Rob Schultheis moved to Colorado in 1973, when pop stars began singing about the Rocky Mountains and asking whether you'd ever been "mellow." His newest book, Fool's Gold, zooms in on his home turf of Telluride, where "summer is briefer than a butterfly's dream ... autumn an afterthought, and winter rules."
When Schultheis arrived, Telluride was on the bust end of the boom-bust dervish that spins through Western watering holes. Soon, the town would boom again, and development would - as one Coloradan says - make the mining rush look like pocket change. But during the intermission of the 1970s, Telluride was a quirky town of ramshackle Victorian houses and bars, nicknamed To-Hell-You-Ride by its more strait-laced neighbors.
"People came to the mountains the same way they ran away to join the circus: to jettison the past and reinvent their future," writes Schultheis. "The very thinness of the air stoned you with every breath ... Down in the flatlands, lives were strictly nonfiction, documentary. Up here ... magical realism was loosed upon the world."
Fool's Gold is spun from Schultheis' tall tales - "just because it never really happened doesn't mean it's not true" - and his gabby old-timers and fellow urban ex-pats could inspire the movie-making Coen brothers, whether they're acting out on Shakespeare night, running the San Juan rapids, or attending Navajo Elvis concerts.
But Fool's Gold has a melancholy, Patsy Cline edge. Schultheis confronts the new Western tragedy head-on: "The Colorado Rockies are full of Callados, folks who just plain hate everything wild," laments Schultheis. "It's a hatred that transcends reason."
Luckily, though, Schultheis' Fool's Gold is not an elegy. Telluride is still somewhat wild, still isolated (no stoplights), and still home.
Fool's Gold: Lives, Loves, and Misadventures in the Four Corners Country, by Rob Schultheis, 230 pages, cloth, $24.95. The Lyons Press, New York.