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Know the West

Heard Around the West



Thanks to skyrocketing prices for gas, a new breed of criminal has begun preying on restaurants, reports The Associated Press. "It's like a war zone going on right now over grease," says David Levenson, who owns a grease-hauling business in San Francisco. Levenson pumps used cooking oil from 400 restaurants, but recently he's found that "biodiesel pirates" have beaten him to the punch. He's tried putting padlocks on the barrels of yellow oil, but "several of those have disappeared, too."


What's the West got besides scenery, an oil and gas boom, and second homes? Dinosaurs, that's what, and fossils dug up on private property command big money from collectors. After a 10-foot-long baby tyrannosaur was found on the Blackfeet Nation in Montana, the tribe's business council authorized its sale, reports the Great Falls Tribune. But when an offer of $5 million came in from a California group called Searching for Bigfoot Inc., the tribe hoped to find an even better deal and took the dinosaur off the market. Paleontologist Jack Horner of Bozeman's Museum of the Rockies, who spent three years freeing the 74-million-year-old fossil from its rocky matrix, said he hopes that better deal never materializes. He wants the tyrannosaur to go to a museum instead of becoming an "object in someone's living room." Nicknamed Cameron, the ancient animal is estimated to have died at age 2. What makes it remarkable is that it contains a wishbone, linking it to modern birds. Over in rural Winnifred, Mont., PERC Reports says that Larry Tuss has given up growing wheat and barley in favor of farming fossils. "He has found five dinosaurs on his property, including a duck-billed hadrosaur, two long-necked, sea-dwelling Plesiosaurs, and a Certopian, which resembles a Triceratops. ..." Tuss is selling them all through a fossil company.


Remnants of more recent residents permeate the landscape of southern Utah. Hikers and river-runners routinely spot cliff houses as well as petroglyphs and pictographs of animals and human hands on rock walls and boulders. Many artifacts were left behind by the Native Americans who lived in the area until the 14th century, when some combination of dire events scattered the people. The artifacts are protected -- sort of -- if they're on national parks or on other public land. But under Utah law, says The Economist, developers on private land have no obligation to preserve or "even reveal the existence of archaeological remains." For decades, many developers apparently just kept digging no matter what part of the past their backhoes unearthed. Now that's changing as builders realize that "roots, a bit of local history, may help sales." Developer Milo McCowan, who owns 280 acres in Kanab, says he'll preserve everything he finds and avoid building houses on the richest sites. In a suburb of St. George called Bloomington, another developer says he'll feature a huge boulder marked with petroglyphs by building a cul-de-sac around it. And the owner of an area near Cortez, Colo., that boasts 200 Indian ruins, promotes it as "America's first archeological development." Buyers there will be free to do their own backyard digs as long as they bequeath what they find to a local museum. A new suburb under construction near Las Vegas, Nev., has also been bitten by the preserve-the-past bug. It's incorporating into a new park "an ersatz archaeological dig."


On May 19 in Phoenix, the mercury broke a record by hitting 110 degrees, reports the Arizona Republic. And on the same torrid day, just before 11 a.m., a man took a cab to the Bank of America in busy downtown Phoenix, apparently told the cabbie to wait, went inside and robbed the bank, and then was driven off in the (air-conditioned) cab, police said.


Faced with a 300-pound dead moose in his yard, Calvin Hay expected Alaska's Department of Fish and Game to take it away. Nope, he was told, the state doesn't do that. So Hay took matters into his own hands, placing an ad for a "dead moose" on Craigslist, the Web site, reports the Anchorage Daily News. "If you live in the Lower 48, this might be your best opportunity to get a free Alaska moose. I don't really care: I just want it out of my yard," said the ad. Fifty people responded, but because the responses went to Hay's computer's spam file, "he wound up paying someone $180 to haul it off to the dump anyway." State wildlife officers aren't happy with the Craigslist option, warning that nobody should eat meat from a moose that's dropped dead for unknown reasons or even use it for bait to kill bear. Yet if one of the 1,000 moose that frequents Anchorage gets killed on the highway, that meat is given away to charity. Homeowners remain on their own -- even if they are faced with a big and stinky carcass.

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.