The Bilbao Tree

Story and Photos by David Butterfield

North of Ketchum in the foothills of the Boulder Mountains, a short way from a sheep trail in a box canyon fronted by a stream, is one huge aspen tree.

It stands on a sage-and-grass flat at the edge of an aspen grove and downhill from a patch of evergreens buttressing the canyon. It is a tall and brawny presence with a regal yet tested character. This tree is a sentry to the little canyon, and people and animals are drawn to it. Though many stories may have passed before this aged guardian, few are known.

I call it The Bilbao Tree because the most prominent carving is “Juan Bilbao 30-6-64.” Over the years, as aspen etchings scar over, they expand and become less discernible. Juan carved his name in the tree seven or eight times before or after June 30, 1964, but that year was his best work—thin lines well spaced that remain clear and legible today.

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