Fast asleep at 5 a.m., while illegally camped in a parking lot in Yellowstone< National Park, two tourists from Oregon were rudely awakened " -- not by park rangers tapping on their window, but by a boom so loud they thought it was an earthquake. In a matter of minutes the couple was racing off, when they noticed a plume of steam rising over the area called Geyser Basin. Steamboat Geyser, dormant for nearly nine years, had woken with a roar. Its plume of steam was still topping 500 feet two hours later, reports the Billings Gazette. Yellowstone Park employee Bob Lindstrom says Steamboat is the world's highest geyser, more than twice the size of Old Faithful and comparable to the 555-foot Washington Monument. It sounded "like a jet airplane engine" as it converted near-boiling water to steam, Lindstrom says. After five hours, though, the geyser had played out, leaving boardwalks covered in water. Steamboat's first recorded blast in 1878 killed trees and threw up boulders. It was quiet from 1911 to 1961, but blew 90 times between 1961 and 1969, according to The Geysers of Yellowstone, by T. Scott Bryan. Last year, when Steamboat Geyser began occasionally to splash and steam, Yellowstone aficionados hoped the "Holy Grail of geyser-gazing" was getting ready for a re-release. Lindstrom, a Yellowstone employee for 25 years, says the eruption this May was his first glimpse of Steamboat letting loose.


Ever wonder what beauty contest contestants do backstage? Miss Wyoming USA, Rebecca Smith, told the Jackson Hole News that rebellion erupted at the Miss USA event last February. The University of Wyoming junior says that toward the end of 18 days of pageant preparation, participants had grown sick of a steady diet of granola bars and chicken and were getting definitely edgy. So when pageant part-owner Donald Trump was shown on stage making a smooching motion toward a TV camera, "the women backstage collectively squealed in distaste and threw food at the television monitors," Smith says. "We felt like members of a cult mental hospital. We could not comb our hair without supervision." Smith, 21, never took the hoopla seriously, wearing a four-year-old bathing suit, for instance, and a recycled prom dress for evening-gown duty. But the experience still ranked as an accomplishment, she says, and her father got a kick out of wearing her crown around the house for hours after she got home. Her hint for pageant hopefuls: "Now, they want a real woman, not a Barbie doll. In that sense I was lucky, because I didn't have to work on unlearning how to be a successful pageant woman."


Those so-called killer bees keep making news; now, they're going urban. Associated Press reports that confronted with unusually dry weather, the touchy Africanized honeybees are leaving the Arizona desert for cities. In Tucson, seven men working on a store roof were recently attacked by the flying bullies, and a 76-year-old man suffered more than 300 stings at his home. Researchers say the bees create new hives every six weeks, compared with about once a year for other bees, and they already outnumber gentler honeybees in Arizona. Shades of a horror movie: Killer bees can cover up to 300 miles a year.


A backcountry skier in Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park broke his ankle at the start of a solo campout and was faced with a dilemma: He was high up in snowy Death Canyon, five miles from the trailhead, and nobody expected to see him for four days. So Vito Seskunas, 53, from Baltimore, Md., began to hike out through the snow on his rear end, his left foot held out in front of him. It was "contorted in a gruesome way - a full 90 degrees from what it should be," said the man who discovered him three days later. He was just 400 feet from the trailhead, reports the Jackson Hole News. Seskunas was shivering and in shock, but joked to rescuers that he hoped to get to his car and drink some Coke before driving to the hospital. A park ranger said what seemed to save the cross-country skier was his "bright and bubbly" personality: "It's been shown time and again the folks that have a positive attitude can somehow keep it together mentally and push it physically."


Is the Clinton administration really against smoking? A conservative Missouri Republican, Christopher Bond, says the government makes an exception when it comes to Native Americans. He points out that since 1997, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has given $4.2 million to tribes in Nevada, Oklahoma and elsewhere to build smoke shops. They sell cheaper cigarettes. Studies have shown that Native Americans have the highest smoking rate of all ethnic groups in the United States, reports the Los Angeles Times. An amendment to the budget that Bond has proposed would end smoke-shop subsidies. But some Native American officials were upset by Bond's move, saying that it's unfair to single out tribes when the federal government also subsidizes tobacco on military bases. Native American leaders say the real contradiction is the government telling tribes to be self-sufficient but not letting them start businesses.


In San Francisco, 20 lizards have been turned loose in a 122-year-old giant greenhouse in Golden Gate State Park. The hope is that "nature will succeed where roach motels have failed," reports Associated Press. The targets of the 4- to 6-inch lizards, called geckos, are Australian roaches. They probably stowed away on plants brought to the Conservatory of Flowers 100 years ago. Since then, the 2-inch roaches have feasted on rare plants, particularly orchids, with not a natural enemy around to keep their increasing numbers in check. No word on what will keep the geckos in check.


Heard around the West invites readers to get involved in the column. Send any tidbits that merit sharing - small-town newspaper clips, personal anecdotes, relevant bumper sticker slogans. The definition remains loose. Heard, HCN, Box 1090, Paonia, CO 81428 or betsym@hcn.org.