Heard around the West

  • A drive-fast sign near Newcastle, Wyoming

    Vannessa Harper-White


Some snowmobilers have been known to skim their machines over water, striving for distance. Not surprisingly, sinking happens, not to mention at least one drowning. But how about vrooming a snowmobile over dirt? How far could you get? A 35-year-old man found one answer recently, when he gunned his snowmobile down an unpaved parking lot in Logan, Utah. What happened next was more like flying than riding, as the driver went airborne after his snow machine skidded and flipped over. The dirtmobiler, who’d been drinking, landed on his face and head, reports the Herald Journal.


Several details stood out in a colorful story about a Las Vegas City Council hearing to shut down a motel that was an alleged house of prostitution. The manager, for example, seems unusual — a high school teacher who tripled the motel’s business to $500,000 a year. At least once a month, adds the Las Vegas Review-Journal, "a frantic naked man was seen running through a nearby parking lot," and in the hearing’s most theatrical moment, two cops wheeled in 150 pounds of condoms seized from the motel during a raid, "dropping them before the council dais with a thud." One other detail: A former employee said his job was to place "three condoms and four peppermints on the bed each time he cleaned the room." Perhaps a new definition of "condiments?"


It wasn’t a big storm that swept through the Twisp, Wash., area, in late April, but it sure rattled some pots and pans. Vicki Heath was sitting on her porch watching the fast-moving squall, says the Methow Valley News, when the wind pulled up a thick ponderosa pine by its roots and dropped it onto her husband’s pickup, totaling it. At the same time, the downed tree, just 15 feet from the house, severed a power line so that Heath’s residence and 109 others went dark. Then, suddenly, there was light: About 40 yards from Heath’s house, a prairie fire ignited. All in all, she says, "It was crazy."


We’re not sure, but "school lockdowns" were probably not that common a few years back. In just one week, however, two schools in the West abruptly closed in the middle of the day. In Clovis, N.M., lockdown mode was invoked after an eighth-grade student was spotted carrying a suspiciously large object wrapped in a shirt. Before the package was revealed as a giant burrito containing steak, guacamole, salsa, lettuce and jalapeños, 75 kids were evacuated and more than 30 parents descended on the school, where they gathered, visibly shaken, says the San Francisco Chronicle. It turns out the burrito was created for extra credit in a class on advertising; its creator, Michael Morrissey, says his new nickname is "Burrito Boy." In Montana, a lockdown was declared after two grizzly bear cubs took up residence in a back yard less than two blocks away from an elementary school. But this was relatively ho-hum, reports The Associated Press, since many of the students come from ranches where they see bears all the time. A state bear specialist scared the grizzlies away with rubber bullets and "cracker" shells; then sheriff’s deputies chased the animals through pastures for "4 or 5 miles with the siren going."


Global warming melting glaciers? Not if European skiers succeed in their plan to protect Switzerland’s Gurschen glacier. A ski resort just spent $83,000 to wrap part of the shrinking glacier in reflective foil, reports The New York Times. This practice, reminiscent of the wrap-and-flap art of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, will become "common," said a ski company executive.


Newly elected Sen. Ken Salazar, a Democrat, took on a sacred cow in conservative Colorado Springs recently, calling James Dobson’s Focus on the Family "the anti-Christ." The senator later apologized and said the group’s politicking on behalf of President Bush’s judicial nominees was merely "un-Christian and self-serving," reports the Colorado Springs Independent.


Jim Stimpson thought "somebody would punch his lights out" after a strap on his pickup broke, releasing 5,000 plaster screws onto Interstate 25 during rush hour. But Stimpson was so quick to make amends to the 40 drivers whose tires immediately went flat that many of them praised him. "The guy was just really sweet about it," said one driver, who blew out all four tires on his Camaro. Stimpson deflected road rage by handing out business cards and offering to pay the towing and repairs for cars that lost more than one tire, reports The Denver Post.

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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