Heard Around the West: Backcountry missteps draw ire of county commissioners
Writers on the Range
Routt County commissioners in Western Colorado were outraged when a skier and a snowboarder recently called volunteers to come rescue them for the second time in four years from the same steep, avalanche-prone canyon.
“I’m incensed that those guys had to be rescued twice,” Commissioner Cari Hermacinski told The Denver Post. “I’m (expletive) mad.”
What made it worse was hearing that the backcountry skiers failed to bring any of the equipment they’d been strongly advised to bring after the first rescue — basic gear such as avalanche beacons, additional clothes, an avalanche shovel and a compass. To add injury to insult, one of the search-and-rescue volunteers, Jay Bowman, suffered serious fractures to his arm and leg, as well as a laceration on his head, after being swept up in an avalanche and hitting aspen trees.
Truckers in Wyoming really know how to fly down a highway, not that they do so on purpose. “Flying” is what happens when an errant gust smacks into a tractor-trailer, levitates it entirely for a few timeless seconds, and then flips the rig right over. This happens fairly routinely to drivers in the Cowboy State, and the windiest stretches of highway have been identified: Dead Horse Bend, Snavely Lane, Wyoming Boulevard, Arlington, Beaver Rim, Bordeaux, Elk Mountain and Dunlop, among others.
“During a bad blow,” reports Wyofile, these blustery spots “can lay trucks over like cordwood.” Between 2012 and 2016, the Wyoming Department of Transportation says 232 trucks got flipped. Lander trucker Wally West, who has been driving rigs for more than 50 years, knows about blow-overs first-hand. He’s survived two: one in 1998 and the other in late 2016, both in Red Canyon south of Lander. “It’s over before you know it’s started,” he said. “The first lift kind of puckers your butt.” The “lift” occurs when a 70 mph wind escalates to 140 mph and causes a 32,000-pound truck to lose traction and briefly hover in mid-air before landing and toppling over. Then it’s a matter of coping with a reoriented world: “Doors have become floors and ceilings, seat belts have become suspension harnesses, and the exit is a long, stiff climb away,” writes Matthew Copeland. A highway patrolman helped West safely exit his upside-down truck after his most recent adventure. Then again, he said, “Everybody stops to make sure you’re OK. Of course they do. This is Wyoming.”
• Legally, pets are property, but in Alaska they’ve gained social status under an amendment to the state’s divorce statutes. Courts must now take into consideration “the well-being of the animal” in deciding the fate of a pet, reports The Washington Post. This might mean that Rover gets to live in two doghouses because commuting between owners is deemed best for him. The Alaska amendment was sponsored by two former state representatives; one handled a divorce case that resulted in joint custody of a sled dog team.
And in San Francisco, a dispute between dog owners and the managers of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area heated up recently with the online posting of “WoofieLeaks.” The “leaks” are actually emails between National Park Service staffers who worked on a policy that bars dogs from some beaches and trails in order to protect imperiled species, such as the threatened snowy plover. Dog owners insist that the emails show “bias” against their pets. Each year, however, the recreation area deals with some 300 “dog-related” incidents, reports E&E News.
• “You know the weather is bad when you find a moose in your basement,” a headline in The Washington Post astutely observes. In Hailey, Idaho, a moose fell into a window well and crashed onto the carpeted floor. The moose refused to be coaxed upstairs, so it had to be sedated and carried outside, “groggy and confused, but free.” And in Estes Park, when the owner of the Water Wheel Gift Corner left his door open, “an elk walked in and just browsed for about 45 minutes,” Fox31 reports. Local officers lured the elk out to the sidewalk with apples, but 10 minutes later, it re-entered the store. No word on whether it purchased anything this time, though finally, the shop owner closed the door.
Thanks to the wonderful website atlasobscura.com, we’ve learned that Las Vegas now boasts “a common but little-known Sin City feature: the bunny refugee camp.” The bunnies aren’t native wildlife; they’re the feral progeny of abandoned pets “with cute ears and fuzzy coats.” There are lots and lots of them — untold thousands — occupying backyards, state parks and even a mental health facility, “and no one knows what to do with them.” The rabbits survive thanks to the kindness of volunteers who call themselves “rogue bunny-lovers,” but most people agree the animals need a permanent home in order to lead healthy lives.
Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, the op-ed service of High Country News (hcn.org). Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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