Heard around the West


Alligators have arrived at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, where they are enrolled in a research project. The fanged fauna from Florida must wear plastic masks over their long snouts, and once they've begun tooling along on a treadmill at one mile per hour, scientists start measuring their breathing. Alligators are peculiar because they inhale and exhale by rocking their pelvic bones - something dinosaurs may have done as well. Modern lizards, meanwhile, cannot walk and breathe at the same time. For its story about alligator exercise Utah-style, the Times Picayune newspaper says it requested a photo. The university turned down the request on the ground of the gators' sensitivity. That led the Florida daily to speculate about who was likely to be distressed by a photo shoot - the reptiles or the researchers? After all, "It's hard to look dignified when standing next to masked reptiles working out on exercise equipment."

Perhaps only in Colorado could state senators argue fervently over the designation of "state mineral." A Boulder representative said he wanted gold or silver but was told they're already taken by other states. Associated Press says the Leadville senator, Republican Ken Chlouber, pushed rhodochrosite because a local high school said the blood-red mineral is unique. A Colorado Springs Republican, Andy McElhany, argued that blue amazonite was the better choice by far: "Why would we want something that's communist red?"

The score was coyotes, 1, plane, 0, in Glasgow, Mont., after a coyote hunter flying in a Piper Cub accidentally shot up the plane's wing. Apparently the 12-gauge automatic shotgun malfunctioned, reports the Billings Gazette, firing repeatedly and causing the small plane to crash. Both predator hunter Gary Strader and pilot Leland Blatter survived the freak accident, but the Piper Cub was a total loss. So was the errant shotgun, which burned up.

Better not stop for a picnic in Madras, Ore. That's where a semi truck filled with 540 beehives was overturned by a fierce gust of wind. Now the freed bees are ticked off and stinging, reports the Idaho Statesman. Beekeepers from Oregon and Idaho have been called in to salvage the intact hives. The rest will be burned to keep the bees from attacking more people and animals.

"Go for it, Basalt ... We admire your courage," said the Aspen Times to the town of nearby Basalt, population 1,100 or so and growing like Topsy because of its proximity to posh Aspen. Prices of homes are rising so fast that low- and middle-income buyers can't even consider living there. So what courageous act is Basalt considering? The answer is barring speculators and second-home buyers by requiring all new residential development to be occupied full-time by the owner.

Happy birthday to Jessie Reimers of Lewiston, Idaho, born not in the last century but in the century before that: 1895. Reimers attributes her 107 years on earth to never missing a meal and chewing her food well. Reimers, who follows baseball on television and roots for the Seattle Mariners, has outlived not only her husband but also her three children. But, says the Lewiston Morning Tribune, many generations visit her at a care center, where she enjoys spending time with her grandchildren and great-great-great-great-grandchildren.

There's probably not a whole lot to do during the winter in North Dakota, which explains why nearly 1,800 people got together in Bismarck recently to lie down in the snow and flap their arms. Voila, simultaneous snow angels. That, they hoped, would set a new world's record, reports the Idaho Statesman. Bismarck usually has enough snow to work with. On the first day of spring, the city broke a 108-year record with 5.4 inches of snow.

Talking on a cellular phone while noshing on a bagel and putting on makeup is one thing, but wearing roller blades while you drive? Not a good idea for a 16-year-old driver in Pullman, Wash. The skate-wearing teenager flipped her car over a retaining wall. Surprise: Nobody wore a seatbelt, but neither she nor her two passengers was seriously injured, reports the Lewiston Morning Tribune.

Three cheers for a pair of condors in California's Los Padres National Forest. They successfully hatched a condor chick in the wild, the first in 18 years for a species that almost vanished from the earth because of pesticide poisoning and human intrusion. "This is a pretty historic moment," said a zoologist at the San Diego Zoo who witnessed the birth. What's more, four other condor pairs, all reared in captivity, are currently warming their eggs in the wild, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado. She invites readers to get involved in the column. Send quirky, weird or quintessentially Western doings to her at [email protected]

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