Bye Ye; Denali Uber; Heard transition

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


Who’s the most famous person in the Cowboy State? It’s certainly not Kanye West, the music mogul, clothes designer and former presidential candidate who recently changed his legal name to “Ye.” After spending a little over two years in Cody, Ye put his 3,885-acre property on the market for $11 million. For locals, neither his presence nor his absence is that big a deal, according to the Jackson Hole News&Guide: “A celebrity is not someone they would fuss over, unless that celebrity was John Wayne reincarnated.”

Then again, you could argue that 25-year-old Grizzly Bear 399 — the famously photogenic mother of four yearling cubs — is Wyoming’s true reigning celebrity. Summer after summer, her habit of hanging out with her current family in Grand Teton National Park has made her a magnet for camera-toting tourists. This fall, she expanded her range and began wandering through backyards in Jackson Hole, generally (like all A-list celebrities) sporting a protective entourage of police officers to direct traffic when necessary. These days, there’s even closer scrutiny of the family, thanks to the GPS-equipped collaring of two of 399’s cubs. And Bear 399’s fan base continues to grow, as shown by a “Grizzly Bear Town Hall” hosted by Mountain Journal and Explore Big Sky. The event attracted a thousand viewers, with “tens of thousands” more watching a recording. For charisma, it’s hard to beat Bear 399, with her trailing kite of adorable cubs and a posse of protectors and persistent paparazzi.

If you don’t actually need help getting off a mountain, calling the Park Service and demanding an immediate helicopter evacuation as if you’re ordering an Uber is definitely bad form. But that’s what Logan, Utah, radiologist Jason Lance tried — and failed — to do on Denali, the 20,310-foot Alaska mountain. Lance had given up on trying to summit the peak but was perfectly OK when he met three other climbers on their way down. They spent “hours trying to convince Lance to descend with them to the 17,200-foot base camp,” reports The Associated Press, but he refused, insisting that the Park Service more or less owed him a helicopter because “we’ve paid our fee.” The entitled doctor may have spoken too soon: Filing a false report is just one of the three charges he now faces, and he’s likely to owe still more fees before it’s over.

Eighty years ago, when many young Brits came to America to train as fighter pilots, some of them ended up in rural Arizona. World War II aviation buff John Santangini tells us that Graham White’s first-person account, Night Fighter Over Germany: The Long Road to the Sky, might be too detailed for everyone’s taste, but he found one story in the book that seems made for Heard Around the West. White recalled that when he wasn’t training to shoot down Nazi bombers, he enjoyed meeting Arizonans, saying they “possessed a remarkable mixture of curiosity and kindness.” Once, a woman who had offered White and another pilot a lift to Phoenix “insisted on going miles out of her way to show us to her cousin, Mary Lou. That lady inspected us carefully, as if we were a new breed of exotic pet of unknown temperament, then delivered her verdict: ‘Why, they’re just like our boys!’ But our driver was determined to prove otherwise and ordered us … ‘Go on, say something!’ We duly obliged and she crowed, ‘There! Ain’t that the cutest accent you ever come across?’ Mary Lou agreed, adding, ‘They sure picked up the language quickly.’”

Thanks to John Santangini for sending us the excerpt, and thanks to Crista Worthy, Wendy Beye and the many other tipsters over the years who steered us to the hidden gems in their local papers or online and sent in photos of peculiar road signs and other oddments. It’s been a true partnership, one also shared with copy editor Diane Sylvain, empress of the light touch. But after a quarter-century of what has truly been a labor of love, I’m leaving to focus on a new job as editor of the nonprofit opinion service Writers on the Range. Meanwhile, Heard Around the West will carry on with a new writer, who, I’m sure, will want to hear your stories about life in the West — all those crazy things that make you laugh out loud or shriek with fury or simply pause and wonder: What on earth were they thinking? Because the West is an amazing place, isn’t it? So keep listening to it, y’all. We hear you.   

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

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