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Know the West

The penetrable wall; baffling thievery; unretiring outdoors

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


IDAHO: The Older-Than-Hell Angels.
Dave Ensner

Something there is that doesn’t love our border wall with Mexico,’ as Robert Frost did not exactly say. President Trump is a fervent fan, of course; he lauds the new barrier, with its 18-to-30-foot-tall steel slats grounded in concrete, as “virtually impenetrable” — a “Rolls-Royce that border crossers cannot get over, under or through.” U.S. agents, however, have found that the thick panels, called bollards, are anything but impenetrable. They can be sliced through in less than half an hour, reports the Washington Post, no heavy equipment needed. The agents, who insisted on anonymity, said a “cordless household tool known as a reciprocating saw that retails at hardware stores for as little as $100” does the job easily. Once the steel is pushed aside, “an adult (can) fit through the gap.” Some of the damage is happening in the San Diego area, where electronic sensors, which could detect vibrations from saws, have yet to be installed. Ronald Vitiello, a former Border Patrol agent who was acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement until April, blamed the breaches on “poking and prodding” by cartel smugglers. Given more funding, he said, “better deterrent features” could have been added: “The bollards are not the most evolved design; they are the most evolved that we could pay for.” Meanwhile, some ingenious people have figured out not just how to cut the bollards but how to return them to their original positions, disguising the breaches. They also try to trick agents by applying putty to a cut or welded panel so that it appears intact. The Trump administration has so far completed 76 miles of new barriers in areas like San Diego, replacing older, shorter and dilapidated fencing.

It was “a baffling act of thievery,” reported CNN, when a 1-ton boulder was stolen this fall from the edge of a highway in Prescott National Forest in north-central Arizona. Heavy equipment was employed to remove “Wizard Rock,” a beautiful black landmark striped with white quartz, which District Ranger Sarah Clawson called a community treasure. It’s not the first incident: In the past four months, two other boulders, weighing from 750 to 2,000 pounds, were snatched as well. Clawson said she hoped they would be returned and that “these recurring events will become an educational opportunity.” That hope was borne out in November, when Wizard Rock magically reappeared in its old spot. Back in 2009, another geo-pilferer also had a change of heart, returning an 80-pound heart-shaped rock to a wilderness area after “reading how much the rock meant to local residents.” We Westerners don’t take our rocks for granite.

Naturalist Rick McIntyre doesn’t do things the easy way. In order to study Yellowstone wolves for his new book, The Rise of Wolf 8: Witnessing the Triumph of Yellowstone’s Underdog, he spent more than 6,000 days between June 2000 and February 2019 observing the private lives of several packs. Some of what he discovered surprised him, he told Newsweek. Wolves are fierce hunters, but he saw two male wolves show forbearance as well, allowing their defeated rivals to escape with their lives after battles for pack dominance. He focused most on Wolf 8, the smallest of the male wolves introduced into the park in 1995. When Wolf 8 was the canine equivalent of a teenager, McIntyre said, he came across a mother of eight pups whose mate had been shot. This alpha female, “the true leader of any pack,” accepted 8 into her family, and “he suddenly became an alpha male with a lot of responsibilities.” Those included giving the pregnant females preference at the kills the male wolves made, working “tirelessly to feed and protect pups,” and accepting rejection with good grace from females in the breeding season. McIntyre also found lots to admire in the “incredible teamwork” that wolves employ to bring down large prey: “Young females tend to be the fastest wolves, and their job is to catch up with an elk, bite into a hind leg and act as a drag. That could enable a big male … to catch up and make a killing bite by getting in front of the elk, then leaping up and biting its throat.” There’s no reason for humans to worry, though, he said, because wild wolves fear and avoid us: “I think they see us as superior predators.”

Wilderness ranger Tony Weiss, 74, who patrols the Trappers Lake area of western Colorado’s Flat Tops Wilderness, seems tailor-made for his job. He got to know the area as a boy, hiking and fishing with his dad, and after retiring as a state park ranger, he continued to relish Trapper Lake’s unspoiled natural beauty and quiet. At his age he may not have needed a paying job, but after he volunteered for the Forest Service for four years — putting in 700 hours last summer — the agency decided to un-retire him, encouraging Weiss “to join their team as a paid employee,” reports the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. A fellow staffer said Weiss always knows his stuff when hikers ask about local history or directions, and he particularly enjoys telling people about the values of wilderness. “The outdoors — that’s my office,” Weiss says.

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