« Return to this article

Know the West

Car-eating marmots; poacher ring bust-up; a Tofurky surprise

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


If you visit the Mineral King area
of Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park, be prepared to see cars at the trailhead “wrapped up like big Christmas presents,” says Justin Housman in Adventure Journal. That’s because such parking lots are cafeterias for marmots, chubby rodents that devour the “delicious rubber and plastic bits” of vehicles. But marmots aren’t the only car-eaters. Housman failed to protect his car’s bottom while camping near California’s Los Padres National Forest, so rodents — probably mice — accompanied him home, stowing away in the engine and leaving telltale pellets on the garage floor. His car’s unhappy fate: 19 hours in a garage and a bill of — ouch — $4,500.

We all get forgetful, and most of us try to be tolerant of ourselves
as well as others when the keys disappear or we leave trekking poles on the trail. Some things, though, should never be left behind, because they might be picked up by the wrong person. Prescott Valley, Arizona, Police Chief Bryan Jarrell was changing clothes after a town council meeting, reports KTVR News, “when he inadvertently left his department-issued firearm in the restroom stall and left.” Four days later, Jarrell realized that his Glock 19 handgun was missing and reported it. The chief would love to have his gun back; call 928-772-9261 if you can help. 

The High Country Shopper in rural Delta County
, Colorado, once ran a somewhat startling ad: “FREE kittens — big enough to eat.” Astute readers figured out that this merely meant that the felines in question had been weaned, but a more recent ad might have left folks wondering about a possible hidden meaning: “FREE HUNTING RIFLE with an engagement ring costing $1,500 or more.” Now there’s an idea for a novel. 

Twenty drivers in Billings, Montana, got pulled over by cops
just before Thanksgiving, but instead of tickets for minor violations of the law, police officers handed them free frozen turkeys, compliments of a local businessman, according to the Billings Gazette. Not to be outdone, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wrote a letter to the police department offering a meatless alternative — free Tofurky roasts. “Thanksgiving is about appreciation and kindness,” said PETA staffer Tracy Reiman, urging the police to “gobble up our offer.” The police did just that, surprising another 20 or so motorists, this time with a cholesterol-free vegan roast.

Vanity, thy name is Facebook!
A “culture of selfie sticks and social media” inspired hunters to record how they used hunting dogs to poach bear and wildcats in Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The hunters, not interested in the meat or hides, showed off their gory — and illegal — kills on cellphones or video cameras, now evidence in an investigation of an alleged poaching network in southwest Washington. “Fish and Wildlife investigators say they’ve never seen a case this big, or this disturbing,” reports the Seattle Times. The Skamania County prosecutor has charged eight people with 191 criminal counts, including 33 felony charges. Investigators took nine months to build their case, knitting together text messages, videos, photographs and social media posts. A motion-sensitive camera helped, and 20 kill sites were located in the forest, thanks to GPS coordinates attached to photos and videos on the suspects’ phones. The case began in Oregon when state troopers caught two men, Erik C. Martin and William J. Haynes, both 23-year-old Washington residents, using a spotlight to locate and illegally shoot deer in the dark. Twenty-seven deer heads were found at Martin’s house, but more importantly, phones there yielded four new suspects and over 50 illegal hunts. Washington wildlife officials say they’d never gotten a single tip about this poaching network, leading Sgt. Brad Rhoden, who managed the investigation, to wonder: “If I miss this, what else have I missed?” Poachers kill wildlife for a number of reasons, said Steve Eliason, sociology professor at Montana State University, including for trophies, thrills and money — even as an anti-government protest. Reporter Evan Bush suggests that in this case, though, “grisly photos and videos may have been the ultimate prize.”

Flight for Life helicopters usually transport accident victims
or ferry sick patients from one hospital to another. These days, reports the Colorado Springs Gazette, they’re also out rescuing adventure-seeking daredevils. Last summer, a woman’s 83-foot jump off Guffey Gorge in Florissant “ended in a painful belly flop,” with a video showing her “flailing in the air before smacking the water.” The disoriented, bloody-nosed diver was airlifted to a Colorado Springs hospital. She wasn’t the first: “I think the record is transporting two or three patients in the same day from people jumping off Guffey Gorge,” said nurse Megan Hawbaker, who is stationed at St. Francis Medical Center. The state sees 80 million visitors every year, and sometimes, she said, “they try to take on more of Colorado than they’re physically able to handle.”

 Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in this column. Write [email protected] or tag photos #heardaroundthewest on Instagram.