Couch potatoes, rejoice: Pretty soon, you won't have to actually set foot on a trail through the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone national parks. Instead, you'll be able to enjoy an online "virtual hiking expedition," compliments of the energy-bar maker Nature Valley. The company hired crews with 360-degree cameras to hike 100 miles through each national park in order to "bring the parks experience to the indoors and outdoors-oriented alike," reports fastcompany.com. Nature Valley marketer Scott Baldwin explained that showing a picture of wilderness is easy, "but people want to have deeper experiences." And what could be deeper than experiencing something on your computer screen? So sometime next year, prepare to kick back, click on Trailview and let your virtual muscles do the walking.
Jefferson County's schools in the Denver area have long been innovators in the world of marketing, engaging in efforts that Click and Clack, the "car guys" who have an hour-long program on National Public Radio, might mock as "shameless commerce." But what's a school district to do in this era of starved budgets and crowded classrooms? Jeffco's latest foray into advertising is selling 2-inch banners on the bottom of all report cards; the client is an education savings plan called CollegeInvest.
Fed up with a husband who interacted only with videogames, Alyse Bradley of Logan, Utah, put Kyle Bradley up for sale on Craigslist, calling him "easy to maintain, just feed and water every 3-5 hours." She quickly got some takers, reports the Salt Lake Tribune, though a few people felt that Kyle, a veteran who served in Afghanistan, deserved whatever time he needed to play "Modern Warfare" from the safety of his couch.
It may not make intuitive sense, but the Washington Post reports that even as we clutter our homes with just about every winking electronic gadget that's ever been made (usually in some faraway Asian country), Americans are on the path to using less electricity. Demand is leveling off because of several factors, with the main reason being greater efficiency. Light bulbs and other electric appliances are being manufactured both to use less energy and last longer; houses are shrinking and being made tighter; and there's a growing consensus among consumers that, especially given the grim economy, it's time to stop being profligate with electricity. "In general, it is now cheaper for utilities to help customers cut back than to build a power plant," the experts say. Still, this could change if some irresistible new product comes along that requires lots of juice, or if electric cars that plug into the grid go mainstream.
A black bear in Lake Tahoe broke into a Toyota Prius parked at a cabin and then "went into a rampage" when he realized he was trapped inside it, reports the Contra Costa Times. The animal kicked, bit and tore at the seats and the steering wheel, and finally managed to shift the car into neutral. "It rolled backward out of the driveway, picked up speed, hopped a small rock wall and stopped on a neighbor's porch steps." At that point, a door sprang open and the fortunate bear took off. As a police officer later noted, "It's definitely not a normal thing to hear about."
A 24-year-old seasoned hunter near the Methow Valley of Washington was scouting for deer this fall when she had an unusual -- and unnerving -- encounter with two gray wolves, reports the Methow Valley News. Kari Hirschberger, a research forester who's been hunting since she was 7, said she was walking a ridge in the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area when she realized she was close to both a deer carcass and what looked like an animal's den. "I realized I should not be there," she told reporter Ann McCreary, when two wolves starting loping toward her, moving fast from some 45 yards away. Hirschberger, who weighs just 125 pounds, quickly decided not to retreat but to stand her ground, shouting, waving her arms wildly and attempting to look intimidating. There was a brief standoff, but then the wolves began to charge her, one at a time, so she chucked rocks at them while hastily packing up her gear and getting ready to move out. The animals followed her for a mile and a half, "very silent and their heads were kind of low to the ground," until finally they disappeared. She still doesn't know whether they were chasing her off or treating her as potential prey, but she's convinced her "instinct to fight back and act aggressively probably helped her." A few weeks later, Hirschberger returned with her boyfriend to bag her buck. Despite her disconcerting experience, she says she continues to believe wolves belong in the wild because "a healthy ecosystem doesn't have missing parts."
Mike Winder, the mayor of West Valley City, recently confessed that he's been leading a double life -- publicly representing Utah's second-largest city, which has a population of 129,000, while also secretly posing as a journalist named "Richard Burwash." The real Burwash, whose first name is Peter, lives in California, where he's a tennis player and motivational speaker; he was taken aback to discover his photo on a newspaper column written by the fake Burwash, who was known in Utah as a sometime journalist writing for the Summit Group, a public relations and lobbying firm run by the mayor. The fake journalist frequently quoted himself -- as Mayor Winder -- in articles published by the Deseret News and other media outlets, saying glowing things about his town. In a three-part series in 2010, he urged voters to approve a $25 million bond issue for city parks while never even mentioning the objections of opponents to the issue. Winder has been touted as a political comer and possible candidate for mayor of Salt Lake City. "Time will tell," Winder admitted, whether this incident will harm his political future: "There will be people who will be disappointed in me because of this."
