It's almost too audacious to be true: Two wineries in Northern California's Sonoma County want to clear 2,000 acres of redwoods to make room for new grape farms, reports the Los Angeles Times. Premier Pacific Vineyards, which owns the 20,000-acre ironically named "Preservation Ranch," and Artesa Vineyards want to cash in on the boom for pinot noir, but they need to cut down the trees before they can plant the grapes. "Outraged" doesn't come close to describing environmentalists' reaction; the Sierra Club's Jay Holcomb said that "the big issue for us is that redwoods-to-vineyards conversions are worse than clear-cutting because they are permanent." Adina Merelender, a conservation biologist at UC Berkeley, added, "I don't see a need for more deforestation to have a great wine economy, because there is a lot of cleared land already available." The proposal goes first to the county's land regulatory agency; a planner there admits that the project is "controversial from beginning to end."
Some people say that the most thrilling thing about any Western Independence Day parade comes toward the end, when the old-time stagecoaches and horse-and-buggy outfits take over. But there's always the possibility that the animals will get spooked, run amok and end up stomping on people. That almost happened in Cody, Wyo., July 3, after buggy-driver John Wright took a corner a little too sharply and was flung to the ground. His mules took off, dragging Wright for nearly 50 yards while he held on tight to the reins, trying to halt the runaways. Wes Livingston, one of the "outriders" on horseback who's hired to protect parade watchers from out-of-control animals, saw what was happening and acted fast, ramming "his 1,100-pound horse head-on between the two mules," reports the Cody Enterprise. The impact caused Livingston's horse to rear, yet he was still able to grab the reins of one mule and yell for help. Joe Robison, a spectator and a former outrider, ran up and grabbed the reins of the other mule. The men's quick action kept the team from running into the by-now very frightened crowd, where kids were screaming and crying. Luckily, no people and no animals were badly hurt; the mule team even managed to win third place in the team hitch division.
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There's sad news about Buford, Wyo., a blip of a place halfway between Cheyenne and Laramie that's home to one Don Sammons. He serves as the town's "everything" man since he is its only resident. But after 20 years of running Buford's trading post, liquor store, hardware and grocery store and -- what really counts -- its gas station, Sammons is fixing to retire, reports NBC-TV News. Sammons jokes that even with a population of one, "Buford is almost a city," and certainly there's nobody around to argue with him. Originally settled in the 1860s, Buford once hosted 2,000 people, but after the railroad quit stopping there, everybody fled. When Sammons moved here from Los Angeles 20 years ago, there were seven residents; now, it's just him. Over the years, he's has become known as the "angel of Interstate 80," thanks to his tow-truck service, which can be crucial during Wyoming's famously ferocious winters. One thing is sure: If Buford is going to survive, it needs a new angel.
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"Poodle-dog bush" -- what a cute name for a plant! It grows at about 5,000 feet, sports purple flowers and looks a lot like lupine. But beware: This plant has a poisonous bite. If you pick it, walk through it or expose any part of your body to it, poodle-dog raises blisters similar to those caused by poison oak, and the rash can smart for weeks. The bush springs up periodically, usually after wildfire, and has now colonized much of the 250 square miles within the Angeles National Forest burned by the Station Fire in 2009, reports the Los Angeles Times. A woman whose husband walked shirtless through a field of poodle-dog says it took a lot of cortisone cream to relieve his resulting misery. Don't go strolling through these flowers, she warns, or "You'll be one sorry puppy."
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Size mattered not a whit during a backyard encounter in the town of Kirkland, in northwest Washington, that pitted a "yapping teacup poodle" against a 200-pound black bear, reports The Week magazine. The tiny dog acted so ferocious that the bear climbed a tree, leaped into an adjoining yard and hightailed it back to the woods.
And in Everett, Wash., ferocious animals confront the police department every time a uniformed officer tries to leave headquarters and walk to a cruiser. Out of the sky swirls a flock of birds -- of the sort known collectively, and in this case rather aptly, as "a murder of crows" -- which dive-bomb police officers, attacking like "velociraptors," as one beleaguered cop told the Everett Herald. It didn't help matters when one officer used his siren in an attempt to scare off the crows; the birds retaliated by littering his cruiser with droppings, reports newsfeed.com. Readers who commented offered conflicting advice. One urged the police to just blow the corvids away with a 12-gauge shotgun; another advised a more conciliatory approach. Leave a daily "food offering," "talonshawks" suggested: "Try to work with them, not against them, as you won't win against them."
In Pullman, Wash., however, all is amity between at least one wild creature and humans. Thanks to doctors at Washington State University's veterinary hospital, a 12-year-old African tortoise is walking again -- on three legs and a caster-style wheel. The 23-pound tortoise had to have one of its front legs amputated and would have been one lopsided creature without some kind of prosthesis. So doctors fitted out the tortoise with the smoothly turning wheel, using epoxy to attach it, reports the Billings Gazette. Gamera, the tortoise, can now plod his way with ease over grass, "is particularly good at moving toward food, and has gained three pounds since the wheel was attached."Read More ...
