Heard around the West

  • Catherine Gorman


Are cows getting smarter? Every year, several cows make a break for freedom from barns in Bonneville County to go a-wandering. Resistance is futile. What was different this spring was the feistiness of a 1,000-pound black Angus. "We’ve been raising cows for 20 years," said the owner, "and never had anything like this happen before." The escapee rammed a police car and held off ropers — injuring the hand of one — for four hours, reports the Idaho Statesman. A second cow that had joined in the breakout voluntarily turned up back at the ranch the next morning. But both could decide to take off again: They escaped "by nudging open a sliding barn door."


Five bison hanging out at Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park suddenly toppled over like trees crashing to the ground, says the National Park Service. The animals, found on March 10, were felled by a rare combination: Toxic gases escaping from the earth, which were trapped close to the ground by dense, cold air. The bison were found lying on their sides, their legs sticking straight out in front of them, which indicates they died fast. Lethal gas attacks have happened before at Yellowstone. In one case 105 years ago, seven bears dropped dead in a place aptly called Death Gulch, in the upper Lamar Valley. Gas vents have never killed humans, says a park geologist; we scram when the rotten-egg smell of hydrogen sulfide wafts our way.


Coloradans expect more snow to fall in March than any other month, slowing runoff from the mountains and filling depleted reservoirs later in the spring. Not this year. March temperatures zoomed into the 70s, sending skiers into shorts, and fruit trees into bloom. In Crested Butte, the hot days melted snowdrifts so that what was once hidden popped into view. It wasn’t pretty: "Copious amounts of dog poop are emerging with the spring thaw, spreading a distinctive unsavory aroma," said the Crested Butte News. To deal with the unwelcome discovery, the town is talking about creating yet another festival, this one a PooFest to scoop the poop.


Leapfrogging development, otherwise known as sprawl, is creating its own jargon, says Dolores Hayden, Yale professor of architecture, urbanism and American studies who shared sprawl-speak with a capacity crowd at the University of New Mexico. Did you know that "putting parsley around the pig" is how developers add a dash of landscaping to spruce up a new subdivision? That a "boomburg" is a fast-growing suburb and a "zoomburg" is one that’s booming even faster? Then there’s "ballpork" for a sports stadium that’s financed with public money for the benefit of a privately owned team and "litter on a stick" signifying billboards. Hayden is clear about what constitutes sprawl, reports the Albuquerque Tribune: It incorporates low-density, scattered, car-dependent development "organized around unsustainable growth."


The town of Aliso Viejo in south Orange County, Calif., was fighting the good fight against non-biodegradable polystyrene cups, but it came up with a wacky reason for banning the white foam containers: "dangerous" dihydrogen monoxide, which is another way of saying water. A city staffer apparently swallowed whole an Internet Web site that linked Styrofoam to the not-so-scary compound. The hoax gave the petroleum industry an opening to cry "junk science," and caused the town to delay its ban on allowing Styrofoam at city-permitted events, reports the Los Angeles Times. "We dream about instances like this when our opponents do something foolish," said a spokesman from the American Plastics Council. Hoax or not, says the manager of Aliso Viejo, "If you get Styrofoam in the water and it breaks apart, it’s virtually impossible to clean up."


How embarrassing: Only a few hours after Republican legislator Joe Thompson attended a ceremony in Albuquerque to celebrate tough new laws against drunk driving, he was arrested for driving drunk. Thompson, the House minority whip, registered 0.12 on breath-alcohol tests, reports the Albuquerque Tribune. The legal limit in New Mexico is 0.08.

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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