OR show in CO?; runaway drone; an unexpected backcountry plunge

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.

  • Lest you get confused.

    Krista Langlois

The earth’s skin is so parched
in parts of Arizona that the land is literally splitting in two, with no ChapStick large enough to help. The newest fissure, 10 miles southwest of Picacho Peak State Park on Arizona state trust land, formed over the past few years and varies dramatically in size, state geologist Lee Allison reports in his blog, arizonageologist.blogspot.com. At 1.8 miles in length, it meanders from a narrow, inch-wide crack to a split as wide as 10 feet and 25 to 30 feet deep. Blame extensive groundwater withdrawal in the Sonoran Desert, which has already caused subsidence in Cochise, La Paz, Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties.

If it’s true, as F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said,
“the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function,” then the state of Utah is juggling reality in an increasingly rickety manner. Almost every elected official — from Republican Gov. Gary Herbert to the state Legislature and the congressional delegation — has asked President Donald Trump to rescind former President Barack Obama’s designation of the Bears Ears National Monument. State leaders say this would free up the monument’s public land for extractive industries such as mining and drilling. Yet at the same time, Utah tourism officials enthusiastically promote Bears Ears on the state’s website, devoting several pages to the new monument’s scenic and recreational attractions, reports the Associated Press. The state’s bipolar, but mostly hostile, approach to public lands infuriated many in the outdoor recreation industry, with Patagonia and other companies “vowing to boycott” the semiannual Outdoor Retailer show, which brings about $45 million in annual spending to the state. A conference call between the governor and gear industry executives in February attempted to heal the breach, but neither side budged, and now, after two decades in Utah, the show is leaving Salt Lake City. A Colorado nonprofit, Conservation Colorado, would love to be the retailers’ new venue: In half-page ads in two of Utah’s largest newspapers, the group brags that Colorado has “stronger beer. We have taller peaks. … But most of all, we love our public lands.”

The über-urban and noir novelist Paul Auster
told The New York Times Book Review recently that his favorite book was a 628-page tome that nobody else had ever heard of: Weeds of the West, written by a team of 40 plant gurus and published by the Western Society of Weed Science. Though the color photos were splendid, he allowed, what really delighted him were the plants’ names: “Spreading dogbane. Skeleton-leaf bursage. Nodding beggarticks. Bristly hawksbeard. Tansy ragwort. Blessed milkthistle. Poverty sumpweed. Prostrate spurge. Everlasting peavine. Panicle willowweed. Ripgut brome.” Reading about weeds never fails to lift his spirits, he said, calling their names “the poetry of the American earth.” 

A runaway drone launched
in southern Arizona was finally found hundreds of miles away in Colorado, and now “the military is trying to figure out how it got there.” One theory: The $1.5 million Shadow drone, which weighs 450 pounds and has a wingspan of 20 feet, is capable of flying for eight or nine hours, and it just kept on trucking. The rogue drone was found stuck in a tree in the mountains west of Evergreen, Colorado, nine days after it was launched from Fort Huachuca, AP reports.

Should you find yourself skiing off a 150-foot cliff
somewhere in the Wasatch Range of Utah, better hope you’re wearing your backpack. Devin Stratton told the Washington Post that his unexpected backcountry plunge felt like a “near-death experience,” until he realized that his landing had been cushioned by his backpack and two and a half feet of soft snow. When he first hit the ground, Stratton said it took him a few seconds to realize he was still alive; even more amazingly, he didn’t suffer “a scratch or a bruise.” And thanks to his decision to wear a GoPro camera that day, an edited video of his descent has gone viral.

Master gardener Peter Heffelfinger,
writing in the Whatcom Watch of Washington, assures his fellow gardening fanatics that spring is coming soon, and not just because those gaudy seed catalogs are sprouting up in mailboxes. But he had advice for folks itching to get their hands into the ground right now: “Be mindful of change. The weather will always be unexpected. It is best to remain flexible: re-sow when seeds rot out or plants go to seed early; plant a variety of vegetables, since what worked last year may fizzle this year. Try a few new things on the off chance they might work out well. Have lots of options. And be thankful for those tempting seed packets in February, as well as the cornucopia of vegetables starts in the nurseries when spring finally arrives. Seeds and starts are the gifts that last.”

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

High Country News Classifieds