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Know the West

Heard Around the West


Las Vegas’ drought has gotten so serious that some golf courses are replacing grass with crushed rock. But course managers aren’t ripping out their turf without casting verbal stones at homeowners, who use 65 percent of the area’s water, spraying three-quarters of it outdoors, according to The Associated Press. Golf courses are just the "visible offenders," protests Stan Spraul, a director of the Nevada Golf Course Owners Association. "It’s a very easy target to say, ‘Hey, look at that big ol’ green thing there.’ " Meanwhile, Lake Mead, the source of southern Nevada’s drinking water, has dropped 60 feet to its lowest level since 1972. But officials say water shortages won’t halt development of booming Las Vegas.

Forget grass and gravel for greens; why not hit those little white balls on artificial turf? Golfers can try out the fake fairways later this summer at what’s said to be the world’s first artificial-grass course at Echo Basin Guest Ranch in Mancos, in southern Colorado. The Mancos Times reports that the 18-hole course needs no fertilizers, herbicide or other polluting chemicals that can run off into streams. It’s also fire-retardant, won’t appeal to hungry deer or pooping Canada geese, and best of all, the faux fairways will never require watering or mowing.

Not much is happening in Wyoming, and that may be a good thing, according to a travel consultant from Texas. In Casper, Peter Tarlow told Wyoming’s annual Governor’s Hospitality and Tourism Rendezvous that in these insecure times, rural Wyoming could make itself a Western "Shangri-La." His advice seems to make sense: Sell what makes you different. Rachel, Nev., for instance, has become a destination for tourists by marketing itself as "the Capitol of Nothing." Tarlow said Wyoming could invite urban people who never see the stars to come and look at the Milky Way. "What is normal to you could be fantastically interesting to someone else," he said.

A niche industry is becoming obsolete on icy mountain roads in the Sierra Nevada. "Chain monkeys" — about 400 of them, mostly construction workers and loggers — would spend hours "shivering along the sides of the state’s snowiest roads," poised to help travelers wrap their tires with chains to help gain traction, reports the Los Angeles Times. The job came with hazards like frostbite and the tendency for drivers to run over chainers. These days, SUVs and 4-wheel drive cars don’t require chains, and the state has begun to plow more mountain roads. "We’re a dying breed," mourns Chris Lotito. "I’m really the last of the mountain men."

Panhandlers will need a license to operate on street corners in Salt Lake City, if officials there have their way. But this begs the question: If panhandling is a profession, what standards should apply to its practitioners? Laurie J. Wilson, a columnist for the Salt Lake Tribune, points out that teachers have to get a certificate before they can teach. That might make sense for panhandlers, too: "Certainly, they are in the same income bracket as Utah’s teachers."

Enraged after hearing a speech by President Bush, Jody Mason chained himself to a government building in Olympia, Wash. Unfortunately, he attached himself to the wrong door. Instead of the federal Department of Energy, Mason padlocked himself to the door of the Washington State Grange, a nonprofit advocacy group for rural residents, reports the AP.

Rugged individualism lives on in The Big Sky state. Defying Gov. Judy Martz, the state Legislature defeated a bill that would have banned drinking while driving. Bill Muhs, a leader of the state’s Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapter, told the Los Angeles Times it was a cultural thing. "There’s still people here who measure distances in six-packs," he says. Bozeman to Billings, for instance, is a six-pack trip, while "crossing the state would be a whole case." One result: According to the LA Times, the state is second only to Mississippi for alcohol-related traffic deaths.

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, CO. Tips of Western oddities are always appreciated and often shared in the column.