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Know the West

Invocation perseverance; prolific Griz 399; errant GPS

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


Mike Healy of Hailey, Idaho, says the semi-weekly Idaho Mountain Express runs a “Miscellany” section in its classifieds that’s eagerly scoured by connoisseurs of local oddities. People give shout-outs or complain about everything from a braying donkey to e-bikes on public lands. And then there’s the, well, unusual: “Needed: Well Witcher for property near Hailey. (No pay), Let’s find some water,” and “Lost: kitty, orange and white, about 10 pounds; does not answer to Klaus. …” And there’s one notice bicyclists everywhere can relate to: “To car license GAMAN. As I biked down Elkhorn Road where the bike lane was closed for paving … you drove behind me honking incessantly, tried to push me off the road, and flipped me off. You really showed your character!”

Anne Landman of Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers, which she founded in 2007, has shown that perseverance pays off. Twelve years ago, she asked the city of Grand Junction to allow anyone, regardless of religious belief, or lack thereof, to offer the invocation before city council meetings. The council said, “No,” though its policy was eventually liberalized. Landman finally got the opportunity to offer an invocation this year, and for that feat, reports the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, she won the “Nothing Fails Like Prayer” award, plus $500, from the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Madison, Wisconsin.

Sienna Gonzales/High Country News

If there’s a grizzly with star appeal in the Lower 48 states — one with her own social media presence — it’s 24-year-old Grizzly 399, who usually wanders through Grand Teton National Park with her several cubs. A grandmother many times over, she produced another litter — four cubs! — this year. So in late October, when she appeared on highways and dirt roads near Wilson, Wyoming, people stopped their cars, grabbed phones and cameras and just about went nuts. Photographer Maureen Matsen told Gaia GPS’ Out and Back podcast that whenever she sees this happen, she thinks she should “just start filming these photographers because of the joy on their faces.” Wildlife photographer Thomas Mangelsen, who has been documenting Griz 399’s life for 15 years, says this mother bear is special because she appeals to human emotion. When one of her cubs was killed by a car one summer, Mangelsen says he saw “Griz 399 sobbing on the roadside near the body of her cub, grieving much like a human mother would.” Yet you don’t want to mess with this mama bear: In 2007, a tourist walking near Jackson Lake Lodge blundered into her space and was attacked by Griz 399 and her yearling cubs. “They’re just going to eat me,” Dennis Van Denbos recalled thinking. “There’s nothing I could do. There’s no way I could fight off four grizzlies.”  He suffered several bites but was glad that wildlife officials spared the bears. Montana writer Todd Wilkinson says the decision to let Griz 399 live has been important for grizzly recovery in the Yellowstone area. A prolific mother, Griz 399 has produced seven litters, including three sets of triplets, plus this year’s quadruplets: “Now she’s long in the tooth, her fans are wondering how long she’ll live.”

You can’t talk about grizzlies without mentioning this year’s “Fat Bear” champion at Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska. Weighing in at more than 1,400 pounds, the “Lardacious Leviathan,” aka the “Earl of Avoirdupois” — chosen by public vote in a true expression of democracy — is aptly named “747.” “It’s pure coincidence he has the same name as a jumbo jet,” says Naomi Boak, the park’s media ranger, adding, “but he is the size of a jumbo jet.”

The Durango Herald reminds readers that blindly following your GPS can get you in a whole lot of trouble. That’s what happened to a 30-foot box truck near the top of 12,800-foot Engineer Pass north of Silverton, Colorado. The vehicular behemoth was way out of its league on a section of the Alpine Loop, a gnarly road that requires four-wheel drive and a high-clearance vehicle. When the driver finally realized the steep terrain was too much for him, he tried to turn around, and that’s when the truck became stuck. “How it got that far is beyond me,” marveled Wayne Barger, owner of a towing company. He predicted it would take several tow trucks and “a couple thousand dollars” to extricate the rig, adding, in what is probably a serious understatement, that the driver seemed “very upset.” GPS mishaps are all too frequent these days. A sign on a dirt road to Ruedi Reservoir near Aspen puts it succinctly: “YOUR GPS IS WRONG. TURN AROUND NOW.”   

Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in this column. Write [email protected], tag photos #heardaroundthewest on Instagram or submit a letter to the editor