Heard Around the West

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Fewer people may be heading for vacations in our national parks these days, but "glamping" - short for glamorous camping - is on the rise. Think of luxury tents that come equipped with Persian rugs and electricity for powering blow dryers. As for stinky outhouses - forget about it. The possibility of glamping convinced the parents of a 6-year-old boy fascinated by fly-fishing that they could rough it out West in style, reports the Los Angeles Times. After surfing the Internet with the words "luxury," "camping" and "Montana," the family settled on a Big Sky Country hideaway called The Resort at Paws Up, which charged them $595 a night, plus an additional $110 per person per day for food. The hefty fee ensured a cook who could rustle up bison steaks as well as huckleberries over French toast, plus a butler to light the evening campfire and a maid to heat their down comforters. 


Never mind the plebian pursuits of plodding along on foot or riding through the backcountry on all-terrain vehicles or horseback. People of wealth have found a way to emulate Icarus and sightsee through the air, zipping along in Ultralight planes as fast as 115 mph or as leisurely as 25 mph. The new Southwestern sport is called "aerotrekking," reports the Arizona Republic. Members of an exclusive club called Sky Gypsies wend their way along a 1,100-mile circuit of mountains, canyons and deserts in isolated parts of Arizona and New Mexico. You need a high tolerance for risk, since steering a little open-air plane with a rear propeller can be dicey in unstable weather or around power lines and cliffs. And you need money: Fees range from $1,000 up to $200,000, and include the privilege of bunking at landing fields equipped with spiffed-up Airstream trailers from the '40s and '50s. Software developer John McAfee, one of three men who founded the 150-member club, trumpets the thrill of flying "15 feet over a cow ... you feel every sensation, every movement, every breath of air that goes by." He also considers the sport safe "so long as the pilot is conscientious." McAfee's nephew, however, and a passenger were killed a few months ago when their kite-wing aircraft crashed. Not just anyone can join Sky Gypsies: The club is invitation-only, extensive training is required, and alcohol is verboten. 


Since 1970, the average American home has bulked up from 1,500 square feet to 2,450 square feet, says the National Association of Home Builders. But supersizing is the wrong way to go, says Jay Shafer, founder of the Small House Society and denizen of a 100-square-foot home in Sebastopol, Calif. For comparison, says the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "You may have a tool shed or a master bath about the same size." Shafer sells homes to baby boomers looking to simplify their lives in retirement, and his Tumbleweed Tiny Houses have won awards for energy efficiency and green design. They're also inexpensive, costing between $20,000 and $48,000, though the price doesn't include land. Up in Olympia, Wash., one woman lives in a truly tiny house - an 84-square-foot wood-frame home that she built from scratch. Dee Williams told The Olympian that she used to live in a 1,500-square-foot house in Portland, but sold it after returning from a trip to Guatemala: "(I) felt weird spending money and time on a house when there are others who have so little." Williams scrounged old wood, doors from a Dumpster and shredded blue jeans for some of the insulation. Two solar panels provide electricity, and she has a propane tank for heat and cooking. Since the house lacks running water, she takes showers and borrows water from the friends who let her build in their backyard. Total cost: $10,000; the feeling afterward, "empowering." After also downsizing her job to part-time, Williams said she gives more to charities and tries to buy everything locally, except books, which she takes out of the library. "Maybe for the first time," she says, "I brought that profound sense of intention to my life." 


If anyone is a good sport, it's Christina Ryan, an event planner from Tennessee. In Tucson recently to compete in the Mrs. America contest, Ryan carefully dodged a spider at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, only to find herself next to a rattlesnake, which promptly bit her on the foot. The 8-to-10-inch-long snake left one of its fangs in her, stuck just above her toe. "The pain was the worst pain I have ever had - worse than childbirth," she told the Tucson Citizen."It was like someone stabbed a knife in my foot, and kept stabbing it in over and over again." The poison moved up to her ankle before 10 vials of antivenin - sent, she noted, from her home state of Tennessee - had any effect. Throughout the ordeal, Ryan kept up her spirits, saying her goal was to heal enough so she could wear heels during the final day of competition. The pain almost paid off: Ryan was first runner-up, with Kelly McBee of Worland, Wyo., taking the title of Mrs. America. 

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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