvious opportunities. Too bad. I guess we really weren't that liberated after all.

Later that same day we had the unforgettable naked volleyball game on the lawn in front of Lynn's turn-of-the-century authentic rough-hewn log cabin, which faced the Fryingpan Road and famous Fryingpan river just beyond. Not that it was particularly unusual for motorists to slow down and pay extra care passing through the ranch buildings on either side of the road, but on this Saturday evening the buds gave the passersby extra reason to slow down, honk, wave and hoot when they saw the group of young nudists batting the volleyball about on the lawn. Ironically the buds grew uncomfortable with all this attention (as if we expected the passing drivers to simply take a group of 20 or so attractive young folks in the buff in stride like they were another pod of cows by the road) so we all started to "hit the dirt" (which was luscious lawn) every time someone drove by. Of course this caused even more curiosity, though none of the motorists actually stopped or got out of their cars to get a closer look I imagine it would have been pretty obvious that there were a bunch of naked people on the other side of the fence just paces away from the road. In retrospect I'm surprised nobody called the sheriff, since this was after all off the beaten path from Aspen where real ranchers, foremen, their wives and their Bibles still roamed the down-valley roads. Then again this was pre-cell phone, pre-PC, pre-digital anything...).

After that wild weekend the buds began to pack up, a few more with each passing day, and head back to the Midwest, SoCal, NorCal, the Great Northwest, Vermont, and even the Big Apple, scattered in their various post-college career pursuits to eventually start families and settle in far-flung places. There have been a few Budfests since then. Lynn's wedding, of course, and most recently the 50th anniversary of the Nichols/Gregg ownership of the CapK (both Cap and K having moved to their ranches in the sky), which coincided with the 50th birthdays of most of the buds and was an incredible multi-day party complete with real fireworks blasted from an island in one of the trout-laden irrigation ponds near the expanded and remodeled log cabin that was once the site of naked volleyball. To the best of my knowledge there has been no spontaneous nudity since that particular celebration of genitalia back in the mid-eighties. (One of the buds I'm sure has photos in fact I recall seeing a few or maybe those are just images indelibly etched into my memory. There is one I know of the author atop Snowmass Peak in hiking boots, wool gloves, a wool knit cap, a bandana around the neck and nothing else, posing like Charles Atlas some 30 lbs lighter than today. I imagine if a sculptor to a chisel to this damaged and corpulent frame they might discover that guy hiding several layers underneath.)

We recently vacationed at the Cap-K with a few of the original buds, staying at the newly remodeled main house which was is now more comfortable and inviting than ever. My 23 year-old son Jack discovered the joys and frustrations of fly fishing in the Fryingpan River and the famous ranch ponds, and I'm happy to report that we all caught a lot of beautiful big trout (releasing them of course). We did not, however, get naked. I regret to say I did not even get the urge, though I have to say I would not have minded if some of our female companions took it all off on one of our hikes. As I mentioned to the original Bud, Lynn - you can take the boy out of the hike but you can't take the hike out of the boy! (How's the for a complete non-sequiter to end this nonsensical ramble? Fitting.) And now I think I'll take my clothes off and go for a walk. :)


  1. I think you can probably imagine the soundtrack to all this mid-eighties madness: JT, Little Feat, Earth Wind & Fire, and of course trying to jam the Sons of Champlin down the ears of the Midwesterners...

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  3. Good memories! From Savage Lake to hitting the dirt, this So Cal bud and his then future wife are proud to have been part of the great action. I remember some great LIVE music, and food too, and chasing one big ass trout out into the pond, probably in the buff, and using your cowboy hat to finally bring it in? We smoked it (pun intended) and it tasted quite like mud. Then there were the Fryinpan "helgermites" (said with a deep drawl) but that's a story for another day...

  4. The Cap-K Ranch was named for Cynthia "CAP" Gregg and Catherine "KATIE" Nichols. The name was suggested by Mrs. Nichols' father, Mr. Caldwell.


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