Heard around the West

  • Mark Gocke, www.markgocke.com


How embarrassing for the Los Alamos National Laboratory! Despite being a hush-hush facility for nuclear weapons research, the lab harbored a squatter who lived in a furnished cave on the premises for approximately four years. Roy Michael Moore, 56, didn’t exactly live rough. The Albuquerque Journal reports that he’d equipped his pied-á-terre at the bottom of a steep canyon with amenities such as a glass front door, a bed, and electricity-generating solar panels with batteries and lights. Smoke wafting up from the canyon from his wood-burning stove gave Moore away to a Department of Energy employee. Police arrested the secret tenant for trespassing, and after spotting 10 marijuana plants growing near the cave, they added drug charges as well. DOE spokesmen admitted that finding someone holed up in the midst of a top-secret facility was "pretty strange," but added that the cave was in a decommissioned part of the lab’s 40 square miles.


Volunteerism defines Americans as much as anything, though in the West it can take novel forms. About 60 people volunteered in Boulder, Colo., to save turtles evicted from their winter home. Turtle-helpers waded into the "stinky mud" of a drained irrigation canal to grab hundreds of the hibernating animals, reports The Associated Press. Then they escorted the turtles to a new home in a nearby pond. The canal had sprung numerous leaks and had to be drained for repairs.


Newspapers keep bulking up, what with dozens of glossy inserts from big-box stores, along with announcements of the latest sales on ground beef and paper towels. But the Colorado Springs Gazette took inserts to a new level Dec. 19, by wrapping its daily around the Bible and delivering both the news and the New Testament to 91,000 subscribers. The promotion cost the International Bible Society $36,000, and the group says other cities, such as Seattle, Denver, and Santa Rosa, Calif., may be targeted next. Asked whether the Christian Bible and the news really fit together, the Gazette publisher likened the distribution to giving out laundry detergent without necessarily endorsing it. The analogy amused the city’s alternative weekly, the Independent, which headlined one of its stories, "The gospel according to the Gazette." Then there was the future promotion envisioned by Independent columnist Rich Tosches: "Fresh off the roaring success of its ‘Let’s Throw Bibles Into The Jews’ Driveways’ program, the Colorado Springs Gazette strikes a deal with the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region and stuffs a kitten into each plastic delivery sack."


Immigration and customs officials must be breathing easier after the stressful holiday season. This is when a million or more Mexicans drive south to visit their families — 500,000 or so exiting through San Diego into Tijuana — while drug dealers head north through the 1,951 miles of porous border between Mexico and the United States. "Human trafficking" slows down as the year ends, though U.S. Border Patrol agents were amazed by one family’s ingenuity: A toddler was "stuffed in a piñata," reports The New York Times. The family was deported. Agents also nabbed 90 wild parrots that had been smuggled into the United States, repatriating them to Mexico. One cynical border official predicted that the birds "would probably make their way back to Los Angeles after Three Kings Day."


Maybe they were coached just a little, the elementary school kids who wrote to Santa Claus last month in Jackson, Wyo. But surprisingly, many 6-and-7-year-olds wanted something besides the latest video game, or a Barbie doll and a big house for Barbie. Among the scores of kids whose letters were printed in the Jackson Hole News&Guide, several stood out for their compassion, asking "for the whole wide world to never get sick" and for the war in Iraq to end in peace. The phonetic spelling was fun, with one boy asking for a "moutin bick." We also liked the jibe from second-grader Nicole Nickas, who advised Santa "to cut down on the cookies." But only Cheyenne Garnick, also in the second grade, concluded: "I don’t know what I want."

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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