Heard around the West

  • Mules always get the last laugh

    Steve Snyder


Sea lions don’t usually venture inland — particularly 65 miles from the Pacific Ocean — but that’s what a hefty 300-pounder did recently in California. It was first spotted crawling in the middle of the road in the San Joaquin Valley, reports The Associated Press. One theory is that somebody "dropped it" there. A more likely story is that the sea lion swam up a river, and then kept going through irrigation canals. The explorer seemed anything but rattled so far from home — one highway patrolman said it appeared to be "out on a stroll." The stroll ended with police trucking the sea lion back to the ocean.


For some reason, 22-year-old Adam Ray Elford of Vancouver, Wash., really wanted to get close to a geyser in Yellowstone National Park. But he couldn’t bring himself to walk. So last fall, he drove his pickup around a locked barricade, continued for another 2.5 miles, removed a log barrier with the help of a 19-year-old friend, then drove completely around a geyser at Mammoth Hot Springs. He probably would have done even more damage to Lone Star Geyser and the meadows around it, says the Park Service, but his truck stuck fast in the soft ground. Elford was recently found guilty of all five charges against him, including driving a vehicle off-road and possessing a loaded firearm in a vehicle. He will be required to pay restitution for the damage he caused, and he won’t be allowed to enter Yellowstone for five years.


For many Westerners, it was bitterly cold this winter and the snow was plentiful; in other words, it was a normal winter. But according to the state-supported historical magazine, The Annals of Wyoming, the Blizzard of 1949 makes our weather seem puny. The series of storms that hit Wyoming 55 years ago buried entire trains in snowdrifts and blocked roads for weeks. Cattle "died standing up as the wind blew the snow under their hair where it melted, then froze, encasing them in an icy death." A child back then, Amy Lawrence recalls her father suiting up in layers to check on his herd, starting with "long johns," wool shirts, jeans and overalls topped up with a heavy sheepskin-lined coat. "At this point," she says, "he resembled a huge, lumbering bear … ." Lawrence says the family never ran out of food because her mother had been trained by years of Wyoming winters. Now, Lawrence says, she keeps a pantry full enough to survive several blizzards.


While more than 30 states cry poor, Wyoming can bask in the black with a $1.2 billion surplus. It comes mainly from stepped-up oil and gas production, reports The Associated Press, and according to the National Association of State Budget Officers, no other state even comes close in revenues. The Cowboy State has expensive needs, though, including an estimated $500 million for new schools and more prisons.


If you want to know what the ground might look like after a meteorite smashes into it, just ask a couple of researchers who mimicked a meteor by tossing a bowling ball out of a plane. Flying over private land near Grantsville, Ann House maneuvered a 14-pound bowling ball to the open window of a rented Cessna, then watched it plummet 820 feet to the desert below. The landing made "a nice big ka-bersh," she told the Salt Lake Tribune. But to her surprise, the red ball failed to bounce, instead sinking halfway into the frozen earth. Pilot Patrick Wiggins said next time he’ll fly higher to simulate a meteorite whizzing straight down. The two researchers hope their experiments will help them spot meteorite craters in the Utah desert.


The reservoir behind Hoover Dam has dropped 75 feet as a five-year drought continues. The Las Vegas Review-Journal says Lake Mead is expected to lose another 12 feet this year, and 11 more feet in 2005. Marinas are really feeling the pinch. The Las Vegas Boat Harbor has been forced to extend its marina from shore five times — each one a costly relocation. As the reservoir loses water, more of what lies beneath it comes to light. Sometime soon, a cement water tank built to support the building of the dam is expected to emerge from the waters. It was last seen some 40 years ago.


Should a public library have the freedom to offend its patrons? That’s the question facing Teton County Library, which owns the Marijuana Grower’s Handbook. Wilson resident Robert Gathercole wants library director Betsy Bernfield to explain "why you have chosen to spend tax dollars to purchase a how-to crime manual," reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide. What’s next, he wondered: books on assassination and bomb-making? Bernfield said her board will deal with Gathercole’s complaint, though she cautioned: "The board is not anxious to censor books."

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

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