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China hearts cowboys

It's no secret that many Germans adore the Old West, but who knew that prosperous second-home buyers in China would also succumb to "cowhide, antler chandeliers, saddle blankets, lodgepole chairs, wagon wheels, Navajo rugs, iron light fixtures, wildlife-scene fireplace screens, wooden snowshoes, leather throw pillows, horseshoes, Charles Russell prints and plaid curtains"? According to the Jackson Hole News&Guide, interior designer Allison Smith found this out while working for the wonderfully named Beijing Resplendency Great Exploit Real Estate Co. LTD. She came up with a Western theme for each of 850 houses in "Jackson Hole," the name of the new, second-home development in China's Hebei Province. "They absolutely fell in love with the idea of anything cowboy and Indian," says the Portland, Ore.-based Smith. She also created micro-themes for each house, including Billy the Kid, Stagecoach Station and Big Bear. Now, Smith boasts that the Western-style homes have nearly tripled in value since being built, as Chinese buyers respond to the Westerner's sense of emancipation, whimsy and fun. What's more, she says, "You should see them when they get a toy gun to play with."

A monthly paper called Connection covers the southern Arizona border towns of Amado, Arivapa and Tubac, where columnist Laurinda Oswald chronicles the never-ending drama of what she calls the "Wild Wets." It makes for compelling reading. As she notes, the presence of the U.S. Border Patrol is inescapable even 50 miles from Mexico. Whether it's day or night, drivers on many north-south roads routinely find themselves stopped at roadblocks. This can be unnerving for tourists, especially if they can't simply answer "yes" to the question: "Are you a U.S. citizen?" It's also frustrating for Americans who live and work in the area, what with drug-sniffing dogs being walked by every car. Recently, Oswald, who lives in Amado, got singled out by one canine and was forced to sit by twiddling her thumbs while her car was thoroughly probed inside and out and even X-rayed. Blame it all on an earlier encounter with two dead javelinas; after Oswald was forced to drive her low-clearance Prius over one of the not-yet flattened animals, it inadvertently picked up a musky smell that later drew the olfactory attention of the fascinated "dog on duty." The whole lengthy exercise, she said, led her to realize that "trained dogs are still just dogs." Meanwhile, the Obama administration has announced that because the number of crossers from Mexico has dropped significantly, the 1,200 National Guard troops at the border will be cut to fewer than 300, reports The Associated Press, a savings of some $60 million. Helicopters and airplanes equipped with high-tech radar will replace humans, said David Aguilar, deputy commissioner for Customs and Border Protection, who explained: "We are basically going from boots on the ground to boots in the air." Since our border vigilance expanded under presidents Bush and Obama, we have spent about $1.35 billion on thousands of security guards, miles of new metal fencing that blocks wildlife better than it blocks determined and desperate people, and surveillance towers so sophisticated that they've never actually worked.

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What another journalist has to say about HCN:

"High Country News is a rich resource for those among us who long to hear the voices of the West. The stories and commentaries are always well-written, with strong regional flavor, by knowledgeable professionals, and prepared and presented by editors with high standards."

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HCN in the outhouses of the West

From my Alaska trip: I flew into a small town that is not reachable by road, then hopped on a motorboat and drove across lakes and rivers for 2.5 hours to reach the scientists' camp way out in the boondocks -- out there they have a few rough cabins and a generator that makes electricity only in the evening and two outhouses -- and lo and behold, for reading material in the outhouses they have issues of the Economist magazines and HCN -- amazing to discover HCN readers way out there!

Ray Ring, HCN Senior Editor