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Telluride’s outlaw spirit lives in pictures

Photographer chronicles town’s quirky, rebellious characters

In 1977, Ingrid Lundahl began photographing the rebel spirit of Telluride, for fun and as a professional.

Thirty-eight years later, she shares some classic moments in her recently released book, Telluride: The Outlaw Spirit of a Colorado Town.

When she arrived in the 1970s, the Sheridan bar was full of plaid shirts and duct-taped ski jackets with “beautiful women who drank one-for-one with the guys,” Lundahl writes.

Horses were regularly led into bars and served drinks, while obvious narcs in a red Trans Am trolled the streets looking for where “they hide up in Telluride” as the Glenn Frey cliché goes.

“Everybody’s been seduced by Telluride. The outlaw spirit was palpable,” Lundahl says.

Really not a whole lot has changed. Except that Telluride has since been “discovered,” so now celebrities rub shoulders with regular ski bums on the slopes and at bars.

“I would check on my town’s heartbeat as my negatives hung to dry,” Lundahl says.

The star sightings began soon after locals Billy Mahoney and Johnnie Stevens placed five lifts on the mountain in 1972. The Telluride film, blues and bluegrass festivals accelerated the process.

Frozen in time are Robert Redford, Jimmy Stewart, Laura Linney, Peter O’Toole, George Clooney, Penelope Cruz, Sean Penn, Clint Eastwood, Candice Bergen, Nicholas Cage and Robin Williams to name a few.

Musical giants also are featured prominently in the large-format photo book. Sam Bush, Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Buddy Guy, David Crosby, Johnny Cash, Greg Allman, Lou Reed and Etta James are all shown performing on stage to adoring audiences.

But Lundahl clearly relishes the local characters even more. The book is mostly about regular folks living in the fast lane, or taking it easy reveling in the epic scenery and ski-town culture.

“We outlaws would immobilize ourselves on benches, our faces tracked the sun, no place to go except Nirvana,” Lundahl writes.

There’s Rasta Stevie, notorious town council member from 1987 to 1993, and founder of the 8750 Reggae group, “the world’s highest reggae band.”

Watch out for Navajo Sam, who would hold up hikers at gunpoint on the Woods Lake trail and make them hand over their sandwiches.

Sheriff Bill Masters kept the peace, and still does, while allowing residents to live free. As sheriff, Masters famously penned a well-read book slamming the war on drugs.

Homeboy Billy Nershi, of String Cheese Incident fame, got his start busking with his guitar in front of the Floradora. In a hilarious photo, Nershi is shown posing with Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who lived part-time in Telluride.

Ralph Dinosaur, a popular classic rock performer who prefers to wear women’s clothing, gets kudos. In one shot, he is sporting a one-piece women’s swimsuit. “No one thought this was unusual,” Lundahl writes.

The standard characters of mountain towns everywhere also are featured, such as Wacky Jack, who regularly shouted profanities at great volume on the street.

“Bizarre behavior that was tolerated and often encouraged,” Lundahl writes.

Lundahl chronicles the town’s signature moments as well, such as ceremonial virgin sacrifices, naked ski races, town board meetings encouraging anyone to speak anytime and the Save Our Pigs fundraiser “to benefit our marshals busted for allegedly consuming cocaine from the evidence locker.”

Lundahl does a good job of documenting the heady 1980s in Telluride, “before living in your car, a cave, in the woods or sleeping in a free-box cubby was outlawed.”

And she waxes poetic about her hometown: “In the heart of summer, we are breathing fresh mountain air and our country feels like a sweet land of liberty. What sealed the deal was the dazzling, in-your-face Rocky Mountains, and the outlaw spirit resounding down the slopes.”

On the net

For more about Lundahl’s photography, visit www.ingridlundahl.com.

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