Heard around the West

  • Oil, America's higher power

    Gina Knudson


Eighty may be the new 60, but ski resorts aren’t thrilled by the increasing number of ancient customers who refuse to hang up their skis. So Park City, like many other ski resorts, has abandoned its ski-free policy for those over 70. Septuagenarians must now pay $249 for season passes, reports the Park Record.


Lloyd Thorson, a trim and athletic man who will turn 80 Jan. 14, is a perfect example of someone who scoffs at taking it easy. Thorson told Capital Press he’ll continue to run his U-pick orchard 20 miles from Spokane with his younger wife, Janet, who’s 66, because both love the work and the exercise it provides. "Getting older doesn’t mean you come to a stop," he says. "As far as I’m concerned, daytime television is the kiss of death." To his neighbors, he adds, he’s still a newbie: "A farmer has to be in business 25 years before his neighbors believe he’s staying." Thorson, a former landscape architect, says he plans on sticking around: He’s planting new trees on his 20-acre orchard, but they won’t bear fruit for at least five years.


The really scary thing about killer bees is not that they’ve pushed north into Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma. It’s that they operate as a pack of predators, says African bee expert Carol Sutherland, who works at New Mexico State University. "They try to disorient their attacker and stop it from running away. And then they get it down on the ground, and they overwhelm it and kill it," she says. Joel Simko was on the roof of his house, 15 miles from Santa Fe, when he was targeted by a swarm of the Africanized bees. He slid down a ladder to the ground, he told the Denver Post, and was able to run to his truck, but there he was surrounded by hundreds of bees searching for a way in. "It was like being in a science fiction movie," Simko says. "It was absolutely terrifying." Six of the dead bees were tested and found to be descendants of the Africanized bees that escaped from an experimental hive in Brazil in 1955. The bees’ march north is expected to take them into Colorado next summer.


It’s good to be a king, especially in Congress, where Alaska Republican Rep. Ted Young can snag lots of pork as chairman of the House Transportation Committee. Sure, there was criticism of the $454 million he earmarked for Alaska in the Transportation Bill passed this summer, especially since some of that money will go toward building a "bridge to nowhere" — as critics have dubbed it — connecting an almost unpopulated island with the mainland. On Oct. 21, Oklahoma Rep. Tom Coburn, also a Republican, tried to trim that particular fat from Alaska’s pork, reports the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. Coburn introduced an amendment that would take $125 million promised for the nowhere bridge and send it instead to water-logged New Orleans. The very thought of Alaska giving up bucks shocked Stevens. "In my 37 years I’ve never seen this," he told his colleagues in the House, after he threatened to resign. Coburn’s amendment was defeated 15-82.


The town of Bluff in southeast Utah was named by Mormon pioneers for the towering sandstone cliffs that surround it. But that’s just so prosaic; think poker! That’s what a London-based company, Pokershare.com, wants the town to do by changing Bluff to Pokershare.com. "Utah is already known as home of the full house. Why not make it official?" suggests the Salt Lake Tribune. All 285 residents will take part in a councilman’s poll about whether to accept $100,000 from Pokershare.com in exchange for the name change. Would you like to bet on whether residents will make the deal? Marcia Headenfeldt, owner of Far Out Expeditions in Bluff, won’t say how she’ll vote, though she allows that the to-do feels "absolutely absurd." Whatever happens, she says, "We’ll get our 15 minutes of fame."


What if you built a high school costing $6.8 million and then couldn’t drive up to the door? That’s the problem facing the town of Tombstone because local officials have run out of money, reports the Arizona Republic. "The school looks great," says the school superintendent. "We just can’t get kids to it." The high school, now some $600,000 over budget and 15 months behind schedule, needs an improved access road to accommodate buses, and that’s expected to cost $350,000. Tombstone’s mayor won’t answer questions about why the town — population 1,500 — isn’t helping out, but city clerk Marilynn Slade maintains, "One way or another, that road will get built." In the meantime, 350 high school students continue to attend classes in a building that was brand-new 83 years ago.

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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