Outlaw Reflections: “Back to Telluride” & “Rust”

Outlaw Reflections: “Back to Telluride” & “Rust”

Sharing two stories from TIO regular contributor Oleh Lysiak. The first, “Back from Telluride,” is an edited excerpt from the “Telluride” chapter of one of his edgy, funny, insightful books, “Art, Crime & Lithium,” published May 2013 by Tao Fish Books. The second paragraph and last words of the final paragraph contains what I consider one of the best descriptions (bolded) ever of our box canyon Shangri-La in the bad old days – and partly now.

The second story, entitled “Rust,” is about an old guy in Redvale and the San Miguel, the first poem in Oleh’s new anthology, which may or may not be available for public consumption. (So enjoy Oleh’s poignant images here.)

In the wilder and woolier days in Telluride’s history.

In the wilder and woolier days in Telluride’s history.


At Grand Junction I turn south on Hwy 50, through Montrose to Ridgway, below the peaks and ridges of the Uncompaghres. Over Dallas Divide downhill to Placerville, a left over Leopard Creek, past Sawpit up Keystone, and a most spectacular valley unfolds with Bear Creek to the right, Bridal Veil Falls cascading in a fine thread of snowmelt below the massive shoulders of Ajax. Fall 1977, shimmering aspen leaves turn yellow and gold, spotting the sacred valley of the Utes with bursts of seasonal color.

In the midst of all this, a small mountain mining town in Victorian dress trails the reputation of a whore with the heart of a banker and the soul of a scammer: Telluride, an extreme place for extreme personalities, left over from an era when mostly-European immigrants stake their future in America on hard work in the 350 miles of tunnels they leave in the mountains. They also leave behind a huge tailings pond above the town, leaching heavy metals into the San Miguel River.

The town is infamous for hustlers, hookers, and Bible pounders. Telluride in the ‘70s isn’t changed much. Hustlers sell real estate, and coke whores work The Roma Bar, The Last Dollar Saloon, and the Sheridan Bar. Semi-pro local sluts engage in contests to see who can fuck the most famous musicians at the Telluride summer festivals. Brother Al is on KOTO community radio, preaching the good word on his Sunday morning show.

Alcohol, cocaine and marijuana are drugs of choice. I hear of heroin addicts in town, but don’t encounter them. The first ski-lifts are in place, and the future of the town is changing from the grim reality of toxic mining-tailings to a fresh start with skiing in winter, festivals in summer, and full time tourism.

Coming into town along Colorado Avenue, Victorian homes line both sides of the street for blocks, until the peaked red-brick San Miguel County Courthouse on the sunny side separates residential from commercial. On either side of Colorado Avenue, homes enjoy a background of arguably the most spectacular mountain scenery in the world.

Small town job possibilities are minimal. The local weekly pays $50 a week for a part-time reporter, if the job is available. The Telluride Maintenance Department advertises for an entry-level worker at $5.65 an hour, good money in 1977. Raymond Hughes, as local as a human being can be, since he is born and lives here all his life with the exception of a 2-year stint in the US Navy, interviews me. Being local is important in Telluride, where you wear your years in town like chevrons. Raymond is square-jawed, clean-shaven, wears a wide-brimmed brown Resistol, Levis and a yoked rodeo shirt: the Colorado cowboy look down pat. This is who he really is. I get the job.

Friday mornings I open hydrants on Colorado Avenue, Telluride’s main street, and hose the town down. We flush the town’s sewer-system a couple times a year. I drive a tanker truck to water severely angled dirt streets on the sunny side of town, learn the routine at the sewer plant outside town.

Raymond hardly ever gets his own hands dirty, and spends most of his time drinking coffee and bullshitting in his office at city hall. He has us do expensive jobs involving serious man-hours, often utilizing heavy equipment, for beer donations from local citizens who certainly could afford to get the work done on their own. Our beer refrigerator at the shop is always full.

KOTO, the local community radio station, sponsors an annual ski-swap and sale in the Quonset hut gymnasium next to the old school in town. I buy second-hand equipment. The surrounding mountains resemble the Alps I knew growing up. No lift lines on the mountain in 1977, and I’m antsy if I have to wait more than 30 seconds to get on a chairlift to the top.

The maintenance department moves a lot of snow that winter, piles it in the middle of Colorado Avenue with a front end loader or backhoe. When the snow gets too tall to deal with or cross we bring dump trucks, load the frozen gray mass, and dump it in a field out of town or in the river.

You can walk everywhere necessary in Telluride. The bar tour from the Sheridan to the Last Dollar to the Roma is a three-block turnaround. Each bar has its own ambiance, and caters to a specific crowd. KOTO plays whatever kind of music you’re into, with no commercials or interruptions other than airing of the DJ’s headspace, a small price to pay and occasionally worthwhile. The town is spectacular and charmingly lit in snow, peaks glittering to outrageously starlit skies: mega moxie soul sauce sprinkled with twinkling jimmies, magic.

x final cover no-isbns


The old man with the killer junkyard

finally gave up guarding rust.

Ray asked the old man if he’d let go

a 1919 Indian chained

to the front yard fence.

Did it in ’32, the old man said,

ran too goddamned fast.

Trees grow through it now.

Ray insists the rusted junk is treasure.

The old man shakes his head.

Naw, don’t think so.

They’d only take away the money.

He chuckles over his domain,

blue eyes clear as the San Miguel

on a crisp October evening as the sun

sets riffle tips aflame.

The old man’s gone and buried.

The Indian remains exactly where he chained it.

And Ray still wrestles with how to pry the rusty

carcass loose from the past.


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” and “Art, Crime & Lithium,” also available locally at Between the Covers Bookstore.

Outdoor mobile, Oleh Lysiak

Outdoor mobile, Oleh Lysiak

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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