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Know the West

Heard around the West


Starbucks employees in Monroe, Wash., were greeted just before dawn recently by a man and woman who forced them to open a safe and hand over its contents. But instead of getting some java to go and making their get-away, the couple pitched in at a crowded takeout window. The man donned an apron, reports the Idaho Statesman, and for a half-hour he and his sidekick helped serve lattes and other coffees to some 18 to 25 customers, taking the receipts with them. "This was fairly bold," remarked police officer Rick Dunn. Bold, but not wise. The "barista bandits," as they were dubbed, were nabbed shortly after the couple turned in the apron and drove off.

A Saudi royal prince on his way to Waco, Texas, to meet with President Bush, apparently had a "thing" about taking direction from a woman. Associated Press reports that members of his entourage called the Waco airport to insist that only male controllers guide the prince's plane when it left for Houston. Prince Abdullah got his wish: Two men bossed the plane, said control tower spokesman Ruben Gonzalez. But, heaven forfend, a female tower manager was allowed to remain on the premises. This boys'-only bias was followed on other legs of the flight, reports the Dallas Morning News, which got its information anonymously from a Federal Aviation Administration employee. Officially, the FAA denied there were men-only requests at Western airports. Spokesmen for Crown Prince Abdullah called the story "absolute nonsense."

Where are you, Noah, when we need you? With this winter's light snowpack in the Rockies almost gone, Tony Tolsdorf of the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service told The Denver Post: "It confirms what everybody already knows, which is that we're in a drought, and it will take nothing less than a biblical event to take us out of it."

If weather patterns persist, scientists say, Glacier National Park in northern Montana won't boast a single glacier in 28 years. Whether the cause is global warming or part of a regular climate shift, reports the Great Falls Tribune, 150 glaciers recorded in the park in 1850 have dropped in number to as few as 50. A glacier is defined as a snow field at least 65 feet deep and 25 acres in size. Ecologist Dan Fagre put the vanishing-glaciers phenomenon in perspective: "This is an area that survived the Little Ice Age," he says. "It's not a static ecosystem. It is very dynamic." But if you want to see Grinnell Glacier or any of the park's other quickly melting ice fields, you'd better make the trip before 2030.

For a birthday, most pre-teens want bikes, computer games, snowboards - something fast and fun. Hunter Shotwell of Park City, Utah, asked for money for his 11th birthday, though not for himself. Shotwell, who had climbed Castleton Tower with his parents when he was 8, asked for help saving the desert around the 400-foot tower in Castle Valley, close to Moab. "Castleton Tower should stay open and the land should stay the same," Shotwell told the Salt Lake Tribune. Cash presents at his party added up to $257, which Shotwell handed over to the nonprofit Utah Open Lands. The group has raised $200,000 toward $640,000 needed to buy the land from the state and protect it with a conservation easement.

Springtime in the West is cleanup time along highways, and volunteers who have adopted areas know to come hatted and gloved. Often, there's an informal competition: Who can come up with the weirdest, yuckiest or most spectacular find? Near Joshua Tree National Park in California, Cub Scouts of Pack 67 from Desert Hot Springs stumbled on something no one could have anticipated - five pipe bombs ready to explode. The Cubs and Boy Scout Troop 36 secured the area, so no one would step on the bombs, says the Palm Springs Desert Sun, then waited for BLM officials and police. The pipe bombs were gingerly removed and detonated elsewhere, and Bomb Squad officer Frank Anderson said, "Man, did they explode." He said the boys did everything right. Justin De Lora, 10, thought it was all in a day's work: "I already have a crime prevention award." But he said it was good they found the bombs, since somebody could have easily gotten hurt. A police officer said the bombs had lain on the ground for some months.

The other white meat just turned slightly green, and some might consider that a good thing. Pigs have been implanted with the genes of spinach, reports Eco-News in Arcata, Calif. The research-team leader in Japan says the spinach-pig meat will be healthier than all-pork pork.

Don't you wish you worked for the Interior Department?It practically gives money away. Almost three-quarters of the department's 79,000 workers have government credit cards, reports Associated Press, and some have used them to "pay their rent, withdraw money at casinos and buy jewelry and furniture." This is known thanks to an audit report, which noted that reviews of purchases were "done inadequately or in a perfunctory manner; some were not done on a regular basis, and some were not done at all." Some changes are coming, such as a review of whether the credit line of $2,500 is too high. And here's a major reform: Cash advances on an Interior credit card are now disallowed.

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a syndication service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado. She welcomes choice bits of odd news about the West ([email protected]).