She unwinds in her recliner with a glass of wine, watching Ghost Adventures, A Haunting, and the Gold Rush shows, because at heart Lisa Sallee is an adventuress and a treasure hunter as well.
You probably know her as the helpful woman with the bright smile and playful demeanor who exchanges those very tattered yellow cards you find in your mailbox for packages at the Crested Butte post office counter—but her trademark red lipstick, long blonde tresses and mysterious sparkle belie her seemingly normal postal clerk job and, at once, you could see how those locks of hair might be flying wildly behind a galloping camel or a speeding Vespa, off on some quest.
Lisa was born in Ponca City, Okla. Her dad was a retired Air Force colonel and her mom was a teacher who stayed home with the brood. The family moved to Texas and Lisa grew up as an island child on Key Allegro, off Rockport, for most of her childhood. As a beach kid she had the freedom of the salty outdoors—sailing around in a little Sunfish boat, swimming, fishing and enduring several hurricanes. Later relocating to San Angelo, in west Texas, she graduated from high school and instead of buckling into college demands, her spunk and curiosity sent Lisa into a one-and-a-half year trek across Europe. It started with a job working on a chateau in France.
“I was thinking it was going to be a fabulous experience, but it was more like remodeling this old dump,” she recalls. The position she had thought she was lined up for involved floating the canals and waterways on the company’s tour barges. But nepotism prevailed—the son of the owner got the boat job and Lisa wound up as a laborer slinging paint, pasting wallpaper, and taking care of the domain’s pooches.
Bored, she jumped a bus and headed to Greece, roaming around different cultures for the rest of her stay in Europe. She later enrolled at Angelo State University, graduating with a science degree in 1984.
Back in San Angelo, she met her husband-to-be, Craig, and today, they’ve been a couple for over 28 years. The ultimate question in the 1919 World War I classic tune asks, “How you gonna keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?” Apparently, you buy them exotic animals to keep it interesting and that’s what Craig did for Lisa and her love of animals. “We had ostriches, emus, a camel, monkeys, buffalo, zebra, a yak, lots of deer, and a black-maned African lion named Leo that I bottle-fed,” Lisa says. She smiles remembering the month-old cat that she nursed until it was old enough to leave. “Nowadays there’s a lot more control,” she says of the laws concerning the acquisition and keeping of exotic animals.
The ranch’s financial mainstay was their herd of about 50 miniature horses. “Back in those days, the miniature horse business was booming, demand was high, and it was profitable,” Lisa explains. “If you don’t have a whole lot of land you can have them because they’re small. We had a beautiful big barn with really nice pens.” Heartbreak and tragedy struck when they got a batch of bad hay infested with beetles. “The hay had blister beetles, which blisters the horses internally,” Lisa sadly remembers. They lost 20 of their herd and the pregnant mares lost their unborn foals. “It was a catastrophe,” she says and adds that at the time in the late 1980s, money was tight because of the downward trend in the oil industry and no one was buying horses.
Craig and Lisa were forced to sell everything, the ranch and the animals. With their first child, Jeremy, in tow, they bought a Winnebago and started on an extended work adventure toward the southeast coast that shuttled them along to Delaware, Florida and eventually Las Vegas. In between, they had their daughter, Ashley, and returned to the hometown of San Angelo, where they sold the Winnie RV and spent several years trying to figure out the next phase.
“We wanted to get out of San Angelo,” she said. Lisa was ready to continue the sojourn, “so we bought a fifth-wheel camper and were on our way to Alaska,” but at the Canadian border they discovered Craig had come without his photo driver’s license, although he had all the other IDs. “It wasn’t Canada,” she snarled, “it was the U.S. that was making such an ordeal out it.”
Turned away at the border, they decided that a campout in Monument, Colo., would be a happy time. The detour redirected their destiny. “The post office there had this flyer that said ‘Now Hiring’ and I went in and applied,” Lisa laughs. “After three weeks of waiting, I was hired on,” she says. After working there for three and a half years, she moved back to Texas to care for the couple’s aging parents.
When the appropriate moment came, Lisa’s thoughts returned to the mountains. “The whole time, we were trying to get back to Colorado but you have to go through [the USPS’s] transferring, which is a process. I signed up for Gunnison and when Crested Butte came up I took it.” That was February 2010 and Lisa’s clocked in 12 years now as a U.S. Postal Service worker.
With Texas’ venerable history, there’s a lot of opportunity to find arrowheads, and that’s where Lisa’s interest in finding treasure began, on artifact hunts with her hubby. Once they returned to the land of abandoned mining camps and ghost towns, they began to seek out scraps and pieces of metal history using detectors. “We find a lot of beer cans,” she laughs. “There are times we go out to Iola and find things when the water’s low,” she says of the town that is has been under water since the state created Blue Mesa Lake.
Combining artifact-seeking with Lisa’s love of ghost stories, Craig and Lisa also go to some of the area’s old mining towns. “The old mining towns are cool. We find old cans, nails, pulleys, horseshoes, rusty buckets, tools, bullets, coins, all from the 1890s. You don’t know if it’s scrap so you’re gonna dig. I get the biggest kick out of doing that,” smiles the huntress of antiquities.
This summer will bring yet another hunt of sorts, “I want to pan for gold!” Lisa excitedly reveals. She’s already staking out the creeks and waterways and the couple has downsized to a smaller truck camper that will allow them to really get into the back areas. “I watch my shows!” she laughs about her education in the hopeful art of finding nuggets. “I’ve watched videos and I’ve studied. I’ve never done it but I’m going to try!”
Meanwhile, back at the home post office, the holiday mail rush isn’t over for Lisa and her coworkers because, she explains, “Fed Ex and UPS are behind and they drop off to us. We’ll be wrapping up Christmas deliveries probably by this week. Christmas just keeps on coming with the PO!”
Luckily for the town-folks, our postal workers deliver it all up with a smile. Lisa’s good nature reflects her mother’s words. “My mother always taught me it’s better to have laugh lines than frown lines. It’s a great job, it really is. Postal people stay with the job, and I’m just postal!” she jokes and adds that she loves working in Crested Butte, and loves its mountain life and people.
“I love my customers. The people are so laid back,” she defines herself among us. “We’re going with the flow, we like the outdoors, we’re good ‘ol natural people. They’re true people here. It’s a small town atmosphere. This is why you live in Crested Butte.”