Heard around the West
by Betsy Marston
A ski instructor at Powderhorn Ski Resort near Grand Junction, Colo., was riding a lift some 30 feet above the Red Eye trail when he looked down and saw a wide-awake black bear. It was standing at the mouth of a cave no longer blocked by snow. Rick Rodd took a quick photo, but was sorry he didn’t get a peek at the den’s other residents — two cubs born while their mother was hibernating through the winter. A spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife told the Vail Daily that “people have probably been skiing past this bear for years and never given it any thought.” What was different this year was an early spring with mild temperatures; this caused the snowpack to begin melting and also woke up some bears in mid-March, when skiers were still on the slopes. A resort spokeswoman said there were at least two other dens at Powderhorn occupied by newly awakened bears and their cubs; this led to the closing of the Sweet Misery and Diversion runs as well as the Red Eye. The bears regained some of their privacy March 26, when the resort closed for the season.
Utter the words “free land,” and folks will rush to get some — or so hoped the townspeople of tiny Anderson, population 300, 75 miles from Fairbanks in the frozen interior of Alaska. Anderson offered 1.3-acre lots, so long as the homesteaders built at least a 1,000 square-foot house within two years. But there was a catch: You had to show up to stake a claim and pay a refundable $500. Thousands of people from around the world called about the offer, but only 44 stalwarts, from states including Oregon, Idaho, Washington and Florida, made the trip, reports the Associated Press. Some of them camped out overnight in -25 degree weather. Twenty-six people were awarded lots, though building homes is sure to present challenges: Anderson has no grocery store or gas station, and temperatures during the winter can hit 60 below.
A New York Times story by Corey Kilgannon read almost like the plot of a sitcom: Cattle rancher Marion West discovers that he and Vy Higginsen, the head of a school for gospel singers in Harlem, N.Y., share a common ancestor, almost certainly a man from West’s side of the family who owned slaves and fought for the Confederacy. West, 76, found Higgensen shared his genes through an online database called the West Family DNA Project, and the two got acquainted as instant “DNA cousins.” As different as a white man in a cowboy hat and an urban black woman might appear to be, the two got along famously. West invited his newfound relative and her daughter to tour his Missouri ranch, stopping by a pine tree where he prays daily and visiting the community college he founded; Higginsen then invited West to visit Harlem churches and soul food restaurants, with stops for gospel singing along the way. The get-together led Higginsen to wonder, “Who of us is black, and who’s white? … There are no thoroughbreds among us, and nobody’s 100 percent anything in this country.” West found himself in tears when he offered a prayer in Harlem: “Dear God, thank you for this beautiful night and this great family we got here. My prayers have been answered. We just found the roots. It’s in the DNA.” He also got a laugh when he spoke up for cross-breeding cattle: “You mate the black Angus with the other breeds, and you have better, healthier offspring.”
You know you’re in the rural West when you read headlines like this one in the Bismark Tribune: “Train hits buffalo in South Dakota.” The train must have been moving slowly, according to the AP story. The three bison, who wandered onto the tracks on Ted Turner’s Bad River Ranch around 10 p.m., walked off after the collision. The train wasn’t damaged either.
The Arizona Republic shared some good news April 6, as well as some bad news related to the good news. The first story: “Deserts may avoid wildfires due to low precipitation.” A second story took a different tack on the no-rain, no grass to burn, no-fire prediction: “Southwest could become Dust Bowl, study warns.”
Neighborliness ran rampant near Ouray, in western Colorado, after an avalanche on Highway 550 pinned a driver from New Mexico, who was trying to clear debris from an earlier avalanche. The man was stuck in snow “up to his crotch” for about two minutes, reports the Ouray Plaindealer, until a bystander “bear-hugged” him right out of it. The only casualties were the New Mexican’s shoe, left behind in the snow, and the Good Samaritan’s $150 cowboy hat, which blew into Red Mountain Creek and eluded the owner’s attempts at fly-fishing it out of the water.© High Country News