Don't like your dog chasing wildlife, but think a shock collar is cruel? A trip to Australia just might teach him a lesson. A Jack Russell terrier, owned by a Colorado couple on work assignment Down Under, tangled with a giant lizard. The lizard was fine; the dog was a bloody mess. But all was OK because, unlike 50 million American humans, the dog had health insurance, and Veterinary Pet Insurance footed the bill. We suspect that Jack will be less enthusiastic about chasing wild animals in the future.
We’re not sure if Utah can help Arizona with its biblical interpretation skills, but it’s got a great idea for those empty mega-homes. The Beehive State is faring better than Arizona financially, but it’s still feeling enough pain to have some vacant McMansions. Rather than leaving them all to the rats, however, at least one landowner is adapting to the times. In 2005, a Salt Lake City contractor combined two lots to build a 16,000-square-foot monstrosity. Things went bad before it was finished, and the hulking beast remained empty. Now, the new owner is chopping it up and making it into three separate condominiums. “For every problem there is a solution,” new owner Ken Milo told the Salt Lake Tribune.
That’s what the non-profit Housing Resources must have thought when it had the opportunity to buy up 30 lots at discount rates in the western Colorado subdivision known as Wine Valley Estates. The once hot property, destined to be an upscale development with a smattering of 2,000-square-foot homes near the vineyards, had fallen on hard times, with only two homes built so far. The non-profit plans on putting affordable housing on the rest of the subdivision. It’s caused a bit of a ruckus: One of two current homeowners in the subdivision, Kevin Wold, isn’t happy. “If they come in here and build here, we’re finished,” he told the Grand Junction Sentinel.
Should the Urantians face persecution for their religious beliefs, they could always consider buying real estate in another part of the West, namely Colorado Springs. There, the U.S. Air Force Academy has set aside an outdoor worshipping area for “Pagans, Wiccans, Druids and other Earth-centered believers,” according to the Associated Press. The academy has long been criticized for erasing the line dividing church and state in a heavily evangelical Christian-leaning manner. It was recently revealed that the military had been using rifle scopes that were engraved with biblical references by the manufacturer. No news yet on whether any future firearms will be engraved with secret Wiccan code.
Maybe the rifle scope references were to the passage in the Old Testament in which God commands his chosen ones: “Thou shalt pack heat in shoulder holsters.” You know, the passage that Republican State Sen. Russell Pearce, sponsor of an Arizona bill to allow concealed weapons without a permit, referred to when he told the New York Times, “All we’re doing is handcuffing good people, restricting their constitutional, God-given right to carry (guns) and perhaps their ability to defend their families.”
The Divine Administration’s headquarters sits on 165 acres in the Santa Cruz River valley south of Tucson. There, according to the Arizona Republic, Gabriel of Urantia oversees a religious order of about 100 followers, who believe that Adam and Eve were aliens placed on Earth – or Urantia – 38,000 years ago to help earthlings evolve. True believers, or star seeds, came to Urantia from other Universes where polygamy is acceptable, they say. (Come on, Colorado City, is hardly another universe.) Most worrisome, they believe the apocalypse is just around the corner.
It appears that life in Arizona has taken on a certain end-o’-daysesque quality lately. First, the state has been pummeled by one storm after another. In the south, locust-swarm-like rains swelled arroyos and streams high above flood levels, carrying away debris, cars and wrecking a trailer park. In the north, on the Hopi and Navajo Nations, snow drifts of up to eight feet were reported, stranding hundreds in remote homes. Military choppers hauled huge shipments of food, water and even wood to the stranded.
But weather is the least of Arizona’s problems. Thousands of homes have been foreclosed upon, and big desert developments remain mostly empty – the hangover from the state’s growth binge is becoming chronic. That has left Arizona’s budget in worse shape than any in the nation aside from California. The state park budget was slashed by nearly 75 percent, legislators sold of state buildings and cut services to children and the elderly. It’s gotten so bad that the posh Loews Ventana Canyon Resort near Tucson has dropped the “resort” from its name, a semantic nod to these austere times. (It has not, to our knowledge, dropped its rates, however.)
Meanwhile, the folks of Urantia are apparently doing their part to ease the real estate crisis: The order owns at least 20 properties in Arizona, at a value of over $10 million.
