Can drinking milk be considered cool? Former Idaho Dairy Princess Colleen Underwood thought so, if she could just copy some tricks from Coca-Cola and Pepsi. So during her reign as cow-milk royalty two years ago, Underwood leased a vending machine, put photos of the Dixie Chicks guzzling milk on the front, then filled it with milk in groovy round plastic containers. That began her experiment in marketing at Twin Falls High School, and it was so successful that her dairy-farming family continues to stock the $4,000 machine while Colleen studies at Boise State University.


Milk has been selling big-time at the high school, with up to 150 students a day paying 75 cents a serving for milk flavored with banana, orange, strawberry, root beer, or the big seller - chocolate - which apparently make the milk less like a nutritious drink and more like a snack for teens skipping breakfast. Capital Press says that for the Underwood family, the goal is making milk accessible to kids. "I don't care who gets the proceeds," says Colleen's mother, Tracy. "I just want to see milk getting sold." The United Dairymen of Idaho (the founders apparently forgot to include inventive Idaho dairywomen) recently borrowed Colleen Underwood's idea, placing vending machines for milk in nine schools in the southern part of the state.


A New York conceptual artist has fallen in love with milk as a medium of expression, at least when it's transformed into gooey cheese. In Powell, Wyo., Cosimo Cavallaro melted 12,000 pounds of pepperjack cheese in barrels, then sprayed the red and green-dotted mixture over a house destined for demolition. "It's milk; it's life," he enthused to Associated Press. "The house is beautiful. ... It screams, 'Just do something for me before I die.' " But wouldn't you know it? Some neighbors complained. Jim Montoya said the cheeseball house didn't look like art to him, and he was afraid it would start to smell. But Powell Mayor Jim Milburn was more tolerant. "The color gives it a nice texture," he said. This did not impress Montoya, who said the cheesy structure wouldn't be so bad "if it was not 12 feet from my bed." Powell, pop. 5,373, helped celebrate both cheese and the New York artist's work in it with a "Cheesefest" featuring a king and queen of cheese.


Cows, it turns out, can help catch criminals. Thanks to the prodigious amount of manure the bovines produce, police in Northern California finally nabbed Roy Amador Jr., who had eluded them for an hour as he careened through town after town in Contra Costa County. He was finally stopped cold when he plunged into a dairy's roadside manure heap, so deep and so smelly that "officers gingerly fished him out of his car," reports the Los Angeles Times. The car chase began after Amador allegedly waved a gun around and threatened two police officers.


New Mexico continues to disappear. New Mexico magazine now runs a monthly feature, "One of Our Fifty is Missing," about how nonresidents frequently misplace the nation's fifth-largest state, reports Associated Press. The New York Times recently eliminated New Mexico from a map of the Southwest, giving the honors to Arizona; last year, the Wall Street Journal switched Arizona and New Mexico in one of its maps.


A self-proclaimed "portrait photographer of God's creations" in the Southwest has been exposed as a "flaming hypocrite," reports the Salt Lake Tribune. Michael Fatali, 36, was charged on Oct. 16 with seven misdemeanor counts for setting chemical fires underneath Delicate Arch in Utah's Arches National Park. Fatali, who leads five-day, $2,000 "Follow the Light" workshops, downplayed the scorch damage, estimated at $15,000 by the National Park Service. In an Internet message to residents of Springdale, Utah, where he runs a gallery, Fatali said that fire was "a common professional technique of lighting." But the Salt Lake Tribune notes that when Fatali led a group to Delicate Arch, he "didn't bother 'waiting for the light.' " He packed his own in the form of "chemical fireplace logs made of recycled sawdust mixed with petroleum-based wax."


Then there's wretched excess, though in this case it's to the benefit of working stiffs in the baby-watching business. In Aspen, Colo., the going rate for minding children is $18 an hour from Aspen Babysitting Co. - more than New York's $12 an hour and more than double Boston's $8 an hour. The Aspen Daily News suggests that the mountain resort's price proves that "children in Aspen, as true of everything in Aspen, are worth much more than kids anywhere else in the United States."


Some people don't learn. Part-time Aspen resident Richard Wrate allegedly spent about $3,000 last year to feed bears, even though state wildlife officers keep telling everyone that feeding makes bears bold and dangerous. Then this fall, reports The Denver Post, Wrate arrived late to Aspen from California, his car loaded down with grain and other goodies for birds and chipmunks. He apparently thought the bears were hibernating, but they were up and waiting for their handout. Bears broke into his car and devoured 10 pounds of grapes, bags of hamster food that nothing else in the forest would eat, and parts of the car itself, which sustained some $1,000 in damage.

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado. Quirky or quintessentially Western stories and photos can be sent to her by e-mailing betsym@hcn.org.