Heard around the West


It began with an insult. Thirteen years ago in Boise, Idaho, radio announcer Paul Schneider defined a prairie dog as "a woman from Fairfield," a rural town of 450. Instead of reacting with outrage, one woman resident of Fairfield decided to start an ugly contest, and "Mz. Prairie Dog" was born.

Competitors lip-synching to songs at the county fair this summer strove for the coveted dog-bone collar by dressing so outrageously that even neighbors would fail to recognize them, reports the Idaho Statesman, "though it doesn't hurt that in Camas County, your next-door neighbor may live several miles away." Over the years, the contest has grown in popularity, with 500 people recently watching as an imitator of singer Tina Turner took first place. "I guess it just shows that they don't have cable in Fairfield," said snide radio man Schneider. "But they do have a great sense of humor." Meanwhile, the men had their own contest going: cowpie throwing, with the record hurl about 200 feet. While women may have spent hours frizzing their hair and donning frisky outfits, men, it was reported, bonded with their cowpies. "They carve and chip on them until they think they're aerodynamically perfect," said a fair board spokeswoman.

Boy Scouts are not what they used to be. A Yellowstone Park ranger on a routine patrol this summer stopped at a camp of scouts from Idaho after noticing improperly stored food that might have attracted bears. In the group's gear, the ranger discovered a 40-caliber Glock handgun and ammunition in a backpack, reports the Jackson Hole Guide. More weapons turned up a few days later, when another ranger stopped to chat with four campers from Utah. They were toting a Marlin .30-.30 rifle and a compound bow. In a third encounter, hikers told a ranger that they'd seen a group walking to Shoshone Lake, and one man, from Utah, was carrying a 12-gauge shotgun in plain sight.

Mother Nature can be harsh. After a storm swept over 14,264 foot-high Mount Evans, the tallest Fourteener in Colorado, a herd of 56 elk was found dead on the mountain, all killed by lightning. A hunter scouting the area found the sprawled animals, whose deaths set some "kind of gruesome wildlife record," reports The Denver Post.

Three men near Craig, Colo., set their own gruesome wildlife record by spending summer nights in 1998 blasting away at pronghorn antelope and mule deer. "Whatever we saw, we pretty much shot at," said Thomas Fondie, 20, in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. He and Josh Lawrence and Stanley Tipton called their illegal recreation by spotlight "shining and shooting." The death toll for wildlife mounted into the dozens. Fondie, of Hazen, N.D., pleaded guilty to several offenses this September, receiving a one-year jail term, $17,000 fine, 10 years probation and 1,000 hours of community service.

What's got into moose this fall? The rut, that's what. Just after 3 p.m., recently, near Red Lodge, Mont., a Bozeman man out for a walk was apparently attacked and killed by a moose, reports the Billings Gazette. Not far from the scene, a large wounded bull moose was spotted by investigators. And in a park in Washington state, a 1,200-pound bull moose charged a tram hauling 35 tourists, breaking a window with its antlers. Staffers at Northwest Trek wildlife park say the 4-year-old moose was protecting its territory during mating season. "He's going through significant hormonal change this time of year," the park's executive director, Gary Geddes, told Associated Press. "He's not the same personality." A naturalist who was driving the tram said the attack certainly motivated tourists. All "ran to the gift shop, and (we) sold out all of the moose stuff."

The pastor at the Abundant Life Christian Center in Arvada, Colo., doesn't apologize for staging an over-the-top Halloween "Hell House." The Rev. Keenan Roberts says sensationalism best illustrates the wages of sin. Last year, President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky headlined his show; this year, the feature is a gay wedding, though a woman will dress as one of the men. "They kiss at the end of the ceremony," said Roberts, "and I'm just not going to have two guys kissing." As punishment for the same-sex wedding, reports The Denver Post, Roberts shows one of the partners dying of AIDS. "It will be very dramatic," he promised. Other staged scenes include an abortion, a car crash caused by drinking, a druggy rave club and teenagers experimenting with sex. More traditional ministers have knocked Roberts' focus on punishment; he responds that people "need the hell scared out of them."

In Elk City, Idaho, a proposed community and performing arts center also ran up against the spectre of homosexuality. At a public meeting, the Rev. Robert Heitzman of the Church of Elk City said he could not support the $800,000 arts center because it would be open to anyone: "I just feel it in my bones the homosexuals would be using it as a performing arts center to put on a show," reports the Idaho Statesman. Heitzman also said that if the center were built on school property, people couldn't drink, smoke or have firearms there, "so socially, it will be worthless to the community."

At Montana's Glacier National Park, "the patron saint of dumb asses" helped a 24-year-old outfitter survive a 200-foot fall from Going-to-the-Sun Road. At least that's how Jeff Hendrickson explained it, his sense of humor intact, after he fell asleep at the wheel. The next thing he knew he was tumbling over a cliff, rolling over some 15 times on the way down: "It was just slow motion all the way down," he told Associated Press, "sort of a "creak, flop, creak, flop, creak, flop." "''''Hendrickson, from Spokane, Wash., said when he got out of his totaled 1988 Subaru, the engine was still running and the lights were on. "It was sitting there on its wheels. Subarus are tough, you know." Asked why he was driving the dangerous and winding road at 2 a.m., he said, "Well, let's just say it was something about a girl." Hendrickson, it should be noted, was wearing a seat belt.

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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