Vail’s 50th: Sheepishly through the looking glass
January 11, 2013
VAIL, Colorado – Before there was Vail or much of anything else around here, there were ranchers and livestock.
It wasn’t that long ago the Jouflas family ran one of the four largest sheep operations in the United States based right here in the Happy Valley.
In those days it was the Gore Creek Valley – before the marketing types started calling it the Vail Valley, even though there’s no such place on all of God’s green earth.
Since 1926, the Jouflas family had been running sheep through the mountains that would become Vail Mountain and through the valley that would become Vail, the town.
After about 1965, though, that became a little problematic. When the gondola building went up, real estate development soon followed. Among the favored spots for real estate development was the real estate along the Gore Creek.
It’s pastoral and placid.
People liked it. So did sheep.
“Ranching is a fairly straightforward business,” said lifelong Eagle County rancher Chris Jouflas. “Sheep need grass and they need water. They don’t need much else. They aren’t real complicated.”
They do, however, need to be left alone. When they’re facing the business end of a cranky, toothy dog, their sense of self-preservation goes into overdrive as they run the other direction.
There are a few specific dog breeds that you want around sheep. The kind that can snap a coyote’s neck like a twig is one. The kind that keep sheep rounded up and prevent them from forming a support group for future lamb chops.
Then there’s the kind of dog that made one of Chris Jouflas’ ewes so nervous she jumped through a plate-glass window on the ground floor of Gunther Hoffler’s brand new condo.
Some dogs chased that sheep until it leaped through the huge window of the condo and onto Hoffler’s blue shag carpeting. The sheep suffered a cut on its eyelid.
Head wounds don’t have to be that serious to bleed like the Nile River in one of the Seven Plagues of Egypt. Mostly, blood goes up there to keep the brain functioning property. Sheep, of course, don’t have much in the way of brain function, but apparently blood likes to hang out in their heads anyway.
So when this ewe cut her eyelid, massive amounts of that blood ended up on Hoffler’s powder blue shag carpet – and pretty much all over the rest of the powder blue condo that his interior decorator had said was simply “to die for.”
Hoffler eventually returned to his powder blue domicile, finding it generously dotted with blood stains and other byproducts that any nervous sheep might leave behind.
Hoffler and Jouflas agreed, sort of.
Hoffler called Jouflas, furious that the sheep was bleeding and that sheep had to graze in Vail at all.
Jouflas came to fetch the ewe, furious that his sheep was bleeding and that sheep had to graze in Vail at all. “That’s the kind of thing that the stories of sheep and cattle wars came from,” says Jouflas, laughing. “The stories weren’t necessarily right, but they made a great legend.”
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.