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Know the West

Heard Around the West


Watch out, Satan, your number may be up. Route 666 in northwest New Mexico has been called the Devil’s Highway, Satan’s Highway and the highway to Hell — because 666 is “the number of the beast,” in the biblical book of Revelation. It’s also been called downright dangerous, reports the Albuquerque Journal: At least 15 people died in car accidents on Route 666 in 2001. Now there’s a concerted effort by the Navajo Nation and the state of New Mexico to come up with a more benign name for the highway. That won’t be as difficult as changing the two-lane highway — which runs for 109 miles along the edge of the Navajo Nation, from Gallup, N.M., to Colorado — to a safer, four-lane highway. That is expected to cost the state $150 million and take several years.

You have to hand it to Nevada: The state really knows how to sell itself. A tourism official told lawmakers recently that the rural town of Battle Mountain, once labeled the “Armpit of America” by a newspaper, now celebrates that dubious achievement with an annual “Festival in the Pit.” The Associated Press says festival organizers transformed the old-fashioned egg toss into a deodorant-can toss, while a deodorant company kicked in $150,000 for the festivities. “Any fame is better than no fame,” concludes Nevada Tourism Commission director Bruce Bommarito.

For all its marketing savvy, Nevada has not solved its brothel-taxation problem. More precisely, it has not figured out how to tax the activities that take place in the state’s 28 legal houses of prostitution. “What are the girls going to do? Have a calculator in the room? The girls aren’t the best at math,” complains Geoff Arnold, president of the Nevada Brothel Association. Imposing taxes on sex acts — estimated by the state Health Department at 1,000 a day — might just be the ultimate sin tax, and it could certainly raise millions of dollars for Nevada, which, like most states, is hard up for cash. The revenue shortfall, reports the AP, is estimated at $704 million, which is why Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, advocates taxing prostitution “just like any other entertainment.” While a tax on turning tricks might tap a gusher of dough, critics fear the move could hurt the 10 rural counties that permit bordellos. Says Dennis Hof, owner of the Moonlight Bunny Ranch near Carson City, “You’ll drive the girls underground.”

Teachers love to collect the wise sayings of young students. Here are some favorites, as collected by Web wags: “In Spring, the salmon swim upstream to spoon.” “In the middle of the 18th century, all the morons moved to Utah.” “A virgin forest is a forest where the hand of man has never set foot.” And “A city purifies its water supply by filtering the water then forcing it through an aviator.”

In another month, Santa Fe will be awash in street-corner toilets —165 to be exact — though none can flush. All will be painted, decorated or sculpturally enhanced as part of the town’s “Path of the Painted Potties,” a project devised by the Rotary Club to raise awareness about water conservation. For an entry fee of $50, artists get to pick a clean white toilet, then select one of five design categories: mobile toilets; potted (as in horticultural); creative; junior johns for teenage designers; or “weird water closets.” Rotary Club members who sifted through a landfill containing 10,000 junked toilets found themselves amazed by the diversity of the form. “There are little ones, big ones, round ones and long skinny ones,” said former city councilwoman Ouida MacGregor. There were also some low-flow models. They were probably acquired through a Santa Fe program that exchanges free, low-flow toilets for water-guzzling potties, and then discarded because they weren’t fancy enough.

South Dakota needs dairy farmers so badly it is scouring the world to find them. The state’s recruiter is Joop Bollen, a 39-year-old Dutchman, who has convinced 13 foreign families to make the move, reports the Wall Street Journal. But 150 more families are needed to raise over 50,000 cows, so that a mozzarella factory in Lake Norden, a town of less than 500, can get all the milk it needs. Even though getting into agriculture can be mind-bogglingly expensive in Europe, farmers are reluctant to come to the American West. They fear rumored dangers such as active volcanoes and giant hailstones; then there’s the very real social isolation of the Great Plains. As a young Dutchwoman put it, “There are no stores, nothing at all; for a woman, it is more difficult.” Still, Bollen has been beating the bushes for three years trying to make South Dakota sound seductive. He tells curious farm families they can look forward to no milk-production quotas, inexpensive land, and for cows, a dry and sunny paradise.

What nerve! Santa Barbara County, Calif., officials are investigating whether singer Michael Jackson is a fake rancher, who doesn’t deserve the annual tax break real ranchers get from the state. It is true that Jackson leases his 3,000-acre ranch to a cattle-ranching operation, but he is also an amusement-park developer. The question is whether his Neverland rides take up more than the 2 acres allowed by law, reports the Los Angeles Times. Jackson’s taxes on the $12 million ranch are now $13,000; if he loses his status as rancher, they will moonwalk considerably upward, as some $6 million is added to the property’s assessed valuation.

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ([email protected]). She relishes tidbits of Western news and photos.