Heard Around the West: Gas, cash and rewards | AspenTimes.com

Heard Around the West: Gas, cash and rewards

Betsy Marston
Heard Around the West


Did you know that, unlike most of us, mountains can shed so much weight under certain conditions that they actually become taller? NASA found this out after California suffered serious drought from 2012 to 2015. When its Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena analyzed a network of 1,300 GPS stations along the Sierra Nevada — looking for earthquake warning signs — they made a surprising discovery: The drought might have shriveled plants, but it made the mountains even higher. Like a ship after heavy cargo is unloaded, the Sierra Nevada, minus its usual rain and snowfall, rose by almost an inch during the four-year period. About 11.9 trillion gallons of water — a lot of water — had gone missing.

“It appears that mountains hold much more water than previously thought and can lose that water relatively quickly during major droughts,” writes Trevor Nace in Forbes.

But just like yo-yo dieters, mountains swiftly regain that lost water weight once abundant rain and snowfall return. During the wet years of 2016 and 2017, NASA found, the water-fat Sierras fell by almost an inch. Unfortunately for thirsty Californians, though, the water collected in multiple layers beneath the mountains — an amount 45 times the annual water usage of Los Angeles — is going to stay there, unused, as there’s no way we can access it.


A skier on Aspen Mountain had a bad day in December when a money belt containing $10,000 in cash slipped off his waist and fell onto the snow beneath the Ajax Express Lift, reports the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. As luck would have it, ski instructor Steve Schreiber found the money belt and turned it over, unopened, to the lift operator, who then gave it — still unopened — to an unidentified ski patroller. She opened the belt, and immediately locked it up, concerned about protecting its contents. Two days later, when the worried skier, a 79-year-old doctor from Florida, who didn’t want his name used, claimed the belt and found the money still there, he was amazed and grateful.

“If that would have happened in Florida, you could have kissed (the money) goodbye,” he said.

Meanwhile, not far from Aspen, a couple lost $10,000 when Vice President Mike Pence visited the neighborhood for a Christmas vacation. Pam and Bruce Wood, who own the Above It All Balloon Co., were forced to cancel already-booked balloon rides, because wherever Pence travels, three nautical miles of “national defense air space” above him are closed to the public, reports the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.

“It’s very disappointing,” Pam Wood said. “This is our busiest week of the winter.”

The Aspen Times adds that Pence might not have appreciated the banner that his next-door neighbor in Snowmass Village erected over their shared driveway: “Make America Gay Again.”


The reward for finding a service dog named Declan, who disappeared from his home near Wilson, Wyoming, is a cool $20,000, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide. The owner is an elderly woman, who was vacationing in Florida when her 5-year-old yellow lab ran off.

Property manager Patrick Delaney said the dog has been a close companion to the owner for three years, but is trained to do much more: “He can turn lights on, open the refrigerator, get things for her, open doors.”

Declan left with Delaney’s dog, Sam, but though Sam returned, Declan, whose electric-fence collar no longer worked because its batteries had expired, did not. Call 307-690-6876 if you spot the valuable Declan.


If you live in an Oregon county with fewer than 40,000 people, you now have a privilege denied to all other residents of the Beaver State: As of Jan. 1, a new law allows rural residents to pump their own gas. Even though Oregon and New Jersey are the only states that require gas stations to have an attendant to pump gas, some question whether DIY at the gas station is always a good thing. When KTVL CBS 10 News in Medford, Oregon, posted a Facebook poll posing that question, over 44,000 commented, and some residents said they were horrified by the law: “I say NO THANKS! I don’t want to smell of gasoline,” said one person, who added, “I don’t know how to pump gas and I am 62.”

Another warned about the hazards of “not doing (the pumping) correctly,” and of “smelling of gas when I get it on my hands or clothes.”

Another mentioned “almost dying doing it” (in California). “This is a service only qualified people should perform. I will literally park at the pump and wait until someone pumps my gas.”

Many of the internet comments were obviously tongue-in-cheek. As the Detroit Free Press says, the naysayers in Oregon have a point: “Pumping gas is a pretty difficult task, right up there with scraping your windshield and turning the heat on.”

Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range the opinion service of High Country News. Photos and tips of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared, betsym@hcn.org.