"Wear a condom now, save the spotted owl," reads one of the labels on a condom distributed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the feisty and litigious conservation nonprofit that has offices throughout the West. While other environmental groups dodge the sticky issue of over-population, the center -- run by Kierán Suckling -- says it is determined to spur discussion about how many people are enough, because too many humans inevitably squeeze out wildlife, while our increasing numbers also contribute to global climate change. The center has been visiting college campuses to pass out its free condoms -- "Wrap with care, save the polar bear," says another label -- and has also begun lobbying Congress and paying for video ads at New York's Times Square, reports The New York Times. Reducing unwanted pregnancies could have a huge impact on population, says John Bongaarts, a demographer with the Population Council in New York, who adds that it's disappointing to see the "global warming community" back away from anything to do with population control.
After people in the town of Moab got to talking about providing a shelter for the homeless, Carey Jones wrote the Moab Times-Independent to say that the well-intentioned move might just open the door to wandering riffraff, or as he delicately phrased it, "undesirable elements." But before you rush to denounce Jones as a bigot, consider the fact that he's been homeless himself for 26 years, spending every winter outdoors in the deserts or canyons of southern Utah. Jones said that he knew of only four people in Moab who were truly homeless, and that they all received continuing help from churches or public assistance. He concluded that he'd rather be poor and homeless in Moab than rich anywhere else, and in any case, he didn't "need anybody's roof or anybody's pity."
You might call it a minor movement, but "reshoring" -- a new word that means bringing offshore jobs back home -- is buoying some residents of rural Idaho. About 12 years ago, Buck Knives sent up to half its production to China, thinking it would save money. Unfortunately, many customers were steamed by that decision. "Hunters are rednecks, and they don't like anything with that C word on it," admits company chairman Chuck Buck. So for the last few years, Buck has begun reshoring knife production and adding jobs to the town of Post Falls, and sales have picked up. "I want to get out of China as quickly as I can," says Buck, whose grandfather founded the firm in 1902. Idaho Statesman reporter Bill Roberts also talked to Ed Endebrock, who just opened Ende Machinery and Foundry in the declining town of Craigmont, Idaho, population 500. "We need to bring back our manufacturing base to this country," Endebrock says. "We can't live on flipping hamburgers all our lives." Businesses decide to leave Asia for lots of reasons, including increased automation here, growing freight costs, the need to be closer to resources and customers for quick decisions, and retaining customer goodwill. But there was another -- and slightly more unpleasant -- reason why Endebrock chose to scour the country for parts and build a foundry in Idaho from scratch. He said he was "frosted when he sent plans for a proprietary piece of equipment from his Lewiston plant to his Chinese manufacturer to reproduce, and the newly produced part ended up in the hands of his competitor before he received it."
Allison Linville, a backcountry ranger for Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness, sometimes hikes 20 miles in a day -- a short trip, really -- as part of her job, while a 40-mile trek isn't exactly uncommon. When The Sun magazine asked its readers recently to write in about their experiences "paying attention," Linville responded by describing her solitary job in the high country. She told how she'd often extend her hikes by hours, just by slowing down to eat huckleberries or observe cloud formations. One day, she continued, she climbed a small hill near her ranger station and decided to "take everything in for five minutes." She observed birds and bugs, admired the way the leaves moved in the trees and noticed a fungus she'd never seen before. Then the unexpected happened: "I was ready to start walking again when I saw a mule-deer doe, completely immobile and blending into her surroundings. She had been standing there the entire time, watching me."
Fed up with black bears moseying through town to make a mess of food waste inside wide-open Dumpsters, some Incline Village residents near northern Lake Tahoe have taken to photographing unsecured Dumpsters outside businesses, then pasting the pictures on a Facebook page called the "Lake Tahoe Wall of Shame." All we're doing, the group's leader told the Lake Tahoe Bonanza, is "asking people to close the Dumpster and latch it. It's pretty simple stuff." If businesses don't comply -- and the Facebook page showed 16 Dumpsters out of compliance at the time -- the fine is $100 for a first offense, reports The Associated Press.
Marvin Bass, a Florida man who hadn't taken a vacation in five years, didn't get to enjoy his visit to Yellowstone National Park as planned. He was driving a borrowed 42-foot motor home up 8,431-foot-high Teton Pass when he realized how much it was laboring on the 10 percent grade. So Bass parked the RV and unhitched the truck he'd been towing behind so he could drive down to Jackson, Wyo., to buy antifreeze. Once he'd returned, Bass attempted to re-hitch the truck to the motor home but accidentally locked himself out of it. So he tried to climb up through the driver's side window and squeeze himself inside -- "but as he did, his body unleashed the brake, and the RV began rolling toward the precipice." Just in time, Bass wiggled out of the motor home, which kept on moving until it slid over the edge of the road, crashing 225 feet below. "Obviously, I'm not going to Yellowstone in it," Bass told the Jackson Hole News&Guide, as he sadly watched the motor home get winched up the slope by two wreckers.
