Heard around the West

by Betsy Marston

COLORADO

Mach schnell, little doggies: Thanks to a German TV reality show, five frauleins, age 20 to 61, are riding horses, flinging ropes at calves and fixing fence at a working ranch in New Raymer, in eastern Colorado. Selected from over 1,000 applicants who want to become cowgirls, the women face a daunting prospect, reports The Associated Press: "The goal is to have all the skills down within 21 days." Viel Glück!

CALIFORNIA

"I don’t know if anyone out there has noticed," says columnist Steve Lopez in the Los Angeles Times, "but things are not going well lately in paradise." He notes some of the ways California is faltering: The state leads the nation in traffic congestion, adult illiteracy and dirty air. Lopez also shared brighter personal news: "I haven’t been told to go back to Mexico in at least a week."

THE WEST

From all over the West, stories are emerging about bears and hunters going mano a mano over just-shot elk. Tom James, 27, who has spent six years working as a hunting guide in northwestern Wyoming, says that in the Gros Ventre Mountains, "bears have been conditioned to associate gunshots with gutpiles." So bears hear rifle fire, then come running to upstage a hunter on the ground. Smart hunters, we’re told, gracefully concede their kill, especially if the bear that wants it is a grizzly. James says you can guard a dead elk for a day if you urinate around it and maybe leave a sweaty undershirt "flapping in the breeze." Bears apparently dislike or are warned off by the smell of humans. But one study has found a smell that some bears adore — the residue of pepper spray, which leads some animals to roll around in it to cover themselves with the scent.

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK

A 60-year-old tourist in Yellowstone badly wanted a picture of a bull elk, so he walked to within 10 feet of the animal and then — rudely — took a flash photo. His bigger mistake was turning his back on the animal and walking away, whereupon the startled bull "put his head down and charged the visitor," who suffered cuts and bruises on his chest, hands and head. This was not that elk’s first offense in the Mammoth Hot Springs area. It had earlier lunged at a park staffer who was leaving a building and also taken offense at 12 parked vehicles, doing damage to the tune of $15,000. Because the animal was deemed "aggressive," Park Service personnel tranquilized it and cut off its antlers, thereby removing it from this season’s gene pool and further displays of manly vigor.

COLORADO

Paonia plumber Jeff Everett is still fuming about getting the blame for a car accident in western Colorado. But it’s a family of mice he can’t forgive. He was driving a no-longer-pristine 1955 Chevy dump truck — a "classic," he insists — when he rounded a blind curve and a car pulled out in front of him. A collision resulted, but Everett thought he was surely the innocent party, until a state trooper appeared and asked to see his license and other documents. The plumber flinched, remembering the mice that had scampered about the pickup when it was still parked. Sure enough: Everett opened the glove compartment and found a mouse nest — composed of his chewed-up truck registration and proof of insurance. Seeing no alternative, he handed the crumbling nest to the trooper, who quickly dropped it and cited Everett for tailgating.

NEW MEXICO

Desert Voices, from the Chihuhuan Desert Conservation Alliance in Carlsbad, N.M., may be only a 10-page, volunteer-produced newsletter, but we’ve found it contains helpful tidbits. Columnist Bill Reid, for example, tells how he traveled for 10 days while doing a survey of desert oryx, with daytime temperatures climbing to over 110 degrees. He learned there are two main ways to die in the desert: dehydration and heat stroke. The latter is worse, he advises, because with heat stroke, if panic sets in, arterioles throughout the body shut down, heat is retained and in 20 minutes or so, the brain cooks. Reid dryly suggests that a thirsty hiker remain calm and "perhaps reflect, like Ed Abbey, on the good meal the vultures will have." He also offers golden rules of survival, including tanking up on water before setting out, going light, using any shade, eating well, covering up from head to toe, eschewing alcohol, and of course — the no-brainer — carrying lots of water.

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado. Tips of Western oddities are always appreciated and often shared in the column, Heard around the West.

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