Usually, the EPA isn't the kind of agency that shoots it out with polluters, but there's always that first time. Consider the owner of a truck-wash company in Utah who told friends he'd "go down in a blaze of glory" before facing federal charges of illegally disposing of hazardous chemicals. Larkin Baggett, 54, wasn't kidding; when EPA officials caught up with him in Florida this spring, Baggett pointed a semi-automatic rifle at one of the agents. Yet Baggett never got off a shot, says the Miami Herald: "Officers shot him in the face and buttocks and riddled his travel trailer with bullets." It was the EPA's first officer-involved shooting since the agency instituted a criminal enforcement division in 1982. Last month, Baggett pleaded guilty to felonies including possession of illegal weapons; he faces a possible 90-year stint in prison.
The other day, while reading the Recorder Herald, a venerable community weekly established in Salmon, Idaho, 123 years ago, we came upon the curious story of a llama that had apparently lost weight to a fatal degree. Or, as the headline put it: "Llama killed by lightening." The animal was found on its back, "with its legs straight up in the air" and its wool "blown out 10 to 30 feet in every direction." That's one way to shear a llama.
California is so broke, it's closing 219 state parks. But wait, a nonprofit group best-known for its in-your-face advertising has offered to ride to the rescue, money in hand, to save one of them. PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, says it will pay to keep Pescadero State Beach open. There is a caveat, however: Pescadero, which means "the place to fish," must change its name to "Sea Kitten State Beach." The new name would "evoke the same sympathy for fish that people feel for cats and dogs," a PETA spokesperson told the San Francisco Chronicle.
And you thought the notion of Snakes on a Plane was unnerving? On July 19, according to the IndyStar.com, Douglas Herbstommer of Gilbert, Ariz., felt a sudden, sharp sting on his finger while flying from Phoenix to Indianapolis. He quickly realized what the problem was: an Arizona bark scorpion, whose bite, though painful, is very seldom fatal. (Although “painful” appears to be a euphemism here. Look it up for yourself; we’re too squeamish to go into details.)
Herbstommer and his fellow humans rounded up the 3-inch arachnid before he found the rest of its family, hanging out in the overhead compartment -- apparently stowaways from somebody’s luggage. Memo to airport security: Quit fussing about those 4-ounce bottles of shampoo and start keeping an eye out for scorpion families on vacation. Everyone will be much happier if you do.
If a hungry mountain lion comes after you, how should you respond? Most experts recommend that you stop and make yourself look as large as possible, aggressively defending your position. But Dustin Britton, a mechanic and ex-Marine from Windsor, Colo., didn’t need no stinkin’ experts; according to The Associated Press, he just picked up his chainsaw. Britton explained that the cougar attacked him while he was cutting wood in northwestern Wyoming: “It batted me three or four times with its front paws, and as quick as I hit it with that saw, it just turned away.”
Wildlife officers tracked the cougar with dogs, one of which was attacked before the officers managed to kill the big cat. It was only the ninth case in the last decade of cougars acting aggressively towards humans in Wyoming. If the word gets out among cougars, it may be the last for a while.
At 6 a.m. in the chilly dawn of the second Friday in July, about 140 people, wearing neon-colored petroleum-derived clothing and encumbered with packs and water bottles, start running. From the small southwestern Colorado town of Silverton, they head into the rugged San Juan Mountains, where they will attempt to complete a 100-mile loop across tundra and talus, climbing (and descending) a total of 33,000 feet.
Some will run all the way, stopping briefly at each aid station to re-supply. Others will walk, stumble and eventually stagger. Many will devour “Gu” – a scary, melted-plastic-like combination of sugars and caffeine – at a rate of two to four per hour. Some will puke it back up. Others will hallucinate elks’ skulls floating above meadows. Their soles will be softened by sweat and cold stream crossings, then torn apart by the impact of steep descents. They will respond by wrapping duct tape around their feet and swallowing handfuls of stomach-chewing ibuprofen. A few unfortunates will eventually notice that their body parts are swelling beyond recognition or their lungs filling up with fluid due to leaking cells.
Sometime the next morning, the winner of the Hardrock Hundred endurance run will cross the finish line in Silverton. The slower folks will have another long day, and another very long night, before they straggle in. It’s an extreme event that inspires extreme behavior. One year, one of the top woman runners stopped at every aid station to nurse her year-old infant. But this year’s event may have been the weirdest yet.