Attention, unemployed daredevils: Jobs are opening up for athletic non-acrophobics. It helps if you’re the kind of risk-taker who thinks repairing the giant blades of a wind turbine sounds like good clean fun, in a blowy sort of way. The catch: The 122-foot arms don’t lower to the ground for tune-ups; instead, blade technicians have to go up to meet them, hovering in the air while they repair cracks or other damage to a turbine’s silvery blade. The pay is good at $80,000 or so a year, reports the Billings Gazette, and when the weather is bad, workers even get paid to wait for it to clear up, since that’s “less expensive than the $1.5 million cost of a new blade.” Still, sanding a blade or replacing part of its fiberglass while on a platform that’s lowered from the windmill’s head has got to be more than “tricky.” Reporter Tom Lutey pulls out all the stops to describe 20 mph winds that can “bounce the dangling platform like a drunken puppeteer,” while at the same time, the blade of a windmill “quivers in the breeze like the 6 1/2 ton fin of a wounded whale.” But while WindCom crews in Montana do their jobs on platforms, a crew called Rope Partner, based in Santa Cruz, Calif., has turned a weekend sport into a job. Eschewing scaffolding, skilled mountain climbers working for this company rappel down a turbine’s giant blade, reports the New York Times; then the men clip on to the blade wherever they need to inspect, clean or repair a section — especially any part struck by lightning or damaged by ice. Doing scary maneuvers high above the ground is business-as-usual for climbers Matt Touchette and Sequoia Haughey, who specialize in niche jobs such as inspecting big dams and cleaning the faces of the rock-star presidents on Mount Rushmore. A basic one-day job by two turbine workers starts at $2,000, says Haughey –– pretty good money for what he calls “dirtbag climbers.” Even better, no rope expert has been killed or seriously injured on wind turbines so far.
Charles Dickens, where are you? Somebody blew the whistle at the Department of Labor, and after investigating, the federal agency found that kids as young as 13 were illegally working for a market research company in Orem, Utah. The company, Western Wats, seemed to specialize in the kiddie labor pool. It hired 1,479 teenagers — all 14 or 15 years old — to question people about politics and other issues from centers in seven Western states, including Utah, Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming. The “sheer volume of children the company was hiring” was unusual, said the Labor Department, which found that violations ranged from paying the children less than minimum wage to allowing teens to work longer hours than the law permits. Western Wats, which said it would fight the charges, has already received a $550,000 fine — “one of the highest of its kind ever assessed against a U.S. company,” reports the Salt Lake Tribune.
It’s not fun and it’s not right, said PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, about a wildlife park in Winston, Ore., that uses elephants to wash cars. “It’s the threat of the pain that those bullhooks will cause that makes the elephants do what they’re told,” said a PETA spokesperson. Wildlife Safari officials reply that the elephants haven’t been trained through threats or abuse; instead, the animals spray cars to collect treats like carrots or yams: “These are 2-ton animals,” curator Dan Brands told the Seattle Times. “You can’t force them to do anything they wouldn’t want to do.”
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., took the unusual step recently of blasting two universities in his home state — Arizona State and the University of Arizona — for taking a total of nearly $1 million in federal stimulus money to study ant behavior. “We have serious economic problems, and we’re going to spend money on ants?” asked an incredulous McCain. The money will create 3.46 jobs, and Leslie Tolbert, a vice president at the University of Arizona, pointed out that stimulus money helps keep good scientists. “You don’t think of it every day,” she added, “but ants are really good at the division of labor.” The Arizona Daily Star noted several other projects among the 100 nationwide that McCain cited as highly dubious. They include $390,000 to the State University of New York at Buffalo to study young adults who drink malt liquor and smoke marijuana, and $1.2 million to a horse park and museum in Lexington, Ky., that’s dedicated to “man’s relationship with the horse.”
There’s no doubt about it: It’s too easy to get an initiative on the ballot in Colorado. The latest burning issue for voters to decide: Whether a commission is needed to collect evidence that extraterrestrials and their “UFO vehicles” have been visiting Earth, reports the Denver Post.
ARIZONA AND UTAH
Elected officials say the most surprising things when it comes to environmental matters. Take Sylvia Allen, a Republican state senator from Snowflake, Ariz. She worked hard to get a Christmas tree from her district shipped to the state Capitol, where it graced the lobby of the state Senate, reports the Arizona Republic. But why did she pull strings — “or was it a chainsaw cord?” — to get the nearly 20-foot-high ponderosa pine donated? Was it just because she thought the tree would look beautiful decorated for Christmas? Or was she out for revenge against treekind? Last year, Allen accused trees of “stealing Arizona’s water supply.” Meanwhile, in Helper, Utah, Mayor Mike Dalpiaz became upset when he learned that a new building in town would feature photovoltaic panels on its roof. This bodes ill for Helper, he says, because the town’s power grid “is one of Helper’s biggest revenue sources.” If more people go solar, he told the Times Independent of Moab, the budget would take a hit. The mayor urged elected officials to get busy and pass an ordinance “to attack this green energy problem.”
