Outlaw Reflections: Rocky Mountain Oysters

Outlaw Reflections: Rocky Mountain Oysters

This story from Oleh Lysiak is a variation on theme of fishing. True, he and his friends are after oysters. But not the kind that live in water. The other kind. The impetus? A good eat, yes, but most importantly, preserving the old cowboy ways.

Read on...



A layer of lush green grass with elongated stretches of millions of tiny deep lavender blooms lines Colorado State Highway 90 on either side of the entrance to Paradox Valley a few miles east of Bedrock.

The snowcaps of Tukhanikavits, patriarch of the LaSal range, loom massive over the red rock walls containing the valley. A corral with a dust cloud from hundreds of bellowing cattle appears off a dirt road to the left.

Tremulous calves dart in and out of the huddled herd to escape the heeling of mounted cowboys intent on their work. No contest, hooves of bawling calves are snapped tight by precisely flung lariats and dragged to staked ropes softened by inner tubes. The calves are tied, wrestled, dumped, stretched by the lariat firm to the saddle horn.

The cowponies move with the ease and audacity of a Super Bowl running back. Quick and decisive, they cut off escape routes, sense the riders’ directions, wheel and turn, back up keeping tension on the rope perfectly tight – horse and rider fluid as one.

Cowboys and cowgirls clip ears, slit and remove testicles, inoculate, brand, sear horn remnants fast as they can, get calves on their feet and back with the herd.

The process takes timing, cooperation, and the precision of a team of skilled professionals. These cowboys follow traditions of southwestern cattlemen who’ve worked wild ranges for over a hundred years.

“We’re keeping the art of being a cowboy alive,” says Dan Moyer, cow boss, bloody hands sharpening his folding knife on a whetstone after he deposits a pair of Rocky Mountain oysters, fresh calf testicles, in a plastic bucket specifically reserved for this purpose.

“I’m romancing the past as long as I can, “ Moyer explains, “other ranchers do it the farmer way with steel tables. We do it the old way, the way cowboys did it back when. The people working here are real cowboy ranchers helping each other.”

The red dirt of Paradox Valley and calf excrement soil the leather and denim of branders, cowhand shins bruised by explosive calf hooves. Acrid smells of calf hair and hide searing mix with dust and fill the air. Calves scamper away like nothing actually changed.

Propane-fed flames heat horn irons, branding irons, beavertails. Fresh “oysters” cook on steel drums containing the flames. Workers partake of the feast, comes with the territory, and with ceremony regard for the past and deep-seated cowboy traditions.


Editor’s note about Oleh:

I am reminded of the man every day. A talented sculptor, one of his mobiles sits on the coffee table in our living room. But I had not seen or heard from Oleh Lysiak for over 20 years. Ah, the wonders of social media. We rediscovered each other a few months ago, which was when I also discovered the artist is also a writer – at least nowadays – though making marks on paper is only one among a very long list of talents, some slightly sketchy.

O. Z. Lysiak winking

 O.Z. Lysiak has from time to time worked as a reporter, editor, columnist, photographer, public affairs officer, restaurateur, festival booth owner-operator, ski technician, carpenter, sailor, smuggler, tree planter, fishing guide, truck driver, river guide, cook, wood-cutter, trash collector, marine gravity operator, reclaimed wood broker and sculptor. He has written for The Ukrainian Weekly, The Oregonian, and closer to home, The Aspen Daily News, The Aspen Times, The Crested Butte Pilot, The San Miguel Basin Forum – and The Telluride Daily Planet. Oleh’s poetry has been widely published and his is author of  several books, including “Neighborhood of Strangers”; “Art, Crime & Lithium”; “Scars In Progress”; “Geezer Rumba.” 

One of Oleh’s more ethereal mobiles

One of Oleh’s more ethereal mobiles

Given his street cred and the fact he wrote extensively locally in the bad old days, I asked Oleh if he would mine his files for past columns that might be of interest to our readers. I am thankful the man said “yes.”

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