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Know the West

Wreckreation; snowmobile danger; a subdued vacuum

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


UTAH: Run your mouth and our oil.
Paul Bony

Whatever adjectives you might pick to describe the U.S.-Mexico border wall, reports the HuffPost, “readily stolen” is probably not one of them. Yet 15 to 20 people were arrested for stealing concertina wire installed at the Tijuana port of entry in 2018. The missing razor wire has now been located in Tijuana, where residents are using it to surround and safeguard their homes. And who were the thieves? The Mexican government said those arrested were mostly Mexicans, but one woman told the newspaper El Sol de Tijuana that the man selling the wire had “blue eyes, blond hair, and didn’t speak Spanish well.” On The Daily Show, Trevor Noah could not stop laughing, imagining Tijuana homeowners bragging, “I built a wall around my house, and Donald Trump paid for it!” 

We don’t like to admit it, but when we hike, mountain bike or take ATVs into the backcountry, we’re invading the homes of wild animals and causing them stress. Bruce S. Thompson, former education director of the Teton Science Schools, has been researching recreation’s impacts on wildlife in the Yellowstone area. People think that because they don’t see animals running away at their approach “there must not be impacts,” reports Mountain Journal. However, “absence of evidence does not equate to absence of impact.” Mountain bikers can travel farther faster, diminishing spaces where animals feel safe, and hikers with dogs “are also formidable wildlife disruptors,” Thompson says. Habitat fragmentation caused by human use is a real danger for Greater Yellowstone, he adds, because once again “we are confronting the old tale of dwindling wilderness and natural systems.”

In Wyoming, snowmobilers have unexpectedly “outpaced” backcountry skiers as the outdoor recreationists most likely to be killed in an avalanche, Wyofile reports. According to the avalanche center at Teton Village, records kept since 1877 show that 32 snowmobilers have died, compared to 26 backcountry skiers. Today’s modern, high-powered snow machines come equipped with deep-snow paddles that allow riders to explore more dangerous terrain. But experts say fewer riders have adequate education about and understanding of avalanche dynamics, and the most vulnerable riders are “out-of-staters.”

One of the more delicious April Fools’ spoofs in the Jackson Hole News & Guide featured the amazing number of do-gooder groups that have sprung up in Teton County, claiming that so many have been created that “they exceed the number of actual human beings who live here.” Yet Charity Warmheart, chief enlightenment officer of the Nonprofit Association of Nonprofit Associations, hoped that the rest of Wyoming understands that “we’re (not) just rich, weird busybodies who spend our time hallucinating new problems that demand an organization to raise awareness, solicit cash, and invent programs to solve problems that don’t exist. ...”

Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame, who lives in a $10 million Tudor home in San Francisco, probably had no idea that the clothes he throws out occasionally end up on the back of someone who goes through his garbage. That someone is Jake Orta, 56, who lives three blocks and a world away in the Mission neighborhood. Orta, who thinks of himself as a “treasure hunter,” told The New York Times that he regularly patrols the garbage cans of Zuckerberg and other 1 percenters, hoping to make $30 to $40 a night by selling his discoveries. “It just amazes me what people throw away,” Orta said, showing off designer jeans, Nike running sneakers and a bicycle pump he’d just snagged. “You never know what you will find.” Orta, raised in Texas with 11 siblings, spent more than 12 years in the Air Force, serving in the Middle East, Germany and other countries. When he came home, he found his wife had left him, and he struggled with alcoholism. Now 56, he qualifies for a program that assists chronically homeless veterans, and that support, plus what he calls his work as a “finder,” keeps him afloat. His beat also includes dumpsters, where the first rule “is to make sure there’s no raccoon or possum in there.” This March, he found a box fill of sterling silver goblets, dishes and plates, “as if,” the Times said, “someone had yanked a tablecloth from underneath a feast in some European chateau.” He’s also found lots of phones, three watches, iPads, and sand-covered bikes left over from the Burning Man festival in Nevada. Nick Mazzano, who publishes a magazine documenting the world of San Francisco trash pickers, says people like Orta help keep stuff out of landfills. It’s also a form of entrepreneurship, he adds, because “it’s the primary form of income for people who have no other income.” 

In March, it took “multiple deputies” with guns drawn and K-9 backup on the way to subdue what turned out to be an overly conscientious robot. Shadows moving under a locked bathroom door had alarmed a resident, who called the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. A sheriff’s deputy revealed to NBC News the droll outcome: “We breached the bathroom door and encountered a very thorough vacuuming job being done by a Roomba Robotic Vacuum cleaner.”

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