COLORADO AND UTAH
Why should professional ecdysiasts have all the fun? In the town of
Carbondale in western Colorado, women from 18 to 60 and older are reportedly flocking to Stripper Fit classes, where they get to wear heels and tiny “booty shorts” while learning to perform “stripper squats” and “pole fusion,” reports the Sopris Sun. “It gives women a chance to do something out of their everyday life,” says a teacher. But be warned: Once enrolled at Stripper Fit, every student has to come up with a stripper moniker — something along the lines of the teachers’ choices, which are “Barbie,” “Honey” and “Minx.”
Speaking of stripping, thousands of foreclosed homes in Arizona stand really, really empty because they’ve been stripped of everything homeowners take for granted, from toilets, tubs, sinks and refrigerators, to stoves, light fixtures and cabinets — in fact, anything that isn’t nailed down, including palm trees. Not that thieves come in the night and cart everything off, reports the New York Times. No, it’s usually the owners themselves, trying to earn a few dollars before the bank turns them out. Homeowners often advertise through Craigslist, the Web site for classified ads, but because this is illegal in Arizona, the FBI has begun to arrest and charge people with felonies under a state statute. In hard-hit states like Nevada, though, no state law applies, and owners about to be bounced routinely invite buyers to strip a house bare before a bank takes possession. It’s tough for lenders to stop the many homeowners who do this, and taking people to court is costly and time-consuming. It’s also hard to condemn the strippers, says the Times, because “as in most of the country, sympathy for banks is running low, and opportunism is running high.” Still, San Joaquin County in Southern California has our sympathy as it faces the daunting task of monitoring some 2,000 neglected swimming pools. Opportunistic wildlife has begun filling new niches at these lonely homes, though officials have a remedy for one invader. When neighbors complain that pools have become breeding grounds for mosquitoes, the county brings in mosquito fish, which eat the larvae and prevent a population explosion, reports NewAmericaMedia. And then there are the hordes of rats. But that problem carries its own solution: Once homeowners are gone, their garbage disappears and eventually so do the rats. Like the rest of us, they rely on a prosperous economy.
Yes, we’re seeing more crows these days, says Lyanda Lynn Haupt in her book Crow Planet, and that’s because people and crows can live just about anywhere. At the same time, the world has become more crowded, throwing crows and people closer together. While it’s an overstatement to say that crows “enjoy” human company, they do know how to get along with us, so that now, “nearly everyone has a story to tell.” Haupt tells about one crow who followed a mail carrier on his rounds for two years, “walking behind him like a golden retriever.” Then there’s the story about a crow that hooked up with a cat skilled at killing birds, so it could share “in the feasting.” Another crow became famous after it watched Canadian pilots practice flying in daredevil formation, much like the American Blue Angels. You guessed it: Afterward, the crow astonished watchers by trying a little upside-down flying, too. Crows may not be the bird we deserve, Haupt says, but they are the bird we’ve been given.
You might think that Sweetwater Station, population “plus or minus 5,” doesn’t have much to brag about. It sits on a two-lane road in the middle of nowhere, about halfway between Muddy Gap and Lander, in central Wyoming. But you’d be wrong, because nine years ago Sweetwater Station became the new home of a booklover’s paradise called Mad Dog and the Pilgrim Books. Thanks to the Internet, its stock of 75,000 titles is browsed and bought by people who live all over the world — including readers at Buckingham Palace (“mostly military history and equestrian stuff”). It’s become one of “the mountain West’s hidden treats,” reports Rone Tempest in Wyofile.com. Owners Lynda German and Polly Hinds specialize in out-of-print books with an emphasis on Western Americana, old fiction, military history and children’s literature, among other niches. Before their wares filled up an old Wyoming farmhouse that sits at 6,500 feet, the owners ran a bookstore in a seedy section of downtown Denver, on Colfax Ave. But that all came to a crashing halt after a police bust. The women were also working as janitors to make ends meet, and one evening, after cleaning a bank building, “they were swept up in a police manhunt.” To their dismay, the police handcuffed them, suspecting that Hinds’ feather duster was a weapon and their truck the getaway vehicle. That did it, Hinds says: “The universe tells you when to go.” Sweetwater Station didn’t seem particularly remote, German adds, since “people who like books will find you.” Hinds tells what she calls a true story about a fruitless attempt to hire writer Larry McMurtry for their store in Wyoming. Visiting McMurtry’s huge bookstore in Texas, she saw a man she assumed was an overworked employee stocking books and asked if he wanted a job. The man, “up on a ladder drenched in sweat,” turned out to be McMurtry, who responded, ‘Well, I’ll think about it, ’cause the pay here is crap.’ ” The antiquarian book site biblio.com carries some 1,000 titles from Mad Dog and the Pilgrim. There’s a bonus if you shop in person: The owners also sell fresh eggs.
