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Know the West

Love wins in Idaho; ‘relief’ at Old Faithful; rural drive-bys

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


COLORADO: Hanging out at the Elks Club.
Jerry Allison


Skiers, hikers and other recreationists flock to Sandpoint, Idaho, population 7,900, because it’s close to Lake Pend Oreille and the Cabinet and Selkirk mountains. Sometimes, though, a beautiful place can harbor an ugly side. In September, a robocaller left threatening messages on local answering machines, calling local journalist Ben Olson “a cancer on wholesome North Idaho, and cancer must be burned out.” Olson has published a free alternative weekly, the Sandpoint Reader, since 2012. According to the Bonner County Daily Bee, similar calls in August smeared the Reader and other news publications while promoting the visit of a neo-Nazi. Olson says he won’t be deterred by threats on his life and on what the robocaller labeled his “tiny leftist cabal.” The calls “will not affect the way the Reader reports the news at all,” the journalist said in a statement. “Furthermore, we appreciate all the free advertising.” The slurs were just part of an ongoing trend, Olson said, to “impugn people who stand up to racism and intolerance in North Idaho.” And there’s been an unexpected upside, he added, citing an “outpouring of kindness from the community after these calls. Love will always win over hate.”


Speaking of love, we wish we’d met Thurman Earl “Tex” Keeney, 77, who died this summer in Grand Junction, Colorado. According to his obituary in the Daily Sentinel, he served in the military, owned a bar and construction business, and in his younger years “ran moonshine” with the help of his Ford Courier, “faster than any cop car in the county. They could never catch him. He was too fast!” He also cherished his little dog, played guitar and sang, and made works of art in wood. “Tex was a strong, fearless man full of love and adventure,” the obituary said. “With all his being, he loved his woman, Mable. He was always grateful, humble and full of compassion. He was a real man.” 


Several hundred tourists in Yellowstone National Park were dismayed this September when a man walked off the boardwalk and onto the lip of Old Faithful Geyser, where he appeared to urinate over the edge of the bubbling brew. His bad behavior was caught on video by Ashley Lemanski of Harbor Beach, Michigan, who said, “A bunch of the crowd thought he was going to jump. We didn’t know what was going to happen.” Park rangers repeatedly yelled at the trespasser to get back on the boardwalk, but he ignored them, even lying down next to the “gurgling hole” before walking away, the Associated Press reports. The man, whose name wasn’t revealed, was ticketed by rangers. If the interloper at Old Faithful relieved himself on the geyser, he wasn’t the first. Two seasonal park workers were fired in 2009 after being caught on a webcam urinating into the geyser.


Trace Baker of Boulder, Colorado, reports an encounter with another tourist who’d been on the same hike in Denali National Park. During the bus trip back, the other hiker asked why Baker and his wife wore red canisters on their belts. Hearing that the cans were pepper spray for warding off attacking bears, the man said, “Well, I prefer lead-based sprays myself.” We assume he meant guns, though he could have been praising old-fashioned lead-based house paint.


Drive-by shootings make news in urban areas, but senseless attacks from moving vehicles also happen in rural settings. Outside Delta recently, in rural Western Colorado, a local farmer’s hog was shot dead from the road early one morning. The loss was deeply felt, for according to the police report, the man said his hog was “sweet as could be.” The Delta County Independent reported that “a neighbor advised he’d seen a white truck headed down the road and had heard what he believed were two gunshots.” An investigation is underway.


Former San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman is a busy bee these days. He’s running for the Utah House of Representatives seat vacated by Mike Noel, warning voters that “rural Utah is under attack.” He’s also a developer, promoting the building of a $9 million hotel on the edge of Blanding, Utah. Yet Lyman, who spent 10 days in jail for leading an illegal ATV ride through Recapture Canyon to protest road restrictions, has long opposed Bears Ears National Monument, which is close to Blanding. So we wonder: Who would be staying in what Lyman calls his “flagship hotel?” Would they be tourists wanting to explore the new monument? Because if so, they might not stay for long, since the monument been drastically reduced in size by the Trump administration. Lyman has a checkered past, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. In a long-running investigation, the Utah attorney general looked into charges that Lyman used his position as a county commissioner to benefit himself and his clients at hearings of property tax appeals. The state closed the case without taking action. 

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