Heard around the West

  Las Vegas, Nev., detective John Zidzik was patrolling his city's airport when he noticed something peculiar about a traveler, a man in his early 30s. There were "unusual bulges in his groin area not consistent with male anatomy," said the police officer, who conducted a delicate search. The bulges, moving oddly, turned out to be lizards poached from the Philippines, then stuffed into tube socks that had been taped shut. Of the dozen animals, including two monitor lizards protected under the Endangered Species Act, only three remained alive in the pants of Don Astorga, reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal. A judge convicted the Las Vegas resident on two counts of smuggling, a felony.


She's lived in Lolo, Mont., for less than a year, says English teacher Kathleen Stachowski, so she hopes this past summer - always smoky, always full of fear about fire - wasn't typical. To add to the excitement, she tells us, there was also a 4.5 magnitude earthquake. Now, she says, you know you live in western Montana when:
  • "You cancel your bushwhacking vacation to stay home and whack bushes away from your house to create "defensible space" ";


  • "The edge of your yard sports a $200 pile of flammable junipers that once served as landscaping';


  • "You can identify a slurry bomber at 3,000 feet as easily as you can I.D. a magpie at 30 feet';


  • "You always smell like you've been sitting around a campfire," and,


  • "At the Willie Nelson concert in Missoula, the first standing ovation goes to firefighters just off the fireline."

Boise Weekly's film critic so eviscerated a movie called Whipped that we're almost dying to see it. Critic Damon Hunzeker called the flick about three guys falling for the same woman so awful it may "have the power to render humanity celibate," which, he muses, doesn't seem such a bad idea. He asks us to imagine a "genetically altered poodle, with rabies, that's eight feet tall, bullet-proof, wears cute sweaters, barks with Fran Drescher's voice, and, when you try to get away from it, chews off one of your limbs." The movie, he says, is "worse than that. Much worse."


A 450-pound black bear turned a ranch in Gardnerville, Nev., into "a kind of vacation spot," reports the Nevada Appeal, dumping out garbage cans and chewing on the walls of a 120-year-old cook shack, where bees had produced honey in the wood. Trapped once, the big bear got some brusque but needed health care: "He had a tooth pulled, was given a shot and left in a cage for 12 hours." Undeterred, the bear returned to the Settelmeyer ranch, apparently remembering the honey and not the needle. This time, state biologists chased the animal, now radio-collared, up the Carson River, and one hopes, away from temptation.


In Aspen, bears cause a stir by hanging out, which draws gawkers who don't know how to play it cool, says the resort town's environmental ranger. Why don't people treat the bears like celebrities? asks Brian Flynn, who says famous folk get a wave but are left alone. Instead, a mother bear and her two cubs cowered in a tree recently while a crowd of people gathered below. The sow bear became so flustered, she seemed prepared to attack; police finally broke up the standoff by chasing her fans away.


The Denver Post called it "more carnage than carnival," and a county official admitted that "certainly, we at the sheriff's office do not look forward to this event." The "event" is an annual, three-day biker rally for 30,000 motorcyclists, who vroom in from all over the country to Ignacio, pop. 720, which got so crowded this summer that one resident complained she couldn't back her car out of her driveway. The routine for some bikers is to booze it up, get in arguments and throw some punches, but this year five also died in traffic accidents. A defender of the gathering is Colorado Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, who says he started the Iron Horse Motorcycle Rally in 1993, to boost tourism. The Republican senator could be seen at the rally, performing court-ordered community service for shooting at two dogs across a public road.


A motorcyclist on the road near Boise, Idaho, recently ran into big trouble: He collided with a low-flying hawk, which smashed into his chest. Two friends saw the bike of 28-year-old Jason St. Germain "cartwheeling end over end down the road in a cloud of feathers," reports the Idaho Mountain Express. Though seriously injured, the biker lived; the hawk did not.


Some towns really know how to celebrate - even if the great new thing is a toilet. After Granite Falls, Wash., pop. 1,000, spent $91,050 on a potty for the public, the town held its first annual Toilet Festival this July 15-16, reports Cascadia Times. It featured local art framed by toilet seats, a ceremonial cutting of the toilet paper, and best of all, a drawing for the honor of being the first to sit on the throne and activate a royal flush.


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.