Small towns hoping to entice tourists might learn a little something from Nevada’s Virginia City, 26 miles south of Reno and inhabited by 1,000 “souls,” as rural newspapers used to call residents. Virginia City specializes in “Old West kitsch,” says the Los Angeles Times, hosting a “Testicle Festival” with platters of prairie oysters, a pet parade, camel races and the “World Championship Outhouse Races,” a November phenomenon that features human-powered privies with peculiar or punny names. This year’s entries included the Party Pooper outhouse, the Flapper Crapper and the Urinator, whose makers promised “I’ll Pee Back,” but the Haunted Outhouse crossed the toilet-paper finish line first. As a drill team dubbed the Plungerettes paraded up the highway, twirling their plungers like batons, one watcher noted, “It’s a little strange, a little Nevada.”
Retail therapy is a term that makes no sense at all to 48-year-old Daniel Suelo, who lives alone in a 15-foot-by-5-foot sandstone cave an hour’s walk from Moab. But Suelo, who chose this life some nine years ago, isn’t lonely or yearning for anything different. As his former roommate at the University of Colorado put it, “He is the happiest person I have ever met.” Suelo, a former Peace Corps volunteer, told the Denver Post’s Jason Blevins that he used to worry all the time about making a living and buying stuff until he realized that he needed nothing — no money and no possessions — to enjoy life. Now he’s the ultimate recycler, living on the waste stream of a small town. When he needs food or clothes, our throwaway society provides: “Even after all these years, I’m still asking myself, ‘Why would anyone throw this out?’ ” Only one thing about Dumpster-diving disturbs him: It’s when people in authority say he shouldn’t search a garbage can “for his own safety.”
The Teton County commissioners didn’t think they’d gone around the bend; they merely thought they were being responsible, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide. Gas-field workers inject hydraulic fracturing fluid deep underground to free the gas, and the chemical formulas used in it are known only to the industry. The commissioners see this secrecy as dangerous — not just for injured workers, but also for the hospital employees who take care of them. So the commissioners approved a resolution that urged Congress to pass the “FRAC Act,” which, among other things, says if an injured gas-field worker goes for treatment after a “fracking” fluid spill, the gas company has to reveal the chemicals used in the fluid. But this made absolutely no sense to the president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming. The commissioners, Bruce Hinchley told the Casper Star-Tribune, were just “a bunch of environmental wackos.”
FROM THE SKIOCRACY
For people in ski country, the months between late September and early December are a sad and desperate time. Gray days, cold nights and nary a flake of snow drive recreationists indoors, wreaking havoc with their circadian rhythms. Everyone with any sort of sense — and a trust fund — flees to warmer, beachier climes to sit out those agonizing weeks. Those who stay would be better off just trading in their flip-flops for a tight, white jacket, the kind with strong straps, padding and hefty buckles. Because, when left unrestrained, some people do strange things.
Take the case of Lauren Slaff, in Durango, Colo. Slaff, a personal chef, moved to the area from New York City a couple years back, choosing the town for its proximity to Purgatory ski area. This fall, she bought a weekday pass for the winter. Only later did she discover that, during the early season, Purgatory might only open on weekends. Slaff, who thought she was getting ripped off, protested to resort management. They offered her a refund. She turned it down, and instead got the Durango Herald to write a hard-hitting, front-page investigative piece on the issue.
In response, the resort refunded Slaff’s money, took her pass away, and told her to take her skis and go slide on them somewhere else.
So the Herald ran another front-pager, which was in turn picked up by every ski-town daily within 500 miles, the Denver Post and even the Huffington Post. More than 100 comments popped up on the Herald story alone, most slamming the resort for not giving locals a break. At least one commenter suggested that Slaff lawyer up and go after the ski area for violating free speech rights while operating on federal land. It’s all part of the strange phenomenon in which ski-town citizenry views ski areas as semi-public entities, accountable to the public, rather than as private businesses.
