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Heard around the West

Brief by Betsy Marston

Heard around the West – October 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine


You’re in a car when a thunderstorm boils out of the West and rain pelts down. What do you do? Nothing, of course, since the National Lightning Safety Institute says cars are one of the safest places to be during lightning strikes relatively speaking.

Two teenagers in a ’92 Subaru near Jackson, Wyo., found that their car’s antenna attracted a lightning bolt, which struck with a huge boom, recalled Krista Bristol, 16. “Everything went black, and then it went white, and neither of us could hear for about five minutes,” she said. As for the car, the Jackson Hole Guide reports that it stopped dead and its antenna melted into the window. But the experts may be right: Though tingling and awed, Bristol and 14-year-old Renee McKinley emerged unscathed.

Here’s a test

Who’s the big bad wolf in Montana? If you’re a cattle rancher, the answer isn’t one of the 80 or so wolves restored to the Yellowstone area by federal biologists; it’s more likely Rover or Fido. In 1997, Agriculture Department statistics for Montana reveal that dogs killed more than 2,000 livestock, while wolves knocked off only 41 lambs or sheep and 18 calves or cows. And it’s coyotes who remain the most efficient killers of sheep, with their annual take hovering at about 28,000. A nonprofit group that supports wolves by buying their radio collars, Yellowstone Wolf Tracker, keeps up-to-date predation statistics on its Web site:

Bumper Cars

In Burley, Idaho, an 88-year-old driver managed to mangle seven cars without leaving his parking place. Dean Fox said he was trying to pull out when he crashed into a car beside him, knocking it into two others.

Correcting that attempt, he then rammed the car in front, creating kind of a domino effect, police said. Fox, who did some $14,000 in damage, told AP the car just “took off without being in gear.”

Grin and Bear It

In Vail, black bears went bad and you can blame their mother: She taught the twins how to break into homes and raid refrigerators. But a defense lawyer could claim entrapment. Some residents refused to remove bird feeders during the spring; others neglected to bring garbage cans inside.

That lured the clever predators to return and chow down on the easy meals. One twin went too far, however, jumping over a fence into a preschool yard, and police were called. State wildlife officer Bill Andree said the same bear had even begun breaking into homes and opening refrigerators during the day. Because it had lost its fear of humans, it had to be killed, he said.

Happy Birthday

A construction worker on his way to work in Roseburg, Ore., spotted a dead deer by the side of the road and then spotted something else a leg kicking out of the pregnant doe. So Melvin Spencer pulled over and went to work, delicately pulling the animal from its mother’s broken body, reports AP. The fawn was alive, “its little legs only about as big as an ink pen.” Spencer tore the umbilical cord with his fingers, wiped out the baby’s nose and found an old shirt to keep the faun warm. The fawn, now named Chiquita, is an endangered Columbian white-tailed deer, a species that lives a little less than five years. Chiquita was fed around the clock for the first few days by Peggy Cheatam, who works with the nonprofit Umpqua Wildlife Rescue. Cheatam says Chiquita was “the youngest (orphan) I’ve ever had,” coming into her care at three hours old. The deer will eventually be released to the wild.

Lost and Found

A 3-year-old boy at a family reunion this summer wandered off from a camping area at Arizona’s Mount Graham, baby bottle in hand. Rescuers were frantic, AP reports, searching all afternoon and night with helicopters, hikers and hounds. Then a curious thing happened: Volunteers heard high-pitched singing from about 450 yards above them. But when they climbed the mountainside and called the child’s name, he stopped humming and hid from them.

At about 7:30 a.m., climbers came upon a blanket spread under bushes, and sitting close by on a boulder sat the boy, humming and unafraid. He had strayed two miles away from the family gathering. Says chief rescue coordinator Patrick Sexton, “He acted upset that we were even there. A little kid like that has no concept of being lost.”


A Missoula, Mont., public school outing in a national recreation area north of town turned creepy when two adolescent mountain lions began stalking the group. One of the young cougars approached the group of 25 youngsters and four adults while they were eating lunch, coming within eight feet.

Moving on, the group noticed that the lion followed and was joined by another cougar on the other side of the trail. Group leaders were smart: They kept moving and made lots of noise while acting as sentries on both sides of the kids. But the noise had little effect: the lions appeared curious though not aggressive, AP reports. Even more disquieting, perhaps, the 80-pound lions would cross back and forth, from one side of the campers to the other, as they hiked. When the kids’ shouting escalated to “wailing,” one adult reports, a different approach was tried, “looking and watching.” A call on a cellular phone helped, bringing in advice from a state biologist while the group walked for a mile, escorted by the lions. At the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area trailhead, game wardens appeared. But the lions had vanished.

Bears Protest Restrictions

Three young grizzly bears ripping up roots south of Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hot Springs, were so easy to watch, they gave tourists bear-fever. For almost a week, the three two-year-old bears hung out close to a highway where their presence created “a hectic scene,” AP reports. Visitors jumped from their cars to photograph the sight, darting in and out of traffic. A van broke down and had to be pushed out of the way. An ambulance needed room to drive through. And what were the adolescent grizzlies doing? “The bears tore down a cardboard sign warning hikers about bears in the area and had a tug-of-war with it, ripping the sign to shreds only 15 minutes after it was posted.” Thankfully, no one was injured by either bear or car accident, and Park Service staffers, put through their paces to keep the peace, also survived.

