Heard Around the West

  • U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., makes room for some chitchat between Interior Secretary Gale Norton, left, and her aide, Kit Kimball



Isn’t spell-check wonderful? Voilà! The computer makes everything make sense — except when it doesn’t. The city of Thornton, Colo., is probably abashed at the changes apparently wrought by spell-check on its detailed Drought Management Plan. “While thoughts do not occur at regular, predictable intervals, they are inevitable, and in Colorado, thoughts are frequent events,” says the Web-published report. Then, there is this alarming observation: “A study done by the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University has shown that Colorado has had five severe statewide thoughts in the past century. The most recent one ended in 1978.” This news goes a long way explaining the actions of the state Legislature. “Fortunately,” the report concludes, “most thoughts do not affect the entire state at the same time.”


Though the space shuttle Columbia burned up as it re-entered the earth’s atmosphere, a middle-school science experiment from Moab, Utah, survived. The Associated Press says four salt crystals, grown by astronauts for sixth-graders at Helen M. Knight Intermediate School, were found in Texas, protected within a temperature-controlled container. The cargo bay they were traveling in completely disintegrated. The students can now compare crystals grown in their classroom with those grown in gravity-free space.


Wild horses are getting too much action on the Wyoming-Montana border, reports the Billings Gazette. It seems that mares in the Pryor Mountains herd are having babies at too young an age, and the 2-year-old mothers are losing 20 percent of their foals. The remedy, says the Bureau of Land Management, is birth control delivered by contraceptive shots. That, plus removing some young males from the 160 horse-strong herd, will give the not-ready females protection from pregnancy for a year.


Thank heavens, it was just a joke. A May 24 press release from the Toronto-based Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative was headlined: “Bush to phase out environment by 2004.” Flush with his success in cutting taxes, the president intended to ax next our “bloated, wasteful environment,” the nonprofit group said. The move would eliminate all “superfluous organisms,” and if it finally came to choosing between air and water, an aide guessed, “the president will probably scrap water.”


Citing the dismal economic climate in Silver City, N.M., and the fact that no town employee got a raise this year, town manager Alex Brown asked the council to cut his $67,000 salary by $10,000. Nobody gave him an argument, just stunned amazement and praise: “I’ve never seen such a gesture of generosity,” said the town’s attorney.


Somebody in Basalt, Colo., has been posting photos of Humvees around town with the question: “Who needs oil wells in Alaskan wilderness?” The anti-Hummer campaign in a town close to affluent Aspen has inflamed some people, though a letter to the Aspen Times sounded a soupçon too indignant. It asked: “What kind of despicable person would make fun of someone’s choice of a vehicle? It’s our God-given right to consume as much of the world’s resources as we can get our hands on. And if we don’t have our hands on it, then we should go into the wilderness and get our hands on it or send our young men and women in the military to conquer places that do have it. To think otherwise is damn un-American. So get yourself a Hummer. You deserve it.”


Who knew state lawmakers could lease vehicles at state expense? In California, they can get $350 a month toward a car that will be used in their district, though John Burton, the Senate president pro tem, wants to bar the leasing of all excessively large vehicles. He may have a fight on his hands: When 95 of 120 lawmakers requested state-funded vehicles, reports the Sacramento Bee, half — 48 people — opted for SUVs.

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

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