Baby birds get wood-chipped and draft horses for heavy dude ranchers.

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    Lenny Gomes
 

THE WEST
Huge draft horses, those "diesels of the horse world," as the Idaho Statesman dubs them, are showing up at dude ranches these days, on tap for rugged trail rides because more and more would-be adventurers have supersized themselves. At Chico Hot Springs in Montana, for example, Heidi Saile of Rockin' HK Outfitters said her stable was able to drop its 225-pound weight limit for riders once they added Percheron mixes, the largest horse weighing in at 1,800 pounds. And at Sombrero in Estes Park, Colorado, general manager Bryan "Kansas" Seck said his dude ranch added draft horses years ago in order to eliminate weight limits for riders, allowing one of the ranch's heftiest draft horses to carry a 399-pound rider. This "size-savvy" business model is good news, says Peggy Howell, spokeswoman for the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. "People of larger body size enjoy athletic activities just as much as people with what's considered normal body size," she points out. Draft horses did much of our farm work until machines took over in the mid-20th century. Then their numbers dropped, and in 1953, the number of registered Percherons reached a low of 86. But thanks in part to trail-riding tourists needing extra-hardy four-legged transportation, draft horses have returned, and registered Percherons in the U.S. now number in the thousands. You don't have to be a professional outfitter to guess that an ordinary 1,000-pound horse might find it hard to carry a big dude who weighs about a quarter or more of what the horse itself does.

WYOMING
The Worland, Wyoming, police department's 20-year search for an armored vehicle ended recently when it acquired a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle. "To nab the bad guys," said Washakie Sheriff Steve Rakness, "we have to have the means to win in any situation." Costs for the heavily armored car, which weighs some 28,000 pounds but can reach 70 mph, will be shared with Big Horn and Hot Springs counties, reports the Casper Star-Tribune.

In other Wyoming news, the Cody Enterprise asked Blaine Keever, who just turned 100, to reveal his secret for a long life. Keever, who kept Cody's water and sewer systems going for more than 30 years, modestly suggested, "Live a clean life and don't be getting drunk or anything. And get plenty of exercise, and if you're working, do a good job."

CALIFORNIA
In an unfortunate case of life imitating art, the movie Fargo's gruesome wood-chipping sequence was re-enacted in Oakland during a tree-trimming operation. Horrified onlookers watched branches containing nests with live baby birds get fed smack into the chipper's blades. And the birds weren't your ordinary sparrows; they were black-crowned night-heron chicks –– protected by both state and federal laws, reports The Associated Press. Police stopped the carnage in time to save five chicks from the chipping, which had been ordered by the U.S. Postal Service, unhappy about birds pooping on its mail trucks.

UTAH
A rare kind of geyser that blasts cold water into the air has run out of pizazz, reports KSL.com. Well-meaning but impatient visitors are almost certainly the culprits. Over the years, the so-called "soda-pop geyser" about five miles from Green River, Utah, has been plugged up by people convinced that they can trigger an eruption by dropping rocks into its blowhole. Rick Lyons, a geo-engineering student at the University of Utah who's writing a history of the geyser, says that until recently, the plume reached "up to 100 feet." For the last two years, however, the dysfunctional geyser has just fizzed. Lyons explains that every time he's visited the geyser, officially called Crystal Geyser, he's talked to people who say, "Oh, we can get this to trigger. All we have to do is throw some rocks down into the well." Geyser-lovers say they hope that someday, someone will re-drill the well to release the geyser's full potential, although it might be equally necessary to re-drill visitors' brains to trigger an eruption of restraint into their heads.

COLORADO
Nick Babiak, a Denver fourth-grader, got a rude lesson in politics recently. The 10-year-old assumed that an innocuous bill designating the Palisade peach as the official state fruit was a slam-dunk because, who, for heaven's sake, doesn't love peaches? Farmers who raise other crops, it turns out, particularly Rocky Ford cantaloupe. That mystified Babiak because, as he pointed out, cantaloupes aren't even fruits; they're vegetables –– a member of the squash family. Babiak suggested that melon farmers "should just get off their hiney" and introduce their own bill creating a state melon and leave his peach bill alone, reports the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. Alas, passage of the student's bill now appears dim. "It's a hard lesson to learn at his age," said Republican Rep. Steve King, "but welcome to the big time when it comes to politics."

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