Heard around the West

  • Sign in Yakima, Wash., where baby clothes, not babies, are traded

    Mark Sheehan
  Every tourist with a camera makes the same joke at scenic turnouts where the drop is precipitous: "Back up just another step - no, just kidding!" It's part of tourist myth - that someone actually asked a spouse to back up near a canyon, and then it was "Goodbyeeeeee." Here's a variation, and it's all true. Driving down a road from the Santa Fe ski area, Kansan Steve LeDou pulled over to take a quick picture, putting his transmission in park, leaving the engine running and not taking the time to put on the emergency brake. The photo wasn't quick enough. As he snapped the picture, "that's when the station wagon started rolling," Associated Press reports. LeDou ran back to the car and "was hanging out the window, his feet in the air, as the car headed down the embankment toward the boulders below." Some 50 feet later, the car stopped, leaving the driver wedged "like a cork in a bottle." His companion, Ruth Finnell, said she forced herself to remain calm during the descent, figuring that if she cried she'd "shake the car." Neither traveler was hurt on the downhill ride, though the car refused to be driven once it was towed back to the road.

Ketchum, Idaho, resident Tobey Crane suffered a New West attack recently after stopping at a lemonade stand near a bike path in his town. Proprietors were two little girls, tended by a young woman who appeared to be the family's au pair. The girls sold him a lemonade for 25 cents - price marked down from an optimistic $1. Then, noticing what looked like delicious brownies, Crane asked, "Who made them?" The answer came from the au pair: "The maid."

This country's love affair with the rich and famous played out in Jackson, Wyo., recently when actor Harrison Ford illegally piloted his helicopter into a wilderness area to rescue an ill hiker. The hiker, plucked off 11,106-foot Table Mountain, found herself a celebrity after the rescue, mainly because she threw up in Ford's helicopter - though not on the helicopter. Thanks to Ray Shriver, a member of the Teton County Search and Rescue Team, 20-year-old Sarah George of Idaho Falls, Idaho, vomited elsewhere: "I was looking for barf bags, but there weren't any," Shriver told the Jackson Hole News. "I really didn't want her barfing all over his nice corporate helicopter with its nice leather seats. She barfed in my hat." As for the Forest Service, which could have punished the actor with a $5,000 fine, officials said this was the first breach of the law in three years and they'd let the infraction pass. Teton County officials, meanwhile, said that with helicopters costing $1,000 an hour to rent, they were delighted that Ford's was available for rescue missions.

In hyper-dry Albuquerque, N.M., some parched residents are turning into vigilantes. Pretending to be city officials, the wannabe bureaucrats walk up to homeowners and threaten hefty fines and a cutoff of all water unless the wasteful watering halts. One fake inspector told an 11-year-old whose mother was away that sprinklers at his house were watering way too long, and that a $5,000 fine could be expected later that day. "The imposter then took matters into his own hands," reports the Albuquerque Tribune. "He went into (Gail) Case's garage and turned off the water." City officials note dryly that the freelance inspectors are "overly enthusiastic." The city can legitimately get tough with those who squander water; after eight violations, a flow-restrictor can be installed that allows only enough water for "basic drinking and sanitation."

Suburban West Jordan, Utah, hopes to head off watering wars by talking to a satellite. In a test at 13 homes, small purple control boxes will replace the clocks on automatic sprinkler systems, and they will receive satellite signals telling the sprinklers exactly how much water to apply, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. Master control is a California company that examines detailed weather reports before setting the city's backyard needs. West Jordan Mayor Donna Evans says the sophisticated system is just one of several conservation measures her city will experiment with as it grows from some 70,000 to 150,000 people in the next few decades.

The small town of Silverton, Colo., recently produced its own vehicular soap opera. The bad actors were two brothers from Texas who indulged a yen for off-road thrills at 12,500 feet. The drama began when the men drove their two vehicles, a Jeep Wrangler and Dodge Ram 4x4, off a dirt road, over a ridge and onto a steep slope of fragile tundra where it was a long, long way down. "The vehicles looked like they were defying gravity," Lisa Richardson, a staffer for the Bureau of Land Management, told the Durango Herald. "It's an extremely risky spot." At first, the Texans said they thought the 70 percent grade was no big deal; six days later, they'd changed their minds. First, a tow-truck driver refused to help for fear the federal agency would hold him responsible for harming native plants. Then the BLM fined the men $300 each for their destructive joyride on publicly owned land. Thanks to some complicated and dicey winching with cables, the men saved their four-wheel drive vehicles. But perhaps not their pride. "I don't think anybody will ever be that stupid to go there again," said BLM enforcement officer Lanny Wagner. The Denver Post adds that Silverton locals had begun calling the brothers "Dumb and Dumber," "Bubba One and Bubba Two," and the sorry "champions of stuck."

Four-legged critters, watch out! Colorado Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell's got a gun, and he's not afraid to use it. The Republican senator recently pleaded guilty to shooting at a dog from a highway near his Ignacio, Colo., home, reports The Denver Post. Campbell's attorney said the 66-year-old member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe was reacting to two "aggressive Akitas attacking his dog near his two-year-old grandson." Campbell has since pleaded guilty in tribal court, which fined him $250 and sentenced him to 10 hours of community service. Campbell, who loves riding motorcycles, could put in his hours at a bike rally this Labor Day, his attorney says.

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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