Heard Around the West

  • Targhee Pass, IDAHO. Boulder-wrangling



Five years ago, Douglas Hoffman and his wife, Debbie, bought a house in an upscale retirement community outside of Las Vegas. The spectacular neon lights of the Strip at night were what passed for a view, and the just-planted trees were small. But as Sun City Anthem in Henderson grew to 7,000 homes, the trees also flourished, causing Hoffman to complain to a homeowners' committee that all that "greenery" obscured his view. Stymied by restrictions on cutting trees, Douglas took matters into his own handsaw, so to speak, sneaking through neighborhoods at night to lop off tree tops or slash tree trunks. A $10,000 reward was posted for the capture of the person or persons committing "arborcide," reports the Los Angeles Times, and a private security firm was hired to ferret out the mystery man. But Hoffman, though described as stout, was elusive. It took a fellow Sun City resident, a former deputy sheriff, to give chase and capture the 60-year-old man, who was carrying a single-blade saw. Hoffman lives most of the year in a "first" home in Goodyear, Ariz., but he managed to do a lot of damage while in Nevada: He is accused of killing 500 trees valued at close to $250,000. His attorney plans to ask for probation.


As soon as a dad dashed into a grocery store in Spokane, Wash., to pick up doughnuts, a "repo" man drove off in his car, without noticing he'd repossessed a family as well: Inside the car were the man's 5- and 7-year-old children. Police returned the kids calm and unharmed, reports the Oregonian, but the father's 1996 Ford Explorer was gone for good.


A moose delighted Christmas shoppers in downtown Anchorage by lighting up the night. He'd gotten his big antlers enmeshed in expensive LED lights, and trailed the holiday strand right through traffic. At times, though, the moose appeared disoriented and glassy-eyed, reports the Anchorage Daily News. A Fish and Game biologist guessed why: The animal was "either drunk or in gastric distress," after gorging on fermented apples in Town Square Park. The Alaska biologist said he'd wait for the "juiced moose" to sober up before urging him to leave town.


Perhaps only in the Big Apple would a room full of bare dirt elicit raves - lots and lots of them for the indoor earthworks of artist Urs Fischer. New York magazine called the chaotic mounds "brimming with meaning and mojo," and said that the gallery - its concrete floor cracked open by jackhammers to free the dirt beneath - "pulsates with erotic energy." There is a downside: Fischer's artwork, which he calls You and which cost $250,000 to create, is a mite dangerous. A chasm of jagged concrete lies at the bottom of a steep slope, and a daunting sign warns visitors that walking on the loose dirt - preferably not in high heels - "is physically dangerous and inherently involves the risk of serious injury or death." While Westerners familiar with backhoes might scoff at the notion of contained dirt as art, critic Jerry Saltz found himself entranced. You, he said, is "a bold act that brings on claustrophobia and agoraphobia at the same time, makes you look at galleries in a new way and serves as a bracing palate cleanser."


From the top of windswept Red Mountain Pass in western Colorado, Kathy Daniels has spent 22 winters pushing snow from the helm of a huge plow equipped with 12-foot blades. "It's like driving a car," she told the Ouray County Winter Guide. "It's just bigger." Well, sort of. Her stretch of two-lane highway down to the Ouray Hot Springs happens to be one of the most avalanche-prone in the Lower 48 states. Daniels said her least-favorite spot on this narrow road with no guardrails is Ruby Walls, a place that features a big drop-off, scared people driving up the middle of the road, bad drainage, and falling icicles: "I know a plow driver who had an icicle come right through the roof of his truck." Ever since a snowplow driver was killed by an avalanche in 1992, the state highway department has leaned toward closing the highway during dicey conditions rather than clearing it of snow. Daniels has one trick up her sleeve to make plowing safer and more predictable - a howitzer cannon that she calls her "big gun." When she shoots it, the explosion knocks avalanches loose, preventing dangerous surprises. Daniels holds the distinction of being the first woman snowplow driver on both Red Mountain and Molas passes, and over the years she has become a devotee of springtime avalanches. When they whooshed by her former residence near Silverton - which is also pretty remote and cold at 9,318 feet - they sounded just like a waterfall.

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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