Heard Around the West

  • UTAH - How about a mandatory spelling class?



The director of the BlueRibbon Coalition,a Boise-based group that lobbies for more all-terrain access on public lands, recently had to take a leave without pay. Bill Dart was cited this August by a U.S. Forest Service enforcement agent for illegally taking people on motorcycle tours through the backcountry. Dart neglected to get an outfitter’s license, reports The Associated Press.


Fourth-generation rancher Ryan Taylor of Towner, N.D., writes a "Cowboy Logic" column in Capital Pressthat we’ve come to admire. He embodies the adage: Use it up, wear it out; in a word, recycle. He says he never buys shop towels: "When I find myself up to my elbows in grease, I reach in our rag box and pull out that day’s surprise." Sometimes he takes out a battered T-shirt; then, fondly recalling the rock concert it advertised, puts it right back on. But retro etiquette dictates that only he can resurrect his discarded underwear. "It’s probably best not to hand a pair to your hired man. Yup, your underwear, your rags. Anything else would just be wrong."


Three cities got spanked by the Los Angeles Timesrecently for failing "an ethical smog test." Each had just ballyhooed its selection as one of the nation’s "Most Livable Communities." But the cities of Ventura, Riverside and San Jose had earlier paid $10,000 each to the group that made the awards, Partners for Livable Communities. The nonprofit Partners said that the money it raised from the cities was used to publicize its 30 annual awards — each of which cost its winner 10 grand.


Thanks to chainsaw woodcarver Dennis Sullivan,62, Idaho now boasts the country’s only bed-and-breakfast in a beagle. Sullivan, who lives just outside the town of Cottonwood, pop. 900, got ambitious, moving up from creating pint-size dogs and other animals to a 30-foot-high building that looks like a floppy-eared beagle. The Idaho Statesman ventured inside: "Climb a stairway, open a door, and you’re standing in a bedroom with an adjoining bathroom in the dog’s belly. A ladder takes you to the dog’s nose." The country once boasted many examples of "programmatic architecture" like Sullivan’s dog house. There was the pricey Brown Derby, a Los Angeles restaurant shaped like a hat, and A-framed motel rooms throughout the West that were supposed to look like tepees. But except for railroad-car-shaped diners, the style has fallen out of fashion. Sullivan and his wife, Frances Conklin, say their $88-a-night B & B is already proving a big hit with travelers. Sullivan says that might be because when you book the beagle, "You get the whole dog."


In the 120-mile long San Luis Valley of southern Colorado, lots of people over the decades have claimed to see strange lights in the sky at night — aerial acrobatics that defy logic. That spurred Judy Messoline, 59, whose cattle ranch had just run out of water and money, to open what she calls "the world’s first UFO watchtower." It’s only 14 feet tall, but thousands of people since the mid-1990s have stopped by to climb up and check the heavens for unearthly drop-ins, browse through an alien-centric gift shop, and perhaps attend a UFO conference. Messoline frankly admits that she opened the UFO Watchtower as a tourist trap; then she found it was a magnet for eccentrics. She’s collected some strange encounters for a book she’ll call That Crazy Lady Down the Road, reports the Los Angeles Times.Here’s an example: "A woman claiming to channel the thoughts of extraterrestrials rebuked Messoline because the aliens depicted in her shop all looked alike. (The visitor) said the real space folks were annoyed that just one of their 157 races was represented."


Hollywood actor Bruce Willisjust doesn’t get it. In 1998, Willis violated a state stream-alteration permit and was ordered to rip out rock jetties he’d had placed in the Big Wood River. Now, the Environmental Protection Agency has fined him $21,000 for clearing a half-acre island at his summer home in Hailey, Idaho. He had a sprinkler system installed on the island for sod, then dumped fill into a stream to connect the island to his property. Willis’ lawyer explained, "He wanted to be able to use it, and that’s why he did what he did," reports the AP. The EPA says the island wetlands were part of a tributary to the river.

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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