Abbey’s Road Machine

When Ed Abbey aficionados get together in Death Valley, Calif., Nov. 6-8, hospital-lab worker Gail Hoskisson is sure to be the cynosure of all eyes. Well, maybe not her, but the vintage vehicle she’s driving. It doesn’t look like much, this blue, 1973 Ford F100 pickup that has logged 197,000 miles through the deserts of the Southwest.

But this truck is special: Its owner was wildlands-lover Edward Abbey, author of Desert Solitaire and The Monkey Wrench Gang. Now, Hoskisson can claim the truck as her own, thanks to her bid of $26,500 at an auction Aug.

16 to raise money for the nonprofit Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

Hoskisson says she can’t wait to drive the “icon” to this fall’s Abbeyfest, which no one plans. Participants know each other only through the Internet; “it’s total anarchy,” says the Salt Lake City, Utah, resident, “which Abbey would have loved.” The truck was donated to the environmental group by Ed Abbey’s widow, Clarke.

Hard Times

People who carve their names on top of ancient rock carvings known as petroglyphs usually get a tongue-lashing from a judge and the scorn of those who read about the vandalism. In Utah recently, U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell went further; she sentenced a man who carved a swastika into an Indian rock-art panel to two months in federal prison. Michael L. Caruso, 19, thus became the first vandal to go to prison for defacing petroglyphs, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. Sentenced to probation was Caruso’s friend Curtis K. Cox, 20, who used a rock to imprint his nickname, “Beavis,” onto the panel.

Preyed upon

Mauled by a mountain lion during a hike near Missoula, Mont., 6-year-old Dante Swallow had no trouble figuring out why he was the predator’s target. “I was the last person in line,” he told AP, and “he was hungry.” A 16-year-old camp counselor, Aaron Hall, saved the boy’s life by pulling him from the jaws of the lion, which was killed by game wardens after the attack.

But mountain lions were in the West before we came along with our roads, power lines and houses. That is not true of those bumptious, exotic birds emus which can sprint up to 40 miles an hour and leap six-foot-high fences. And unlike Sesame Street’s shy character, Big Bird, 150-pound emus can develop nasty and aggressive dispositions. In Eugene, Ore., a pack of emus are running free the way cattle once roamed the range, AP reports. And as livestock, they fall outside the reach of local animal-control people.

Perhaps not for long. In her backyard recently, Kay Cope and her grandson found themselves stalked by an emu, which at first seemed congenial, “cocking its little head” and watching her every move. Then one day, as she held her grandson on her hip, the emu started chasing her, first into the middle of the sprinkler, and then around a tree again and again. By this time, the baby was crying loudly, “and this is a kid who loves birds,” Cope says. She finally dodged the bird, and made it into her house. Now, emu ranchers and the local Humane Society are trying to find a solution to the wanderings of these bold earthbound birds.

“Real” Real-estate advertising

A rancher in Teton County, Idaho, is on the warpath, and potential homeowners are Ken Dunn’s target. His weapon is the billboard, which tells potential home buyers in this rural valley close to Jackson, Wyo., what they face if they move in. The downsides: an irrigation canal running through the 14-home subdivision is dangerous and could drown people, mud cleaned from the canal stinks, and plenty of cows hang around near the property. “This is just a way for everybody to know what the ground rules are,” says Dunn. Developer Carey Stanley calls the sign a “vendetta” and has threatened to take Dunn to court.

The Sting?

Can a horror movie be in the making? “The panic, the fear,” marveled Sgt. Ben Reyna of the Bisbee, Ariz., police department, after something triggered a swarm of Africanized bees to sting everything moving on an otherwise ordinary Aug. 2. Within 15 minutes, reports the Arizona Daily Star, killer bees had surrounded and stung a tied-up Labrador retriever, which died five hours later. The swarm stung eight pedestrians badly enough to send them to the hospital, and the bees even attacked pigeons and other birds in flight. But the most frightening experience was probably that of Debrah Strait, who was driving when bees filtered in through a partially opened window. When she opened the door to let them out something normal bees would welcome more bees swarmed in. Screaming for help, she stopped the car and ran to a neighbor, grabbed her hose and tried to wash the bees away.

The neighbor reports: “Her hair was literally covered with bees. She had taken her shirt off, and her back and her chest were covered, too.” Nurses at a local hospital said Strait had been stung up to 300 times on almost every part of the body, including her ear canals. Luckily, she did not have an allergic reaction to the bees’ toxin.

Utah debates family values

All she wanted to do was finish high school, but a 16-year-old girl in Utah was thwarted by a father who beat her and demanded she become his brother’s 15th wife. When Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt was asked about persistence of polygamy recently, he dismissed it as an institution that might be protected as a religious freedom, reports AP. This was not an answer that satisfied many people. A women’s anti-polygamy group, Tapestry of Polygamy in Salt Lake City, denounced the practice, calling it abuse of children and incest. That led a group of multiple-wife supporters, Women’s Religious Liberties Union, to urge repeal of Utah’s century-old ban on plural marriage. Still caught in the middle, Gov. Leavitt now says he’s found that polygamy is not prosecuted as a crime because it is difficult to prove, and “if you pump resources into polygamy and cohabitation, murderers and rapists walk.”

Money Mountain

A 300-foot-tall dollar sign, painted by activists with bright green food coloring, recently graced the snowy side of Oregon’s Mount Bachelor.

Participants at the paint-in said they were protesting recreation fees at trailheads and rivers as the first step in a “corporate-driven scheme to accustom the public to paying for the great outdoors,” reported the Oregonian.

Betsy Marston is the editor of High Country News, a newspaper covering natural resource and community issues in the West based in Paonia, Colorado. She can be reached at HCN, Box 1090, Paonia, CO 81428 or