« Return to this article

for people who care about the West

Bounty hunters swarm Phoenix police chief, gradeschoolers make imposter sage grouse and watchers await the ‘corpse flower.’

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


The people-magnet at the botanical garden of the University of California, Berkeley, recently was a bilious yellow-green “corpse flower” dubbed “Trudy.” Locals always have to wait a long time before the six-foot-tall Sumatran plant decides to open its purple petals, and the wait this time was unusually long — seven years. About 1,000 admirers — the most in more than a decade — lined up, not so much to see the plant, as to smell it. “Dirty socks wrapped around a rotting steak” was one of the more poetic descriptions of the plant’s odor, reports KPIX-TV. Another visitor said the plant smelled like a “rotting fish carcass.” Carrion beetles or flies are believed to come flying when the Sumatran titan aran prepares to flower, but pollinators have to be quick: The come-hither halitosis lasts only for a day.

Nobody had ever persuaded imperiled sage grouse to relocate their mating grounds until two eighth-graders did so this spring, by creating impostor birds out of papier-mâché near Pinedale, reports Angus Thuermer in Wyofile.com. Maggie Majhanovich and Nora Legerski worked with state biologist Therese Hartman, who says that studies showed that leks — traditional places where the birds strut, court and mate — lose birds if they’re within a mile of oil and gas drilling. In some places, the decline has been catastrophic. “The oilfield is real loud, and it’s hard for (the grouse) to hear,” explains Maggie. The students used carpentry shims to imitate the birds’ splayed back feathers, and faux fur for the white, vest-like chest feathers; they even carefully painted the skin above the birds’ eyes a gaudy gold. Because studies show that artificial leks that are too far away failed, they planted their 16 fake male birds slightly closer, wiring them to the ground. A final touch involved playing a recording of the booming chest sounds real males make as dawn arose. Surprise: For the first time ever, decoys worked, luring the birds into the quieter lek. Perhaps best of all for the real birds, the dummies offered no romantic competition. Hartman said that another way to help grouse survive in industrialized areas might be the erection of sound barriers around rigs. The birds are used to a natural background noise of 16 to 20 decibels, but drilling rigs can be as loud as 62 decibels, even from 100 yards away. For the students, the experiment was eye-opening: “If (the birds) were gone, who knows what might happen,” asks Maggie. “It would affect other things — everything’s balanced.” The work isn’t over yet; the girls’ project will be entered in a science fair next year, so, as Nora says: “Now that we have our data, we have to type everything out.”

Acting on a social media “tip,” 11 armed, self-proclaimed bounty hunters recently swarmed the house of the Phoenix police chief, demanding that he release a fugitive allegedly hiding inside, reports The Associated Press. The tip was bogus, and the chief called his office, which sent police out to the standoff. They arrested the leader, Brent Farley, for criminal trespassing and disorderly conduct, and discovered that he was not even a registered bail recovery agent. It turns out, though, that anybody can become a bounty hunter in Arizona. Just register yourself with the state, and you can “walk out, go to the local gun shop, buy a gun, handcuffs, and ‘Now, I’m a bounty hunter,’ ” says Joe Burns, former president of the Arizona Bail Bondsmen Association. Burns has been lobbying the Legislature unsuccessfully for years, he explains sadly, trying to mandate training and continuing education in the bail bonds industry.

Too shy? Motorcyclists at the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally lacked the necessary get-up-and-go-mostly-nude spirit to beat the world record for “most people assembled in one spot wearing only their underwear,” reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide. Only 182 people showed up for the photo; the record remains untouched — 2,270 people.

In the last 17 years, Lake Mead has fallen 951 feet, reports the Los Angeles Times, and this summer it has sunk to its lowest level in 80 years. So come September, the lake’s third and deepest intake pipe will be opened to ensure that Las Vegas stays watered. The reservoir’s depletion has meant an upside for boaters: The once-submerged Mormon ghost town of St. Thomas is open for nostalgic sightseers, and a B-29 bomber that sank during a 1948 accident has become visible. The Lake Mead National Recreation Area remains the sixth most popular of the nation’s 407 national parks, attracting 7 million visitors a year. But as the reservoir falls and the shoreline expands, there is a downside: Officials have spent $36 million extending boat launches — sometimes more than once.