Heard around the West

  • This smiling dinosaur greets road-weary travelers in Vernal



Better not mess with Nevada: It’s big, and getting bigger. Last year, Nevada gained an average of 6,141 people every month, making it number-one for growth in the nation for the 17th year in a row, reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Citing climate and affordability, 70 percent of the newcomers to the state flock to the Las Vegas area. Says demographer William Frey: "It’s become almost like a suburb of Los Angeles."


Pity the poor National Rifle Association; it’s $100 million in debt. What’s more, reports The New York Times, the group has suffered a recent slide in membership, from 4.3 million to 3.4 million. The loss of actor Charlton Heston as president after seven years may have hurt the NRA; the high cost of lobbying Congress and paying for TV ads to fight campaign-finance reform certainly did. Help could come from young and upwardly mobile hunters. These well-heeled newcomers are attracted to the sport in part by the groovy gear: Fitted camouflage jumpsuits for women, British-made hunting jackets, and pricey rifles and shotguns. But some newly minted hunters have to contend with verbal barbs from critics who call their fun with guns "rednecky" or inhumane. One hunter told the Times that his sisters were so upset they almost yelled the question: "How can you shoot animals?" His reply: "I still haven’t hit anything."


Dogs are trained to sniff out marijuana and explosives, so why not train a dog to hunt down a weed that’s taking over the West? Hal Stiner of Rocky Mountain Command Dogs in Belgrade, Mont., is training a dog named Knapweed Nightmare to pounce on spotted knapweed. The dog, a unique mix Stiner developed from Czech border patrol stock and a red European wolf hybrid, has been taught to dig at any knapweed she finds. After several seconds of digging, a Global Positioning System device on her collar logs her location, so workers can destroy the weeds before they spread. Why pick dog detectives over people? Montana State University researcher Kim Goodwin, who came up with the idea, says humans move slowly, tire fast and lose motivation, while Nightmare lives for praise and loves her job. If Nightmare turns out to be a super-sleuth, Goodwin says, more dogs can be trained to chase the West’s swarming weeds.


The sixth richest person in the world recently hung out at Jackson Hole for a couple of weeks. There were a few ground rules: Waiters were instructed to call the Saudi Arabian prince "His Royal Highness," and the ski lifts ran late for his entourage of 35 people. The wealth of Alwaleed bin Talal, 46, is estimated at $17.7 billion, according to Forbes magazine.


Never mind Janet Jackson’s rogue breast; what really riles some Utahns is blatant bellybuttons. An alum attending a 50th reunion at Brigham Young University wrote President Cecil Samuelson: "It really shocked me to see so many tummies on the campus … " Meanwhile, reports The Associated Press, the school has admitted that it routinely deletes certain body parts from photos. "We have touched up photos for years — as far as removing tattoos, covering up bellybuttons, just things like that," said Duff Tittle, associate athletic director for communications.


Everyone knows the adage: First California, then the rest of the West. What’s coming is odorless, bugless and, best of all, waterless grass. Orange County, the Astrolawn company and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California are trying out synthetic lawns at several locations, and so far, reports the Los Angeles Times, suburbanites love them. A "soft, supple virtual lawn" is expensive at $6-$7 a square foot, compared to $1 per foot for living grass, and at first the green blades shine with a disturbing sheen. But the sheen fades, and more than one homeowner reports that Astrolawn feels to the feet like the real thing. If the experiment succeeds, the water district says it will pay homeowners a rebate for installing waterless lawns.


There is yet another red meat: reindeer. Alaska is restarting its butchering and inspection program to give the fledgling industry a shot at finding a market. The meat of reindeer, the domesticated version of caribou, is expected to sell at $4.50 a pound, says Governing magazine.

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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