"Today, it's not easy being yellow in an era of green," reports Governing magazine -- particularly if the yellow in question comes from the Yellow Pages. Last year, San Francisco received about 1.6 million of the bulky phone books for its 800,000 residents, "creating nearly 7 million pounds of waste," so last May the city banned the books for anyone who didn't request them. A few months later, Seattle followed suit, allowing its residents to opt out of receiving the Yellow Pages. City Councilman Mike O'Brien pushed the measure, because the year before, he said, Seattle was forced to shell out $350,000 to get rid of all the unwanted directories, or, as some people call them, the "glorified doorstops."
Raffle prizes run the gamut, but in Tucson recently, one particular
offering seemed oddly off-kilter, to say the least. To raise money for
the Pima County Republicans, party members aimed to sell 125 raffle
tickets for $10 each, with the lucky winner receiving a Glock pistol --
"the same brand of gun used in a Tucson parking lot to shoot Democratic
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and six people waiting to meet her," reports the
Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Brian Miller, former president of the
Republican group, commented dryly, "The people running the Pima County
GOP right now aren't exactly known for their ability to feel the
Wolves, it turns out, can be surprisingly easy to kill. All Stan Burt of Boise had to do, he told the Idaho Statesman, was drive to a spot where he thought a pack was roaming and howl. "A whole chorus erupted," he said, and a few minutes later, at least eight wolves "were milling around and looking for the source of the howling." He shot one at 75 yards, and was somewhat disconcerted when the wolves didn't seem alarmed by the noise. A few seconds later, he shot a second wolf about 30 yards from the first one; then when the remaining wolves retreated, Burt said he used a predator call that mimics a rabbit to lure them back. "If I would have had five wolf tags, I probably could have killed five wolves." Burt is apparently the first person to kill two wolves in a single day; he'll get a full-body mount made from one wolf and a rug from the hide of the other.
Bob Welch wrote the perfect opening to an unusual story: "The 90-year-old woman was talking to the executive director of a Portland cemetery about her, uh, future." The woman didn't want to be cremated and she didn't want to be buried in a coffin -- she wanted to be "composted." "Natural burial" is the preferred term, says the Eugene Register-Guard, but it's not easy to find a cemetery that will let you go to ground without a lot of froufrou. Although more and more cemeteries are looking into natural burial, only a few now offer it, including Portland's own River View Cemetery, run by David Noble. There, a body might be put into a biodegradable casket, "perhaps something woven or made of bamboo or willow branches or sea grass. Compost might be packed around it to speed the breakdown process." Noble estimates that in a decade, natural burial will be a regular part of the cemetery business, which leads Welch to conclude: "In a trend inspired by eco-conscious baby boomers, you might say it represents a generation's final back-to-the-land movement."
In the derring-do department, Doug Niblack certainly stands out: The surfer found himself standing on the back of a great white shark and lived to tell the tale. Niblack, who was surfing off the Oregon coast near Seaside, north of Portland, was paddling some 50 yards from shore when his board hit something that felt like a rock. Next thing he knew, he was knee-deep in churning water on the back of a 10-to-12-foot-long shark. In case you're wondering what that feels like, he says that it felt rubbery, like a Neoprene wetsuit. "There was a moment there when everything was going on, I just kind of made my peace. I honestly thought I was going to die." Perhaps equally unhappy about having a rider, the shark slid out from underneath Niblack, leaving him to paddle back to shore in shock: "I was praying the whole time. Like, 'Don't let it be following me.' " Ralph Collier of the Shark Research Committee in Canoga Park, Calif., says Niblack is actually the second person he's heard of who ended up on top of a shark; a kayaker off Catalina Island, Calif., in 2008 also experienced that phenomenon and survived, reports The Associated Press.
The Arizona Strip north of the Grand Canyon suffers from an unemployment rate as high as 17 percent. It also suffers from, or (depending on your point of view) is blessed by, the high possibility that it contains huge amounts of uranium. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will decide soon whether to allow these canyon lands along the Arizona-Utah border to be explored and mined for uranium; meanwhile, local officials have put together a coalition to try to discourage Salazar from one possible decision that would protect the area from mining for 20 years. At a recent eight-hour coalition get-together in St. George, Utah, most speakers talked about the decline of their small rural communities because they lacked an industrial base. But Brian Bremnar, public-lands administrator for Garfield County, Utah, also worried about the effect unemployment has on the development of the manlier qualities, reports Today's News Herald: "When the man is pulled out of the home and a boy is raised with a mother and three sisters, do you think he will be able to throw a football better or do hair better? Is he going to be able to cook better than he can change a tire?"
