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for people who care about the West

Wandering kangaroos; gun junkyard; freewheeling bulldozers

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


These new serpentine belts are always getting loose.
Greg Woodall


Downieville, California, population 280, may be surrounded by the extremely flammable Tahoe National Forest, but its Independence Day parade always manages to entertain crowds with fireworks — in this case, fireless fireworks. Two wide rolls of Bubble Wrap, hundreds of feet long, are rolled out on the town’s main drag, and during what the Sierra County Chamber of Commerce calls the “ultimate small-town parade,” volunteers are invited to stomp, crackle and pop their way across the plastic. The sound they make is reminiscent of the cacophony of the real thing, and much less likely to throw off hazardous sparks.


After a raccoon climbed up a telephone pole in Colorado Springs, a man walking by responded in the way that seemed natural to him: He tried to shoot it down, reports KRDO. Police say it’s not clear how he botched the attempt, but 67-year-old Don Upshaw was taken to the hospital with a gunshot wound to his lower leg. Apparently, he was trying to shoot the raccoon with his revolver, but “ended up on the wrong side of the barrel.”


Uh-oh: Grizzlies in Yellowstone National Park are meandering a little too close to cars, with one “getting close enough to play with the antenna on one vehicle,” said the Cody Enterprise. “This incident used to be rare,” said Yellowstone spokeswoman Morgan Warthin. “So far this year it’s happened twice already.” There is a park protocol that applies to these dangerous encounters — more dangerous for the bears than the humans — though Warthin said she understands that tourists simply yearn to see the animals up close. Her advice: “Honk and drive away.”


A black bear in Naco, Sonora, decided there were better opportunities up north, so it clambered up the big, beautiful wall between the United States and Mexico and dropped safely down into Naco, Arizona, reports the Mexican news service Soy Cobre. Though ICE did not appear to be present, it was probably fortunate that the bear entered the United States without cubs.


An unusual incident made the news in Great Falls, Montana, recently. It all began on a Sunday morning when residents of the Fox Hollow Apartments felt their bedrooms shudder at the same time they heard a grinding noise, reports The Associated Press. Looking out their windows, they saw a most peculiar sight: A topless woman was operating a front-loading backhoe — deftly enough to bring the bucket close to her apartment window, which she then climbed through. The backhoe operator was Heather Houston, 34, who had “borrowed” the loader and driven it across town to her apartment, along the way crashing through a fence, damaging a parked car and scraping the wall of the apartment house where she lived. Though police told the Great Falls Tribune that Houston was topless, that detail was omitted from their official statement, perhaps because the woman quickly added some clothing once inside her apartment. Houston’s unorthodox trip amassed a bevy of charges, including felony criminal mischief and felony criminal endangerment.

And then there’s the Curious Case of the Wandering Kangaroo near the tiny town of Dodson, population 124, in western Montana. Two women were driving down a rural road when they came upon a marsupial standing calmly in front of them. The driver swerved to avoid it, but lost control and the car rolled over, reports KTVQ. Highway Patrol Trooper Matt Finley interviewed the women afterward at the hospital and admitted that he and some of the nurses laughed heartily at the idea that a kangaroo was involved, assuming that the driver was “just out of it.” But when the trooper visited the battered car, he couldn’t help noticing “a kangaroo in the ditch about 40 yards away.” Finley said he was told there was a “kangaroo farm” in the area but was unable to find it. That wasn’t the only thing missing. Now, “authorities also do not know where the kangaroo is.” Meanwhile, the women were released from the hospital, almost certainly hoping not to see a kangaroo pop up.

There’s a place to go in Helena, Montana, if you’d like to rid yourself of a weapon. It’s called the National Center for Unwanted Firearms, founded 15 years ago by Bruce Seiler, who worked for the U.S. Secret Service from 1987-1992. “There’s more than 300 million firearms in America,” he says. “There has to be more guns destroyed.” Most of his clients are middle-aged people who inherit guns they don’t want, and don’t want them ending up in the wrong hands. The first gun the center destroyed was a cheap revolver made of pot metal, which Seiler described as “more dangerous to the user than the intended victim,” reports YES! magazine. Says Seiler: “There needs to be a junkyard for guns in America.”

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