Heard Around The West

  • Watch out for splinters: Members of the Long Tom Grange of Junction City pose in the buff for a calendar. They're raising money for local schools that have had to cut back on art, music and gym

    JAMIE HOOPER/digitaldreams.nu


The little racehorse that could — Seabiscuit — is adjusting to a life of luxury on a guest ranch in the mountains above Telluride, Colo. The 4-year-old horse who starred in the movie Seabiscuit “is really a sweetheart,” says Dave Farny, who runs Skyline Guest Ranch. “He’s got a good rein — he’ll spin, turn, stop, slide — he’ll do anything.” Well, almost anything. Until a month ago, the thoroughbred, whose real name is Fighting Ferrari, knew only the rigors of a racetrack and had never crossed water or even been out on a trail, reports Telluride Watch. But now, Fighting Ferrari roams free at night and grazes on wild grasses to his heart’s content. As Farny puts it, he “gets to be a horse.”


Bye-bye to the black bear that came to plunder David Letterman’s Choteau-area ranch house one time too many. The 12-to-15-year-old bear, who weighed in at 300 pounds, raided the television host’s larder of everything from whiskey to chicken and chocolate cake, reports The Associated Press. Bears are hungry now because of a poor crop of berries, said Mike Madel, who works with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Bears are also smart: “They can even bite lids off sometimes and even hold a jar and drink,” he says. But Madel easily nabbed Letterman’s special guest by placing a trap on the front porch and baiting it with what he calls “a smorgasbord of bear food delights.” The bear, which had probably lived on the ranch all of its life, was then dropped off in the Flathead National Forest, 50 miles away.


The good news at the closed-down Hanford Nuclear Reservation is that its resident wasps aren’t radioactive; the bad news is that their mud nests are. So the Bechtel corporation, charged with cleaning up and monitoring the Cold War bomb factory, is busily tearing down scores of “slightly contaminated” wasp nests and checking them with geiger counters. According to the Yakima Herald-Republic, this ranks only slightly above ho-hum news: “Hanford has faced hordes of radioactive ants ... dealt with a radioactive mouse invading north Richland in 1996, hunted marauding radioactive fruit flies in 1998, and constantly combats radioactive tumbleweeds.” Radioactive nests will probably turn out to be a chronic problem, too. Mud dauber wasps don’t bother defending their nests; they just start over and stubbornly rebuild. Bechtel says it hopes to lure the wasps to use nonradioactive mud this time around.


Feisty Helen Thomas, the United Press International reporter who covered the White House for decades, tried to shake up students recently at Brigham Young University in Salt Lake City. Saying her greatest strength as a reporter was “nosiness,” she urged students to question authority — particularly the authority of President George Bush. This did not go over well in Utah, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. When Thomas said that President Bush sees the world in simplistic terms — “in black and white, good and evil, with us or against us” — the remark drew groans. Thomas, now 83, inquired, “Am I in enemy territory?” Moving on, Thomas said she relished the snub she received from Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary who moved her to the back row of press conferences after one tough question too many. Thomas assured BYU students: “I don’t care who asks the tough questions as long as they get asked.”


Since 1988, Bureau of Land Management Ranger Dick Godwin has patrolled 1.5 million acres of desert around Grand Junction in western Colorado, encountering junked cars, mounds of garbage, and broken glass left over from target practice. Godwin told The Daily Sentinel that he pursues the owners of abandoned vehicles and finds about half of them; by law, they have to pay to clean up their mess. He also stum- bles upon weird characters, like the man who dumped a refrigerator in the desert and then shot at it, over and over. When Ranger Godwin noted that the shooter was aiming “kind of low,” at the appliance’s base, the man had a perfectly good reason: “That’s where the heart is — you’ve got to get the heart.” The man received a $50 fine.

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, Heard around the West.

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