You have to hand it to the 12,000-to-15,000 people who traipse every summer to some national forest -- usually in the West -- where they live for a week as reunited friends who call themselves the Rainbow Family of Living Light. They've had 40 years of practice, so they've learned how to avoid leaving a giant mess, the keys being organization and cooperation. This July, their destination was the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in southern Washington, and as members greeted each other with the words "Welcome home" and "We love you," they built mobile kitchens that offered free food, constructed a separate "A Camp" for alcohol drinkers, and dug slit-trench latrines. Every dog -- the Forest Service had planned for an estimated one dog for every three people -- was required to be leashed, and no money changed hands except when a "Magic Hat" was passed around to buy food and other provisions, reports the Seattle Times. After the gathering of wannabe and old-time hippies concluded with a peace circle, site restoration began in earnest and included reseeding with an approved Forest Service seed mix. If tradition holds, the evidence of occupation will soon disappear. When the Rainbow Gathering ended three years ago in the Ochoco National Forest in central Oregon, a Forest Service ranger told The Oregonian: "I'm impressed. I never thought this place would recover so quickly."
Academics often write books when they're not teaching, but not F. Chris Garcia, 71, a political scientist and the former president of the University of New Mexico. His part-time job involved recruiting prostitutes online. This June, Garcia was arrested and charged with promoting prostitution, conspiracy and tampering with evidence, reports The New York Times. Garcia was reportedly working for David Flory, 68, a physics professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey who owns a second home in New Mexico. Flory has been charged with 40 felony counts for setting up Southwest Companions, a website that connected some 200 prostitutes with as many as 1,400 customers.Read More ...
On hot summer days at the Aspen Airport, private planes from all over the world crowd the tarmac. For some reason, the pilot of an eight-seater Citation X decided that the afternoon of July 1 was the perfect time to gun the engines and do a high-powered "gauge test." Unfortunately, the pilot failed to notice that the plane's engines faced a long-term parking lot. In less than a minute, as many as 30 cars were badly pelted, with seven suffering blown-out windows. Luckily, no one was injured by the rocks that the jet's engines flung into the parking lot. Airport director Jim Elwood was quick to assure the Aspen Daily News: "This is a highly unusual event to have happen."
State Sen. Lori Klein, a first-term Republican from Anthem, Ariz., found herself in hot water recently when she pointed a loaded gun at an Arizona Republic reporter. "I looked down and saw the red dot (from the gun's laser feature) on my chest," journalist Richard Ruelas said. Klein explained that it was really his fault for sitting there, and she refused to discuss it further because there's "a media feeding frenzy that is driven by a few individuals who never miss the opportunity to advance an anti-2nd-Amendment agenda." Ruelas said he wasn't afraid that Klein would accidentally shoot him with her raspberry-colored .380 Ruger -- at least not until after the interview, when he learned that the gun was loaded and had no safety device.
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Jeffrey John Shaw was not what you'd call a "natural" rancher when he moved to Marsing, Idaho, population 890, in the mid-1990s. He had a thick Boston accent, knew beans about cattle, and wore bib overalls and straw hats that were a little over-the-top country, says a neighbor. But he gained the trust of nearby ranchers and even took charge of the area irrigation system, according to The New York Times. Over the years, Shaw -- whose real name was Enrico Ponzo -- also began raising a family and 12 cows of his own. But Ponzo's life as a "remade man" ended abruptly on Feb. 7, after federal agents arrested him for crimes dating back almost two decades, including attempted murder. Investigators searching Ponzo's house found a treasure trove of 39 guns, $15,000 in cash, a 100-ounce bar of silver and lots of books about how to change your identity.
Critics reacted with distaste to a new exhibit called the Las Vegas Mob Experience at the Tropicana Hotel on the Strip, with one calling it "a gratuitous paean to criminality and a crass depiction of Italian-Americans." The interactive show certainly dramatizes organized crime -- whacking visitors in a hail of gunfire noise if they fail to kill somebody fingered by the Mob boss, praising them if they witness a crime yet keep their traps shut. But public relations director Spence Johnson points out that mobsters have legitimate ties to the desert city: They may have committed heinous crimes, he told aolnews.com, but "they played an important role in the development of Las Vegas."
A tourist from North Carolina received a chastening lesson during a guided fishing trip on the Colorado River. Trenton Austin Ganey's group had stopped at a beach below Glen Canyon dam, leaving Ganey, 29, free to hike up to a petroglyph known as the "Descending Sheep Panel." Alone there, Ganey scratched "TRENT" in big letters into the panel, which features rock art from 2,000 to 8,000 years old. His act had dramatic -- and swift -- consequences: Park rangers quickly discovered the vandalism and confronted Ganey when his group docked at Lee's Ferry. In Arizona, U.S. District Judge Neil Wake ordered Ganey to pay $10,000 restitution and sentenced him to 60 months supervised probation and 100 hours of community service.
Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in this column. Write firstname.lastname@example.org.
At 23, Kathleen Vernon is definitely young for her job as Albany County coroner in southeastern Wyoming, but she seems born to do the work. Her mother was a homicide detective in California, her father was a special agent for the BLM, and "the walls of her childhood home were decorated with framed pictures of blood spatters, taken by her mother using her own blood as a study into different types of blood patterns," reports the Casper Star-Tribune. Vernon, who beat her Republican opponent in the last election by just 400 votes, has had her work cut out for her: Eight deaths required investigation during her first 12 days in office. And because she makes just $23,000 a year, Vernon still works two part-time jobs -- conducting surveys for the University of Wyoming and administering security for a business. Yet being a coroner is what she loves best, despite murders, tragedy and gore. Her job's main downside turns out to be practical: "I'm not really sure that I could live the rest of my adult life on this level of compensation."