Everybody agrees: The 47-year-old, silt-choked Matilija Dam in Southern California needs to come down. Since 1998, Ventura County officials have discussed all the ways this might happen, though nothing ever has. Apparently fed up, unknown monkey-wrenchers recently spray-painted a giant scissors and a dotted line indicating where to cut on the face of the 200-foot dam, reports the Ventura County Star. How did officials react? "It's completely humorous," said the director of the county's public works agency. Absent a giant pair of scissors -- or hands large enough to wield them -- the problem of how to do the job remains. For one thing: What do you do with all the sediment that's built up behind the dam? One solution is to dry up the creek behind the dam, then move the mounds of dirt to the sides to restore the stream. Unfortunately, that would cost more than $140 million, which the county doesn't have.
It was just another invitation to a "gala" to raise money for a worthy cause -- but wait, this one featured an offer that was hard to refuse: You wouldn't have to dress up, drive for an hour, and make nice with a bunch of people who looked only vaguely familiar. Instead, you only had to buy a $50 ticket and then stay home, enjoying "the hottest event of the year that no one will attend." Habitat for Humanity of Montrose County, Colo., called it an "Armchair Gala" and invited donors to celebrate the group's 20th anniversary by relaxing in a favorite chair -- though not before sending in a check. And here's another bargain: You could also invite five lucky friends to a virtual table for just $250.
There's a new way for cops to enjoy their jobs while still looking out for bad guys. In Billings, Mont., Police Chief Rich St. John said that all of his officers who tried out two-wheeled Segways on their beats found the vehicles "fun," though the men pictured in the Billings Gazette story looked just a little dorky as they stood tall on the machines while wearing knee-length shorts and bicycle helmets. The Segway company loaned the $8,000 scooters to Billings as part of a campaign to encourage police departments and other agencies to add the vehicles to their fleets. Yet Segways have at least one drawback: They can't go faster than 12.5 mph. Chief St. John doesn't sound sold yet, saying that Segways would have to prove themselves more practical than bicycles, "which have been a useful tool for the department."
A police department's Rookie of the Year award usually goes to a young person, but in Surprise, Ariz., a city of 115,000, the honor went to Wendy Klarkowski, a seasoned 49-year-old. At 5 feet 3 inches and all of 118 pounds, "she may not be the most intimidating officer," the Arizona Republic acknowledged. But she possesses a valuable array of qualities, from empathy and unflappability to a passionate approach to the job. Surprise Police Chief Mike Frazier said that in 30 years, Klarkowski was the first woman he's known to become an officer in middle age, though "for her, age doesn't really matter. She's just committed and has the drive that it takes. You have to think, if she was 100 years old, would she go for it?" Klarkowski's son, Tim, is another winner for the department; in 2008, when he was 22, he was also named Rookie of the Year. Klarkowski started out as a 911 operator, but both Tim and his dad encouraged her to become a cop. Tim even helped coach her so she could pass the grueling physical tests that every police officer must take, including doing 50 pushups and running a mile in less than 15 minutes, plus scaling a 6-foot wall. Klarkowski, who suffered from an autoimmune disease that came close to killing her a decade ago, says her previous life comes in handy when she has to deal with parents who have called police about their teenage children. She says she tells parents what worked for her, and reminds them that "10 years down the road, when the children are grown, 'it will be worth everything you're doing.' "
Knowing how to operate a stick shift can come in handy, especially if you're on the lam, reports the Associated Press. A couple accused of shooting a man in Wyoming hijacked a car to elude the police near Echo, Utah, but after pushing the driver out, the carjackers found to their dismay that they couldn't figure out how to get it into first. Roy and Jessica Fritts were arrested shortly afterward.
With the cutting of a ceremonial barbed wire fence, the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center near Cody, Wyo., officially opened Aug. 20. It was a dramatic moment for the more than 250 Japanese Americans who were present: All had been imprisoned there during World War II. A crowd of nearly 1,200 other people joined them to celebrate the grand opening and tour some of the camp's restored barracks. Norm Mineta, a former internee who became a congressman and U.S. secretary of Transportation, said that the center's meaning was "not about the past. It's about the future because history has the ability to repeat itself. What we're doing here is drawing a line in the sand to say, 'Never again.' " At a dinner earlier, former TV anchor Tom Brokaw called the creation of internment camps for Japanese Americans one of the most shameful acts in our nation's history. But, he added, the people imprisoned never gave up on the country that sent them there, and "this symbol of failure now becomes -- because of your lives and citizenship -- a symbol of triumph and light to show the way forward."