Heard around the West

  • Death Valley Health Center sign

    Mark V. Sheehan
  • ONLY IN THE WEST: Irony-free zones produce idiosyncratic signs

    Jeffrey Dickemann

Western signs continue to puzzle people. Wandering around California's Death Valley recently, Mark V. Sheehan of Olympia, Wash., came across one for "Death Valley Health Center," which seemed to cast doubt on their services.

And Jeffrey Dickemann, who lives in Richmond, Calif., says he couldn't figure out what the "it" meant in a huge sign trumpeting HERE IT IS, just outside Jackrabbit, Ariz. Then he realized that it had to be either a gas station or a trinket emporium. That's all the "it" there is in Jackrabbit. If you have photos of signs that bemuse; send them to Heard around the West, High County News, P.O. Box 1090, Paonia, CO 81428.

New at your upscale grocery store: a pick-me-up for pooches. The Power Bone, a $1.99 candy bar for dogs, combines mushed-up beef, "apple fiber," dried carrots, vitamins and minerals designed to give a dog a lift. The manufacturer says that for best results a dog should down its snack 15 minutes before an activity. But don't eat the wrong one, the Idaho Statesman advises dogs and dog owners: a Power Bone is the same size as a Power Bar.

Nobody complains in Tucson about turquoise trim on a bungalow, or a school painted tomato-soup red, reports the Arizona Daily Star. Eclecticism in color for buildings has evolved into the desert city's norm. That is not the case in the Southern California community of South Gate, pop. 93,000, where, until a few decades ago, Hispanics were barred by the 99.9 percent of residents who were white, reports Knight Ridder. These days, whites have moved on, and Hispanics make up 85 percent of the population. Now a split in that community has longer-term residents seeing red. They complain that the newest newcomers display terrible taste in house paint, favoring "blinding hues' that range from fluorescent fuchsias to glaring green. They've begun pushing for restrictive building codes that outlaw Day-Glo colors. Yet there remains an even bigger problem, say many older residents: Newcomers from Mexico "make no attempt to fit in, to become a part of the American mainstream."

Could the gods of the underworld be miffed? At Yellowstone National Park, two events just might be linked. First, the volcano underneath the park is bulging again at "racetrack speed," geologically speaking, reports AP - some 2 centimeters a year. At the same time, yet another sewage spill recently sent 1,000 gallons of raw sewage into a creek in the park's Old Faithful area. In recent years, about 1 million gallons of sewage have broken loose, with some sewage even dumping into the lake itself. "Grease build-up begins with inadequately designed and undersized grease traps," explains Cheryl Matthews, a park spokeswoman, in the Jackson Hole News. As to why the ground is heaving, "some geologists suggest hot-water reservoirs get plugged by mineral deposits, increasing pressure." Or, perhaps, something else is doing the plugging.

Speaking of the subterranean, an archaeologist in Warrenton, Ore., is spending great vats of time in privies possibly used by the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1805-06. Sitting in the bottom of a hole he suspects was once an outhouse pit, Ken Karsmizki searches through the black soil for a silvery color that denotes mercury, a treatment in the last century for venereal disease. "Mercury was applied directly to venereal lesions and was also the main ingredient in Rush's Bilious Pills," AP reports. Meriwether Lewis reported spending $5 for 600 of the pills before his trek. Karsmizki, who is with the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Mont., says he's found lots of privies, but doesn't know yet if they were used by Lewis and Clark.

Hunting naturally inspires tall tales, though the following is true: Rick Williamson of Lake Forest, Calif., got himself in trouble by bragging in The Six Gunner newsletter about illegally killing two mule deer in a day and allowing his 8-year-old son to take an antelope on his license. Somebody read the handgun publication and alerted the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, which found Williamson guilty of multiple violations over a three-year period. Williamson's fine: $2,500, paid to the Campbell County, Wyo., School District. The next story is plausible, considering the American lack of proficiency in spelling. The San Francisco Examiner reports that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently received the following letter from a hunter: "Dear Sirs: While camping last week I shot one of your birds. I followed the cooking instructions on the leg-tag and I want to tell you it was horrible." The leg-tag had read "Wash. Biol. Surv." which translates as Washington Biological Survey, and not wash, boil, serve. From now on, leg-tag bands will be marked "U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service."

Some voters in Colorado won't forget Jack Woehr, a Democrat who ran for the state House in Colorado's District 62, west of Denver. Asked what his qualifications were, Woehr told The Denver Post: "a keen sense of the absurd, a disregard for prevailing orthodoxy and a powerful intellect." Woehr also said that while his opponent wanted to get re-elected, "I'm trying to change the world." Woehr's platform included legalizing marijuana so that prisons aren't filled with inmates convicted of minor drug offenses, and giving more money to schools. He was expected to lose.

Pity the Northeast - no fall color, thanks to a late spring followed by a very dry summer. That combination stressed the trees so much that leaves skipped turning red, orange and yellow and faded directly to brown, reports the Los Angeles Times. What's more, a leaf fungus grabbed hold of some trees, especially maples, which dropped their leaves prematurely. "We blame everything else on El Nino," said a plant ecologist. "We might as well add this, too."

Heard around the West invites readers to get involved in the column. Send any tidbits that merit sharing - small-town newspaper clips, personal anecdotes, relevant bumper sticker slogans. The definition remains loose. Heard, HCN, Box 1090, Paonia, CO 81428 or [email protected]

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