Dell R. Foutz is an accomplished geologist, first helping Exxon drill for oil and then as a college professor and textbook author. But in Elusive Treasures, he unleashes his playful side with stories – some autobiographical, some flights of fantasy – that are built on the bedrock of his real-life expertise.
Foutz notes in his introduction that his stories range from “absolutely true,” to those based on real incidents but embellished, to one that is entirely fantasy. He only reveals what is fact and fiction at book’s end.
The collection begins with rough sketches from Foutz’s childhood, introducing his lifetime urge to search for hidden treasure. From checking for gold flakes in mountain streams to fossil hunting in Utah, he establishes the strong, believable voice of a man always in pursuit of a jackpot but never able to bag one. When his luck changes during a college field trip with his students to the Grand Canyon, the reader’s heart races for his good fortune. His plot to extract the gold from a national park without alerting his students unfolds in lavish (if not entirely truthful) detail.
The author is at his best as a long-form storyteller in “Fishing at Lee’s Ferry.” He starts by telling the real tale of rogue Mormon John D. Lee’s historic Arizona river crossing and, with fluid dialogue and vivid descriptions, creates two strong characters out for a weekend of fishing. The plot thickens when they discover solid gold ingots and smuggle them home in their camping gear. The reader soon suspects, however, that this is one of the stories where Foutz is stretching the truth, and the tale’s power is diluted.
Foutz’s command of language and the fine points of prospecting are evident throughout Elusive Treasures, but combining memoir with fiction ultimately erodes the author’s credibility throughout. Readers who can overlook this will find a book rich with information about the geologic underpinnings of the West, shared by a loveable narrator.
BlueInk Heads-Up: Rocky Mountain region librarians and people interested in geology may want to consider adding this to their libraries.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.