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Margaret Wilson Reckling Captures Past And Present Of Sometimes-Overlooked Woody Creek In New Book

Jul 25, 2019

Margaret Wilson Reckling on her ranch in Woody Creek
Credit Christin Kay / Aspen Public Radio

Margaret Wilson Reckling moved to a ranch in Woody Creek in 2012. In her late fifties, she taught herself how to irrigate, cut hay and raise cattle, with the help of family and friends.  Struck by the beauty around her, she also learned photography. Her new book, “Woody Creek: Views From A Homestead,” weaves together her pictures and the history of the area.  


Margaret Wilson Reckling has preserved as much as she can from the late 1800s, including an old cattle dock by the entrance to her ranch. Her property was a homestead, granted to the Vagneur family by the U.S. government, as long as they were willing to farm it for at least five years. While she’s out in the fields, she finds all kinds of things that hint at the lives of those who came before her.  

"All sizes of horseshoes, old liniment bottles, old whiskey bottles, tobacco tins," she said.

She started digging into the history of Woody Creek, and learned how important the area’s homesteaders, and their cattle and crops, were to the region.

"They ended up feeding Aspen during the huge boom of the mining era," she said.

A sunset over Margaret Wilson Reckling's ranch
Credit Margaret Wilson Reckling

Wilson’s family used to visit Woody Creek when she was a girl in Texas.  She moved to Aspen as an adult, working in real estate. But when she had the chance to move, she knew exactly where she wanted to go. 

"It’s such an oasis of wildlife and beauty," she said.

Her pride in the history of her home goes hand-in-hand with her awe at the surroundings.  Bears wander through with their cubs. Sunsets light up the peaks around her.  

"I’d look at it and go, 'How am I going to capture this?' Of course, a camera is the fastest and the easiest," she said.  

She picked up photography and digital editing.  After a few years, she started compiling her favorite shots into a book.  She wanted it to include more than just her images of the ranch.  She included Aspen Historical Society photographs of the earliest ranchers and the original structures in the final product, “Woody Creek: Views From A Homestead.” 

"It’s kind of a juxtaposition of the new and the old," she said.

 A bit like Woody Creek itself. Big, modern mansions can be seen from the highway, but drive back into the hills, and it’s still mostly farms and ranches. There’s lots of room for wild creatures. 

Reckling's book are dedicated to a family of red-tailed hawks that live in a huge spruce tree by her ranch house.  

Other images are of elk and fox, or golden aspen trees in the fall. It’s not all beauty, though.  One shot is a close up of a deer carcass, bloody from a recent predator attack. 

"Death is part of the whole picture, and, you know, why edit that out?" she said.

Reckling hopes her book opens the eyes of Roaring Fork Valley residents.

"I wanted to tell a little more about Woody Creek other than the fact that Hunter Thompson lived here or the Tavern’s a fun place to go,” she said.

Woody Creek is changing. There’s a proposal to build a solar farm in the area and to allow more housing.  Private jets disrupt the peace.   

Credit Margaret Wilson Reckling

The sound of their booming engines is a reminder that time marches on.  Reckling says, that means it’s more important than ever to preserve history and capture the present.  

Reckling will discuss “Woody Creek: Views From A Homestead” on Aug. 1st at the Aspen Historical Society.