Potato living; safe landings; swarms at the bend

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


MONTANA: A meaty opportunity for entrepreneurs.
Paul J. Rana

“If you’ve ever dreamed of living in the starchy goodness of a potato — who hasn’t? — that dream could soon become a reality,” reports Esquire. Kristie Wolfe acquired the oversized spud from the Idaho Potato Commission after it spent a few years traveling around the country on a flatbed to promote — what else — the virtues of Idaho potatoes. Now that Wolfe has equipped the spud with air conditioning, an indoor fireplace, bathroom and a queen-size bed, the Airbnb is “not the worst potato you could stay in,” says writer Justin Kirkland. Wolfe has developed other specialized tiny homes, including a treehouse in Hawaii and what she calls a “Hobbit Hole.” In Boise, she has planted her latest house on 400 acres of farmland, where it stands alone in serene and stately spudliness.

When it comes to skydivers, those people who routinely fall out of planes on purpose, “daring” doesn’t begin to describe them. Dion Callaway, 39, for example, had to have his left leg amputated below the knee after a botched landing in California’s Sonoma County severely injured his foot and impeded his jumping. But Callaway, who has parachuted hundreds of times and who says he loves the “sensation of floating,” continues to skydive wearing an artificial leg, the Washington Post reports. On a recent leap into space at 10,000 feet, however, a gust of wind yanked off his prosthesis, and though he landed successfully on one leg, he then had to spend the day searching for the missing limb: “I didn’t think I was going to get it back.” But good luck found him, and the prosthetic — in good condition — was discovered at a lumberyard. Callaway said from now on he’ll make sure his prosthetic is securely fastened, although “landing on one leg, he has proved, isn’t out of the question.” 

A controversial outdoor sculpture that was hastily removed from the University of Wyoming campus in 2011 was briefly re-created at what organizer Mike Selmer called “a rally for truth and action on climate change.” Carbon Sink was created by British artist Chris Drury, who used beetle-killed trees to form a 279-square-yard vortex with a pile of coal at its center, thereby suggesting how climate change and shriveled forests were in part driven by coal. According to Wyofile, public documents acquired by journalists revealed that coal company bosses and politicians pressured university officials to remove the sculpture. University of Wyoming professor Jeffrey Lockwood wrote an award-winning book about the kerfuffle, Behind the Carbon Curtain, which thoroughly documented the industry’s efforts at censorship. Dan Mitchell, a former art curator at Casper’s Nicolaysen Museum, praised Wyoming journalists for revealing what he called “the university administrators’ clumsy lies and the bone-headed, angry and intellectually dishonest cacophony of legislators’ voices. …” Lockwood, however, warns that the battle against academic censorship is far from over. The university’s trustees have passed a new regulation, he said, that allows for the firing of even tenured faculty who speak out. Reasons for dismissal include “insubordination (and) discourteous treatment of other employees, students or the public. …”

When a river makes a U-turn and appears to almost reverse course, it’s a marvel to behold. You used to be able to watch the Colorado River do that at an undeveloped local spot called Horseshoe Bend, off a dirt road outside the town of Page near the Utah border. Then, about six years ago, visitors started sharing their photos on social media, particularly Instagram, and that drew tourists from all over the world to seek out Horseshoe Bend. According to the Associated Press, 2 million people now visit the site annually. The swarms of people led Page officials to recently complete a 160-space parking lot — another 140 spaces will soon follow — and charge drivers at least $10 to enter. Though Horseshoe Bend lies within the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, like all federal land facilities it has a paltry budget. Page has so far spent $5 million on safety and other improvements, and the city intends to spend even more, adding restrooms and a visitors’ center. Recent comments by a London tourist reveal why the crowds at Horseshoe Bend will most likely increase: Online research inspired the traveler to come see Horseshoe Bend for himself, he said, because it was listed as “one of the region’s must-see places.” And his five-day visit, he said, was even “better than the pictures.” 

At the height of this spring’s wildflower burst in Death Valley National Park, Birgitta Jansen was hiking one of the trails when down at her feet she saw a panamint red rattlesnake rising up, ready to strike. “She was beautiful, sleek, muscular and healthy looking,” she wrote in the Sierra Club’s Desert Report. “I was mesmerized.” But after Jansen moved back while calling out to her husband to bring his camera, the rattler vanished. In retrospect, she says, her urge to capture the snake by taking photographs of it was a mistake, one she’d try not to make again: “I wish I had just allowed myself to be fully engaged with the magic of the moment.”

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

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