Scraping bottom; underwhelmed by parks; bulldozed saguaros

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


Jokes about life under semi-quarantine have bounced through our computers the last few weeks as we all sat alone, yet linked to others. It’s hard to choose the best, but our vote goes to Colorado’s Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, which thoughtfully provided some white space on a page, with the headline: “Consider this our ‘square to spare.’ If you’re desperate or worried about running out, below is an ink-free piece of newsprint that you’re welcome to clip out and add to your emergency stores.” The paper humbly added, “Many claim this is the highest and best use of the Sentinel — or that we’ve been scraping bottom for years.”

Speaking of toilet paper, the police department in Newport, Oregon, urged people not to call 911 just because they ran out at home and the stores were empty. The Oregonian offered sage advice: “Be resourceful. Be patient. There is a TP shortage. This too shall pass.” The police suggested alternatives drawn from possibly anecdotal historical reports, including wet rope (used on old sailing ships), seashells and other substitutes far too uncomfortable to contemplate. The most sensible suggestion? Newsprint. Meanwhile, sensing a marketing opportunity, a pizza joint in Portland announced a hard-to-resist special: Buy a $15 pizza, and get a roll of toilet paper thrown in for free. Pizza Schmizza is offering this takeout bonanza.

Avid powder skier Ken Scott knows a thing or two about being confined, and he’s not talking about voluntary social isolation in the comfort of your home. On Jan. 7, he writes in Mountain Journal, he was caught in two avalanches, one right after the other, at the Silver Mountain Resort in Kellogg, Idaho. Three skiers were killed and four others were injured that day. Fortunately, another skier saw Scott just as the first cascade of snow came barreling down, and he was found after a frantic, almost hour-long search. No part of him was visible: The second avalanche left him encased in several feet of snow as hard as concrete. Trapped in total darkness and unable to move, Scott became delirious and was desperate for air by the time he felt something hit his body. He sensed shoveling, and then he suddenly felt air on his face and opened his eyes to the thrilling sight of people. But when his rescuers suggested strapping him onto a backboard to take him off the mountain, Scott rebelled: “Don’t strap me in! I don’t want to be tied down, confined!” Scott, whose account of his ordeal was written with Timothy Tate, called his nick-of-time rescue nothing less than a miracle.

It’s hard to believe, but some visitors are underwhelmed by the grandeur and beauty of our national parks. They just don’t get what all the oohing and ahhing is about and sometimes even post one-star reviews on Yelp. That inspired artist Amber Share to begin a project she calls “Subpar Parks,” in which she juxtaposes what Atlas Obscura calls her “lush, loving” park posters — illustrated in a style reminiscent of classic 1930s travel posters — with disgruntled tourists’ snarky comments. One visitor to Yosemite National Park complained, “Trees block views and there are too many gray rocks,” while another critic summed up Sequoia National Park: “Sure, Sequoia is full of giant, ancient trees. But before you get too excited, keep in mind that there are bugs and they will bite you on your face.” As for Yellowstone and its multicolored geysers, one tourist scoffed, “Save yourself some money — boil water at home.” Share tried to imagine writing a “fake bad review” of a park like Grand Canyon, but the worst she could come up with was “It’s too hard to look at … there’s too much to see.” The series will eventually honor all 62 of our barely adequate, just so-so national parks.

“It’s too hard to look at … there’s too much to see.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is building President Donald Trump’s border wall in Organ Pipe National Monument in Arizona, a UNESCO biosphere reserve and a place sacred to the Tohono O’odham Nation. Newsweek reports that the Corps claims to be “carefully transplanting” some of the monument’s iconic saguaro cactus, but since when does that phrase mean “mowing cactus down with a bulldozer?” A staffer for the National Parks Conservation Association recently shared videos and pictures showing the Corps bulldozing majestic saguaros. Federal officials defended the destruction, saying some cactus just weren’t healthy enough to salvage. We suspect they were even less healthy after they’d been flattened.   

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

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