“Look, let’s face it: We all who ski here, live here, and work here have a stake in helping Purgatory succeed,” wrote Ken Wright in a post called “Kicked out of Purgatory — and into the Soviet Union” (Dude, that is sooo last century) at his San Juan Almanac blog. “And that’s why the local community has a right — hell, a responsibility — to discuss decisions and actions by the management of our local ski resort in public forums. …”
Anyway, the most upsetting thing about the whole fracas was that it distracted everyone from the really big news in Durango that week: During a town board discussion of a new backyard-hen ordinance, a giant chicken barged into the meeting, laid an egg and ran away. As of press time, the chicken remained at large. No word on the fate of the egg.
FACTORY FARMS EVERYWHERE
Which came first: Chronic depression? Or being shoved into a tiny cage for life? Researchers at Clemson University in Iowa are trying to figure out the answer to that question. Animal-rights folks have long seen egg factories, in which up to nine hens can share a 2-foot-by 2-foot cage, as cruel. California voters seem to agree: Last year, the state passed a ballot initiative banning such practices. The chicken industry, though — or at least the human beings who run it — is not so sure. And so, much to the dismay of animal-rights activists, the researchers want to study the subject some more.
“Think about the ... effects of not moving for up to 24 months,” Bruce Friedrich, spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, told the Associated Press. “Their bones and muscles waste away and they go insane.”
Which sounds a lot like what happens to ski bums, crammed into dilapidated condos during November, and … Oh, wait, that was a different story. Although it also ended with a chicken.
REPUBLIC OF SORTOFGREENSKI
Ski resorts are trying to lessen their impact on the environment. No, really, just because most skiers fly or drive to the slopes, which are actually just big clear-cuts, and because the chairlifts alone use tons of energy doesn’t mean that ski resorts can’t be green. Take Vail, where an earnest effort is under way to reduce, reuse and recycle. According to an Austin American-Statesman article, the resort fills up the equivalent of three city buses every week with recycling. Used engine oil is burned to heat workshops and the like, and the resort is looking to cut energy use by 10 percent over the next two years. In fact, Luke Cartin, environmental manager for the resort, can be found running around with an infrared scope to find heat leaks, that is, when he’s not tending to the bucket of coffee-ground-eating worms on his desk. In September, the resort even pledged to help restore land near Denver that was scorched in the 2002 Hayman fire. Before you get too warm and cozy, though, there is another side. Even as it agreed to help with the Hayman restoration, the resort also ended its three-year commitment to purchase wind-energy offset credits. Nobody’s perfect.
Before Glen Canyon Dam plugged up the Colorado River in 1963, locals in the Upper Basin states of Utah, Colorado and Wyoming reeled in fish so giant and so good to eat that they still tell stories about them. The fish they caught — squawfish, razorback suckers, humpback chubs and bonytail chubs — are all endangered today, though a raft of partners, including the three states, federal agencies and environmental groups, are trying to restore the species. As part of that effort, Fred Quartarone interviewed 111 old-timers about what it was like to catch native fish that few people nowadays have ever seen. Some of their recollections read like exploits in an edition of “Ripley’s Believe it or Not.” They also reveal what’s been lost.
Max Stewart, for example, was only 8 when he landed a 25-pound squawfish so determined to escape that it dragged the boy to the ground three times before he could pull it onto land. Terrified but also thrilled, the boy ran and got his father, who helped him lug it home. Anglers told Quartarone about baiting their hooks with mice and frogs to entice the fish, but the strangest account involved squads of squawfish that learned how to catch birds.
Chuck Mack of Craig, Colo., tells the story, recalling that it was during the early 1950s on the Green River near Lodore Canyon. He watched as baby cliff swallows — eager to leave their nests — flapped their wings hard but often flopped down into the water. “Every big squawfish in the Green River must have migrated to the canyon to feast on the swallows because we sure caught a lot of them,” Mack said. “We managed to land a lot of 10 to 20 pounders (and) everyone that we gutted out had a stomach plumb full of baby swallows!”
Quartarone’s 1995 publication, Historical Accounts of Upper Colorado River Basin Endangered Fish, includes great photos and has just been reissued. Call 303-969-7322 or check the Web site: ColoradoRiverRecovery.fws.gov.
Speaking of camouflage, Big R stores in Klamath Falls, Redmond and White City, Ore., featured a camo-covered toilet seat in one of their newspaper inserts. The “off-road commode” for campers works this way: You attach the padded seat to a special truck hitch down by the truck’s bumper, and voila! “Now you can GO where your truck goes!” The detachable seat is not cheap at $24.95, however, and it is “NOT for use on moving vehicles.” Darn.