« Return to this article

Know the West

An industrious badger; misspelled markers of death; a political shooting match

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


Badgers are known for
their digging prowess, but now we know just how maniacally they’ll work for later dining opportunities. In an ingenious experiment, University of Utah researcher Evan Buechley staked down seven cow carcasses in the Great Basin Desert, then filmed whoever showed up to feast. When one carcass completely vanished, with no signs of dragging, Buechley was mystified. Then he looked at what the camera revealed: A single badger had entombed the cow in situ, burying the animal and completely covering it with dirt, NPR reports. Buechley said he was “more and more amazed at this kind of impossible feat that this badger had achieved.” The badger excavated day and night, digging underneath the carcass while building a den connected to it — sort of an underground dining nook. “So it worked overtime for five days, like really, really intensely, and then it just had a two-week feeding fest,” Buechley said.

Apparently, most Montanans
weren’t bothered by TV commercials showing two political candidates shooting at inanimate objects, but Missoula Independent writer Dan Brooks confessed his dismay. The two men were vying for the state’s at-large House seat vacated by newly appointed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. In an ad called “Grab,” Republican Greg Gianforte fires a shotgun to blow up a computer perched on a desk in a grassy field, while an ominous voice-over explains that it represents the apparently outrageous notion of a national gun registry. Meanwhile, in “Defend,” Democrat Rob Quist’s weapon of choice is a rifle. After first pointing the weapon directly at the camera — a move some viewers perhaps found disquieting — Quist blasts away at a television, thereby demonstrating his distaste for a National Rifle Association TV ad that targeted his candidacy. Both candidates wear jeans and humongous belt buckles, so that, Brooks says, “they look like what they are: two guys who dressed up to shoot televisions for television.” The candidates are betting that “voters will sit up and bark for guns, phony swagger and whatever other rootin’, tootin’ marketin’ a team of political consultants … can think up.” But Brooks hasn’t lost hope: “There has to be a meaningful idea around here somewhere.” The special election was set for May 25.

If you’re going to chisel an inscription
onto a marble headstone created to stand the test of time, it is assuredly a good idea to spell the name of the deceased correctly. And should you fail the spelling test? Just dispose of the evidence, as somebody did about 65 years ago, tossing 50 rejected headstones into a sandy incline called Pantano Wash near Tucson, Arizona. As the decades passed, the “typo-ridden grave markers” were joined by even more debris, including 10 tons of tires, 240 tons of concrete and 80 tons of scrap metal, including entire car bodies, reports the Arizona Daily Star. “There’s so much junk it boggles the mind,” said Eddie Garcia, an inspector with the engineering company that’s reinforcing stream banks along the wash and adding trails. The project is estimated to cost $8.2 million; no word if points were taken off for spelling.

In a delightful Wyofile story
by Matthew Copeland titled “How to patch a wind turbine,” we’re told that the primary responsibility is “Don’t die. That’s job one.” Job two is “kind of like fixing a tooth cavity,” says Jason Litton, a Cody-based rope-access technician, explaining that turbine blades can get pitted or cracked by lightning strikes, falling ice or wind-borne objects. Those holes need to be filled in with fiberglass and ground smooth, much like dentistry. But there’s no comfortable office for the fixer, who has to dangle in space hanging from a rope while being buffeted by Wyoming’s famous gusts. The pay starts at $25 an hour, with a healthy travel allowance, but the risks include being hit by lightning or shocked by a high-voltage cable. Not to mention that “an unlocked turbine blade could lift you 400 feet higher into the sky, turn you upside down and drop you.” No nitrous oxide available either, though that’s probably not a good idea anyway if you’re working 300 feet above the desert floor.

There’s mud, and then there’s Montana mud,
so suction-savvy it can swallow a Humvee’s 37-inch tires and hold the vehicle tight for a week. That’s what happened near Billings after a Humvee slid into a mud bog on a rural road. The crew, on patrol to Minuteman III missile sites, had to abandon the vehicle and call for help. But the mud embraced the Humvee with such enthusiasm that it defeated three attempts at extrication. Eventually, a helicopter from the Montana National Guard had to wrap it in a sling to airlift it from its death grip, reports the Billings Gazette.

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