Heard around the West

by Betsy Marston

COLORADO

In the photo, it looks like a cozy den for hobbits, peeking out from underground with a hillside rolling right over its roof. But the builder of this "ultimate secure home" boasts that it can "withstand almost any natural or manmade disaster you can name," including a nuclear blast and biological and chemical war. Don’t expect a tour unless you’re a dead-serious buyer. When the Durango Herald e-mailed a request for an interview with the builder, reporter Tom Sluis received a less than flattering response that mentioned "starting a fire with the publication." It’s not even known exactly where in southwestern Colorado the $475,000 home-bunker is located, though it has been visited by La Plata County building inspectors. The word is that it sports "some nice homey pine cabinetry."

UTAH

On a deserted road near Milford, Utah, this August, state troopers didn’t lift a finger as cars whizzed by at well over 100 mph. Nobody even got a speeding ticket, except in fun. Far from being a problem, terrific speed was the object of the three-day road rally known as the Utah FastPass — until the driver of a $1.3 million "supercar," a bright red Ferrari Enzo, lost control as he topped one of several crests in the road that drivers had dubbed "whoop-de-doos." After skidding and tumbling, reports the Wall Street Journal, "the car’s carbon-fiber body splintered in a hail of debris, and its 650-horsepower, V-12 engine went flying." Driver Richard Losee went a different direction — to the hospital, after suffering from a broken sternum, concussion and other injuries. And why were state troopers watching so benignly? They were the hosts of the unusual rally, which raises money for a foundation that helps the families of highway patrolmen killed on duty, along with students from rural towns. Losee was one of some 25 owners of souped-up cars who’d each paid $5,000 to drive as fast as he or she could. State troopers block 15 miles of Route 257 in southwestern Utah just so wealthy drivers can put their fabulously expensive vehicles through their paces; a $350,000 Ruf Rt-12, for example, got up to 206 mph without crashing. Losee’s accident, however, cut this year’s hot-rodding short; it also left next year’s fun on the road in doubt.

CALIFORNIA

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger rejected a proposal to designate zinfandel "California’s historic wine," even though the variety of grape has been grown in California since the 1849 Gold Rush. State Sen. Carole Migden accused the Republican governor of lacking a sense of humor: "It ought not to be a zin to be for zinfandel," she said.

UTAH

Some of us are plain wimps when it comes to snakes. A couple couldn’t even finish a presentation on their plan to move a python-breeding business from California to Mapleton, near Salt Lake City, Utah, before neighbors at a public meeting came unglued. "If you’re going to bring snakes here," a woman shouted, "it’s going to be over my dead body." The Salt Lake Tribune says the couple, Dan and Colette Sutherland, has already spent $600,000 building two barns, one for the pythons and another for the rodents that are fed to them live. Their neighbors, however, fear that some of the pythons, which are sold online, will escape and slither their way.

WASHINGTON

Someday soon, you may be able to think of those annoying little stickers on fruit as an "instant pregnancy test," reports the Tri-City Herald. Created to detect how much ethylene is being produced by apples, peaches or other tree fruit, the thumbnail-sized stickers reveal when the fruit is ripe. A New Mexico man came up with the invention, which he calls Redi Ripe, and the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission thinks it has so much potential that it has invested more than $100,000 in research. Redi Ripe will have a trial run during this fall’s apple harvest in Washington, when growers will learn if the stickers stick through sunshine and colder weather.

CALIFORNIA

A wilderness specialist for the Bureau of Land Management came up with the perfect outlet for aggressive feelings. Justin Seastrand, based in Palm Springs, Calif., asked volunteers to bring tree-loppers, handsaws and "a really bad attitude toward tamarisk," and join him in ripping out the water-sucking exotic that’s invading the new (and still relatively undiscovered) Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument.

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.

© High Country News