Heard Around the West

  • PUFF DADDY: Dylan Webster, 2 1/2, keeps toasty in his daddy's down jacket during a Telluride, Colorado, soccer game

    Rob A. Huber
 

Cabela's of Nebraska, the consumer bible for hunters, anglers and other rugged outdoor folk, offers a novel gift for Christmas in its new catalog: Camouflage bedding. Sheets come in elusive patterns of wetlands, hardwoods and mossy oak that bring "the look and feel of the outdoors to the bedroom." Spouses who indulge in other products, such as camo-covered pillows, window treatments, fleece robes, couches and even camo office chairs, might take more than a couple of minutes to find each other in their own homes.

Police in Seattle, Wash., had a rough couple of days in early November. A suicidal man essentially forced police to shoot and kill him by threatening to fire first. The encounter lasted seven hours. Just 12 hours later, police and SWAT teams surrounded a house where they'd been told gunshots were heard. They repeatedly fired tear-gas bombs while attempting to negotiate with the unknown gunman, yet no one responded, though window blinds seemed to move and a door opened slightly. Finally, five hours later, the police stormed the house, reports the Seattle Times, only to find that they'd spent the entire morning "surrounding a dog." The dog was fine.

Supporters of Smokey Bear may have to organize to save the spokesmammal's job. Andy Stahl of the nonprofit group, Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, says, "Smokey still has a role - to teach us not to play with matches. But let's face it, we learn that in kindergarten." Smokey's boss, the Forest Service, might just agree. In new print ads for the agency designed by the Ad Council, Smokey's iconic mug is downsized while human hands take center stage, the fingers bizarrely tipped by match heads. The headline, "Be Careful," warns that humans cause most forest fires, which, come to think of it, isn't much different from Smokey's "Only you ... " message. Since the Forest Service isn't going to tell us whether it's possible to live safely on the fringes of national forests, maybe we'd be better off sticking with Smokey. At least he has a friendly face.

New Mexico may be smarting over its dubious achievement as the "most stupid" state, reports the Santa Fe New Mexican. Resigned to coming in last in state-by-state comparisons for crime, health and income made by the Lawrence, Kan., publisher, Morgan Quitno Press, New Mexico also ranked last in a new category for public education. Fourth-graders proficient in reading, for instance, came in at 1 percent, while Connecticut, deemed the "most livable" state scored 32 percent. When it came to the number of public school teachers who report being physically attacked, New Mexico scored 49 percent compared to Connecticut's 24 percent. While New Mexico held on to its top rank as the most dangerous state, two states surpassed it in crime: Louisiana and Florida. Then there's North Dakota, which continues to own the title of safest state, an achievement recently mocked by columnist Dave Barry. He said if you try to rob someone in North Dakota, "the victim will be so happy to have human companionship that he or she will invite you home."

Where do old lead and zinc mines go when they die? Nowhere, though sometimes tourists go to them. That's what a mining reclamation consultant, Mark Levin, is banking on by suggesting a makeover of Climax Molybdenum Mine in Colorado. The sprawling mine closed in 1981, throwing 3,200 people out of work. Since then, high-altitude Leadville has become a bedroom community for the ski resort town of Vail, but Levin thinks the mine, a not-so-close 35 miles away, might be the ticket to attract visitors. They'd have to be adventurous, descending 500 feet to explore dank mountain tunnels by train. Levin says that turning the mine into a tourist attraction is cheaper than reclaiming it.

A hermit in Idaho known as "Dugout Dick"would probably feel right at home in a hardrock mine. Fifty-four years ago, Richard Zimmerman stopped riding the rails to settle near Elk Bend, Idaho, where he has carved 14 caves in a steep hillside above the Salmon River. There, he writes poems, reads the Bible and plays a lively harmonica - always while wearing his hard hat. He grows lots of vegetables in a one-acre garden, but no longer tends goats; they had "the disturbing habit of eating his books and newspaper clippings," according to The Associated Press. Through the decades, Dugout Dick has caught the imagination of people who have read about him. He's been featured in National Geographic and on television spots both in this country and in Germany. But now he finds it hard to live like a hermit. That's because he manages a cave-hotel, charging guests $5 a night for the privilege of lodging underground. Dugout Dick says he's worried about what will happen to his sprawling development once he's gone - a real concern since the land was never his: He's been squatting on Bureau of Land Management land.

Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado ([email protected]). She invites tips and suggestions of odd Western doings from readers.

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