Outlaw Reflections: Looking Forward to Telluride’s Raunchy Past

Outlaw Reflections: Looking Forward to Telluride’s Raunchy Past

Editor’s note: 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 earlier this month, when I also discovered the artist I knew 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.

Oleh Lysiak, author, sculptor, old friend

Oleh Lysiak, author, sculptor, old friend

 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.” 

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 he said “yes.”

One of Oleh’s fabulous mobiles.

One of Oleh’s fabulous mobiles.


By O.Z. Lysiak

Telluride and San Miguel County were my home from 1975 to 1996. Recently Dirk DePagter told me that being from Telluride is like the line The Eagles sing in Hotel California: “You can check out any time you like but you can never leave.”

“Neighborhood of Strangers,” my book about writing for The San Miguel County Post 1995-96, dedicated to Peter Spencer, was released July 22, 2014. The book chronicles the efforts of San Miguel County to maintain its roots and secure its future, a glimpse of small town politics in the mid 1990s, preparing to transition into the 21st Century. It gives the reader a view of not only the terrain, but also of the people, pleasures, and challenges of rural life.

The introduction to the book is a column published in the Telluride Daily Planet on May 23, 1995:


Recently I’ve wondered what possessed me to return to San Miguel County. Simple reasons surface immediately: money and a woman.

The north coast of Oregon was home last fall when my friend Claudia Hoffman proposed we do a show at her home on Wilson Mesa. I was intrigued, delighted and we pulled off a doozy.

The October 4, 1994 afternoon the show was held was splendid, sunny and spectacular. The mix of people Claudia invited was an elegant one – knowledgeable, adventurous and good-natured all.

Monika Callard catered the affair. I would have showed for the food alone. Many of the people who came did just that.

The event was an extraordinary white witch brew. I made more money in one afternoon than in the entire year and, to top it all off a good-looking tall woman whisked me off to dinner…

I gave away the trailer I was living in on the coast, packed everything I owned in the back of a ‘79 Ford short bed pickup and moved to Norwood where I opened a studio. Things didn’t quite turn out as planned. Promised commissions from Telluride art aficionados fizzled, and in a few months I was writing for a newspaper again.

What a turn of events! I was going to turn the art world on its ear and here I was being the voice of the rednecks. I’m old enough to where the twists and turns on the road that’s become my life no longer surprise me.

I avoided Telluride like the plague. The confusion in the streets was appalling, the Rasta geeks a joke, development outrageous, hard to find a bartender I knew. The situation was totally out of hand.

What I failed to remember was I originally arrived in town with shaved head, gold earring, ivory bracelets, a purple satin cowboy shirt with white piping, pearl snaps, fresh from the Renaissance Faires in California.

Raymond Hughes gave me a job hosing down Main Street every Friday morning, flushing out the sewers every spring, driving the water truck to keep the dust down, digging up sewer breakdowns. We built the water system.

Dirk DePagter gave me a job jack hammering Main Street to install the Victorian streetlights. We’d fire up Ray Fancher’s ditch-witch by dragging it down the street and days it was too cold to get the digging started I’d pour 10 gallons of gasoline into the ditch, light it and jump back. The flames would leap up towards the second story of the shops. We came up with the concept of immigrant engineering.

LaMont Woozley gave me a job running the shop in back of the original Telluride Sports. I’d get the rentals out in the morning, make repairs, and ski The Plunge from 11 to 2 every day of winter.

I got married at Alta Lakes, built a house in Placerville, ran Trusty Trucking hauling construction trash to Nucla, trading salvage for what I could get, selling cordwood in Telluride. Fred Williams and I did Philly Steaks at the festivals for years. I was divorced here.

After I was arrested for high seas highjinks, Mike Ritchey wrote me up in his fledgling paper. I wasn’t happy making the paper in a felonious capacity but what he wrote was accurate. Some things a guy can depend on around here.

I spent more of my adult life here than anywhere else in the world. I could have stayed in the Galapagos, La Paz, Manila, Labuan, Kota Kinabalu, Munich, Cologne, Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki, Paris, Barcelona, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Anchorage, Accra, Panama City, Quito, Guayaquil, Cabo San Lucas…

No matter where I was in the world I’d always wind up back here, an extreme place, which caters to extreme personalities. Suits me fine, despite the latest series of bitches.

I had a hand in making this town what it is. I’m not ashamed. It’s one hell of a place.

This morning I’m out with Willy, my dog, walking the edge of San Miguel Canyon, wondering what the hell I’m doing here again dancing the economic samba.

I notice scarlet paintbrushes, white barrel cacti blooms, the San Juans to the east, Lone Cone to the south, the La Sals to the west, skies clearer than crystal, the muddy San Miguel roaring below.

A golden eagle circles overhead, scopes out the canyon’s edge for breakfast. I step into the shadows of a pinion, lock onto the golden. He makes a few more passes, folds his wings and dives. I follow him for seconds as he plummets out of sight. The last thing I remember is how the sound of his blitzkreig descent rips through the morning.

I whistle Willy in and head home, doubts dispelled, reasons all around me.

Stayed tuned for more from Oleh.

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