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for people who care about the West

Gun-toting toddlers in the desert and drunk Brits in the Grand Canyon

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


You might say that Paul Armand Rater, 53, showed extraordinary faith in his 5-year-old granddaughter when he left her alone, sitting under a tree in the desert near Phoenix with only a loaded pistol in her hand. Meanwhile, he “went for a few drinks and a cheeseburger,” reports The Guardian. “She was given the gun and told to shoot any bad guys,” said Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. “I don’t know how a 5-year-old can tell a good guy from a bad guy, but that’s what she was told.” Over four hours later, after the child was reported missing, she was found by her mother and an off-duty firefighter, still holding the loaded and cocked .45-caliber handgun. Grandpa Rater, charged with felony child abuse and child endangerment, appeared to think he had a perfectly good explanation for his bizarre behavior. He told the court that he left the little girl behind because his pickup had broken down “and she was complaining she could not walk any more.”

Capturing perfectly the jargon of that venerable institution the U.S. Forest Service, the satirical publication The Onion recently wrote about a faux study that called for setting controlled wildfires in Washington, D.C., because they are “crucial to the restoration of a healthy political environment.” Every federal agency needs a regular clear-cutting, researchers explained, and though urban blazes aren’t entirely safe, without them government would become “dense, overrun and impenetrable, stifling political diversity and inhibiting the germination of new ideas.” Suppression, they added, would only cause permanent damage to the government’s branches.

The Grand Canyon has become “the largest -Venus’-flytrap in the world,” says Marjorie “Slim” Woodruff, a longtime educator who works at the bottom of the canyon. That’s because rescuers there answer over 300 calls for help every year — the most search-and-rescue incidents at any national park — at a cost of some $500,000. Of course, most tourists plucked from danger are enormously grateful when SAR folks arrive to save the day. But a 36-year-old woman from the small town of Ilton, England, turned an hour-long rescue operation in November into a thoroughly unpleasant ordeal. Charmaine Isaacs, who’d had six to eight drinks that night, apparently slid off the side of the Bright Angel Trailhead at 11 p.m., and after finding purchase on a ledge, she began screaming for help. Yet when 15 rescuers arrived — with some rappelling off the rim to find her and hoist her back up — she scrambled away, reports the Phoenix New Times. Not only that, she greeted her saviors by cursing, spitting in the face of one and calling another “an ugly lesbian.” “She was uncooperative throughout,” said acting chief ranger Matthew Vandzura, putting it mildly. More specifically, he concluded that Isaacs was “drunk and belligerent.” Charged with public drunkenness and suspicion of disorderly conduct, Isaacs spent the rest of the night in jail.

Backcountry skiers fond of skiing on fresh powder through a forest had the unconscionable gall to secretly chop down more than 1,000 trees in the Santa Fe National Forest. Somehow, they eluded detection for four years while they felled spruce and fir to create a dozen or more outlaw ski runs, reports the Albuquerque Tribune. Mike Gardiner, the forest’s assistant special agent in charge of law enforcement, called the perpetrators “criminals” whose vandalism at 10,000 feet will cause erosion down the watershed, harm wildlife and increase fire risk. “It’s not their property to do what they want to do,” Gardiner said. “It’s public land, and it’s public land for a reason.” The agency did not detect the downed trees; a hiker found the illegal trails in October and reported them to the Forest Service. Whoever is responsible could face six months in jail or fines up to $6,000. The Forest Service is offering a $5,000 reward to anyone giving information that leads to an arrest and conviction.

It’s not looking hunky-dory for Phil Lyman, the San Juan County commissioner who led a group of gung-ho ATVers — some fresh from the Cliven Bundy standoff in Nevada — on a protest ride into Recapture Canyon last May. Afterward, Lyman told a federal judge that the Bureau of Land Management had no legal right to close the area to protect archaeological treasures. In November, that argument failed in court again, though not until several judges had to recuse themselves. Unless he pulls some kind of rabbit out of his hat, Lyman, who was named “commissioner of the year” by the Utah Association of Counties, will be sentenced Dec. 18 on federal misdemeanor charges of conspiracy and driving on lands closed to motorized vehicles. The sentence, reports the Salt Lake Tribune, could be a $100,000 fine and up to a year in prison.