« Return to this article

for people who care about the West

When elk get iced; Raw water craze; Nudes in Utah

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


New Mexico’s Public Education Department
quietly adopted a new science curriculum last fall, but there was just one problem: Key sections that described evolution, analyzed climate change and used evidence to determine the age of the Earth were missing. Alarmed by the tinkering, the Sierra Club’s New Mexico chapter organized a coalition and sent more than 700 comments to the department, urging it to adopt the entire Next Generation Science Standards that were agreed upon by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Science Teachers Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Pressure against the neutered curriculum increased when the state’s only public hearing lasted some seven hours and attracted hundreds of protesters, though only a few got a chance to speak. Finally, Education Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski restored the complete science curriculum. The Sierra Club’s Rio Grande Sierran, which goes to 7,000 members in New Mexico and west Texas, concluded: “All it took was regular people willing to take time out of their day to defend education and our children’s future.” But then another challenge emerged: For its end-of-the-year history exams, the state removed topics such as civil rights and the story of Rosa Parks’ bus boycott. As everyone knows, said the Sierran, “What doesn’t get tested doesn’t get taught. … Time to snap back into action!”

It doesn’t seem fair to fire a fifth- and sixth-grade
art teacher for showing students pictures of classical paintings that he found in the school’s own library. But that’s what happened to Mateo Rueda at Lincoln Elementary in Hyrum, Utah. The two controversial reproductions of nudes that he shared with his class were part of a set of educational postcards: Odalisque, by the 18th century painter Francois Boucher, and Iris Tree, by the 20th century Italian Amedeo Modigliani. Though Rueda explained that painting nudes was part of the world’s artistic tradition, some students said that the anatomically correct naked ladies made them uncomfortable, reports Fox News. Rueda suggested that the students talk to their parents about the paintings, and in some households these conversations did not go well. After the Cache County Sheriff’s Office was asked to investigate, it concluded that “the images were not considered pornography,” and no charges would be filed. Rueda, however, was out of a job and more than a little bewildered by what happened. “Who knows,” he wondered, “if I can be hired back?” 

There’s nothing like a glass of cool water,
and for most of us that means water from the tap or bottled and treated water from almost anywhere in the world. In San Francisco, however, drinking “raw water” — and paying top dollar for it — is the latest craze, reports The New York Times. When food-safety expert Bill Marler first read about Silicon Valley residents buying spring water that hadn’t been treated, filtered or sterilized, he thought it was a spoof by The Onion, he told Business Insider. Yet demand for bottles of Fountain of Truth Spring Water and other new pricey brands is real and “skyrocketing.” Marler, who’s also a lawyer, says we’ve forgotten about E. coli, cholera and the other diseases that killed our great-grandparents: “Almost everything that can make you sick can be found in water.” The raw-water trend is similar to people’s obsession with raw milk or opposition to vaccines, he adds, but “You can’t stop consenting adults from being stupid.” As if to emphasize that statement, the cost of two-and-a-half gallons of untreated water increased from $36.99 to $60.99 after the Times story was published.

Congratulations to Robert Kelman,
who at 87 became the oldest person to climb Devils Tower, the Wyoming monolith that was famously featured in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Kelman, who said he was careful and paced himself, noted that he was “in good shape for my age.” The previous record-holder was 83, reports the National Parks Conservation Association.

And three cheers for the 25 volunteers who saved 15 cow elk and their calves from drowning at the Palisades Reservoir on the Wyoming-Idaho border. The animals had fallen through two-foot-thick ice and were some 25 yards from shore when Devan Thornock, on his way to lay a tile floor, spotted them and stopped to help. Soon, passersby joined his effort, which involved roping the wet elk and hauling them out of the water, one at a time, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide. “These cows weigh 600, 700 pounds, and it took three or four people to pull them over the ice,” said Wyoming Game and Fish biologist Gary Fralick. The struggling elk were not exactly cooperative; more than one man took a hoof to the body and every helper was soaked in ice water. “But we got them all out,” Fralick said, “and were able to release them.”

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