Heard around the West

  • The Spunky Monkey restaurant in the Mojave Desert starts a dialogue

    Howard Gross


Wasatch Brewery’s new Evolution Amber Ale packs humor on every label. Complete with a "Darwin Approved" seal, it shows a hunched-over ape at the dawn of mankind, then two other simian incarnations leading to the current version of Modern Naked Guy: He’s slugging down a bottle of beer with one hand and toting a six-pack in the other. Greg Schirf, the founder of Wasatch Brewery, became semi-famous for his Polygamy Porter, whose motto is: "Why just have one?" He told the Salt Lake Tribune that the name Evolution Amber Ale is unintentionally ironic, because the beer has evolved from its debut three years ago as the Olympic Games’ "unofficial" beer. This was a dig at Olympic organizers, who had selected an "official" beer, along with many other Olympic Committee-approved products. But that was in 2002, so Unofficial Amber Ale, "through very intelligent design," needed to adapt to changing times. Brewmeister Schirf always can be counted on to combine contemporary politics with beer; one of his earlier successes was called First Amendment Lager: "Give me liberty, or give me a cold one."


It was a dramatic moment 10 years ago, the day wolves were restored to Yellowstone National Park. But when the huge elk population that roams the park’s northern range dropped by almost half over the next decade, many people blamed hungry wolf packs. Between 1994 and 2005, winter counts of northern Yellowstone elk declined from 19,045 to 9,545. Surprisingly, however, wolves aren’t the primary cause of the decline; drought and hunting are having an effect, and it turns out that grizzly bears are targeting very young elk. L. David Mech, who has studied wolves since 1958, and two other researchers point in particular to the rebounding bear population. They told Yellowstone Science magazine that in 1987, there were at least 150 grizzlies in the park, but by 2004, the population had grown to a minimum of 431. The researchers found that both grizzly and black bears attacked elk during their first 30 days of life, accounting for approximately 55 to 60 percent of all calf deaths.


After winning its case in federal court, the mighty Starbucks coffee chain was allowed to censor a rival in the coastal town of Astoria, Ore., and make it change its name. The storefront coffeehouse had been called Sambuck’s after its owner, Samantha Buck, but a judge said the name "diluted Starbucks’ trademark," reports The Daily Astorian. Readers commenting on the paper’s story about Sambuck’s loss in court were indignant, one saying, "Starbucks is getting too big for its britches." Starbucks, however, said that it would likely forgo the pursuit of hundreds of thousands of dollars in court costs against Buck. "It’s not about David and Goliath," said a Starbucks Coffee media representative. Meanwhile, Buck’s lawyer said his client might well win on appeal if she decides to go back to court.


She may never find a mate, but an elk named Ellie seems to be living large as an honorary bovine. Ellie was a young calf when she first arrived in the Snake River Valley of Idaho three years ago, part of an elk herd that wintered on the 1,100-acre 101 Ranch. But when the herd left for the high country, Ellie, as ranchers Jim and Marie Kast have named her, stayed behind. She left briefly once with a herd of deer, but came back a few months later to live among the Kasts’ cows, which seem to have adopted her, reports Capital Press. "She will come in with the cows when we round them up," says Marie Kast. "She acts like she’s a cow." People who see the lone elk among the black Angus cattle are likely to stop and wonder at the sight. The Kasts’ son, Ross, who works on the ranch, says he likes seeing her out in the fields. "She thinks she’s black," he says. "She thinks life is pretty good here."


That media-savvy group, PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is either out to target kids by publishing lurid comic books or just hoping to enrage adults who like to fish. Or maybe both. The cover of PETA’s September comic features a demonic-looking man in a suit ripping the guts out of a fish with a large knife. The headline blares: "Your daddy KILLS animals." The comic shows unhappy-looking fish and tells readers that when fish are hooked, they feel excruciating pain, that catch-and-release still wounds and sometimes kills fish, and that killing animals that "look a little bit different from us" is wrong. Then there’s the take-home message: "Until your daddy learns that it’s not ‘fun’ to kill, keep your doggies and kitties away from him. He’s so hooked on killing defenseless animals that they could be next!"

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.

High Country News Classifieds