Karl Meltzer of Sandy, Utah, wowed longtime observers by covering the entire course in just over 24 hours, setting a new record and demolishing the field. Still, according to one onlooker, the strangest things happened in Meltzer’s wake. Chris Nute of Crested Butte, Colo., is a veteran of the run, and of the carnage: He was airlifted out of an aid station in 2001 when his lungs shut down after 82 miles. Describing this year’s event on his Facebook page, Nute noted the following:
“Runner #119 is subject to either a direct or very, very close lightning strike… knocked off feet, rolls a bit … unclear of whether briefly unconscious or a bit dazed and confused … nonetheless, comes around, stands up, shakes it off and continues to the finish line!...”
Which is interesting, given the fact that the “runners’ manual” predicts that the run’s first fatality will be caused by lightning strike or hypothermia. But what about the risk posed by falling fawns? Nute went on to elucidate:
“Grouse Gulch aid station, after most runners through, an eagle is spotted about 300 feet above the aid station with a still-alive fawn (that’s right, a baby deer) struggling in its talons … eagle drops fawn, fawn lands in vicinity of aid station, splatters, remnants everywhere including aid station tent.”
If the Bambi bombs don’t get you, the alligators will. In the Colorado’s North Fork Valley, a ditch-rider recently encountered a (deceased) four-and-a-half foot long alligator alongside a canal. Its origins are unknown, but it will be given a “Christian burial,” according to the Delta County Independent.
Christopher Hitchens and his godless views attracted only a dozen cadets from the Air Force Academy recently, probably because the get-together, which took place at a Colorado Springs restaurant, was forbidden on campus. An Academy spokesman said Hitchens was not welcome because he’d made comments that were “degrading to others,” reports the Colorado Springs Independent. Hitchens, of course, is nothing if not confrontational; in his book, God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, he railed against religious belief as irrational, old-fashioned and unnecessary. During his conversation with the students who were curious enough to show up, the British-born atheist warned them about the military’s top chaplain in Afghanistan: “Good people are going to get killed because of his stupidity,” Hitchens said. A video of the chaplain has been widely seen on the Web; in it, he advises U.S. soldiers to “hunt people for Jesus” by converting Muslims to Christianity. Hitchens, who paid his own expenses, spent more than two hours talking to the cadets. He concluded with this advice: “Don’t keep the faith. And don’t fly too close to the sun.”
A 2-year-old black bear, sympathetically described by wildlife experts as lonely, scared and kicked out of home by his mother, raced around Seattle backyards recently, for days eluding police, who dubbed him the “urban phantom.” Kim Chandler, a Washington state Fish and Wildlife officer, told the Seattle Times that the 125-pound bear was as wily as a house cat and that chasing it was “kinda like the Keystone Kops.”
A police sergeant in Arvada, Colo., said that in his 15 years in law enforcement, he’d never charged a guy on a horse with drunk driving. But when the tipsy rider ambled into a busy strip mall on his horse, you couldn’t help but notice that he was falling out of the saddle, reported 9news.com. A crowd gathered while police ticketed Brian Drone for riding an animal while under the influence. Then the cops had to figure out what to do with the horse. Fortunately, a local stable owner gave the rider and his mount a ride home. Drone, who said he was merely out for a “joyride,” was fined $25.
During the West’s last nine years of drought, the level of Lake Mead, which backs up behind Hoover Dam, has plummeted 100 vertical feet, causing unexpected and peculiar things to happen. Where there used to be flat water with no pizzazz on the reservoir’s edge 120 miles east of Las Vegas, a dangerous rapid has emerged. “The so-called Pearce Ferry Rapid features a sharp drop and a hard right turn, as the Colorado River tumbles around a rock outcrop,” says the Las Vegas Review-Journal. In fact, the new rapid is so fierce that one rafting Web site rates it as Class 4, on a scale of 1-6. This is not the kind of problem the National Park Service is used to dealing with at Lake Mead, says Mark Grisham, who heads the Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association: “There is an irony there that these flat-water guys are now dealing with whitewater issues.” What makes the new rapid so challenging, he adds, is that it “runs right smack into a wall and turns.” The falling reservoir level forced the Park Service to close its boat ramp at Pearce Ferry in 2002. Now, however, it plans to build a two-mile dirt road for boaters just upstream from the rapid.