Marston: Heard around the West
Writers on the Range
Everyone knows that ravens can manipulate sticks as tools, and that squawking magpies enjoy teasing dogs and cats, but who knew that cows — with their bodies alone — could make pipes spill natural gas? In Bismarck, North Dakota, one cow apparently did just that, simply by trying to satisfy an itch or maybe indulging in idle curiosity. The animal rubbed on a valve until it opened, thereby spilling some 20 barrels of natural gas “condensate,” a byproduct of natural gas production. Dave Glatt, North Dakota’s environmental health chief, said cows “just get rubbing along those valves and they open up.” This wasn’t the first time the animals have messed with equipment, and energy companies have been warned before about making their facilities “bovine-proof.” “Sometimes (cows) can be the dumbest animals in the world,” Glatt said, “and sometimes you kind of wonder.”
Borrowing from the crowd-sourcing power of eBay’s auctions and Airbnb, a popular site for home vacation rentals, one businesswoman has begun a website for ranchers looking for a place to pasture cattle, buy hay or both. Jen Livsey, heir to an eastern Colorado ranch that’s been in her family for six generations, says she started her online platform, Pasture Scout, after realizing that finding forage for cows during drought was both frustrating and time-consuming — about “100 phone calls,” she says. “Leases are very likely mispriced, people probably aren’t getting a fair market value for their property and some landowners don’t list their land because they don’t want to deal with the hassle.” Her free website, however, aims to change what she calls the “opaque” relationship between seller and buyer: “Technology has made its way into ranching,” she told Modern Farmer, “but it’s embarrassing how little cool, innovative and helpful technologies have been applied to it. I want to be a pioneer in that area.” Livsey has a master’s degree from the King Ranch Institute of Ranch Management in Texas.
Ah, summer is here, and unfortunately, the jerks have emerged from hibernation. In Utah’s Nine Mile Canyon, a place so rich in prehistoric rock panels that it’s been called “the world’s longest art gallery,” two visiting egomaniacs recently picked up a rock and etched their initials and the date close to the “Pregnant Buffalo,” a well-known image created about 1,000 years ago. Unfortunately for them, however, they finished defacing the rock panel just minutes after archaeologist Jerry D. Spangler had inspected it. He was still in the area, reports the Deseret News. And just a few minutes after the suspects were seen hurriedly leaving, two property owners in the area arrived and immediately spotted the damage to the panel. Though the culprits raced out of the parking lot, Spangler and the landowners were able to write down their vehicle’s license plate. Now, says a furious Spangler, “We’re encouraging the BLM to investigate this matter fully. We can’t let this slide. … These are treasures of the past that belong to all of us. A rock art panel is not someone’s private palette where people can create their own images.”
Books can move people to believe and do some weird things. A 2010 memoir by New Mexico art dealer Forrest Fenn, “The Thrill of the Chase,” included a poem giving clues to the location of a treasure chest he said he’d buried that’s worth between $1 million and $3 million. In the last four years, however, the lure of buried gold, gems and jewelry has gotten some seekers into unexpected predicaments. In Yellowstone National Park recently, two treasure hunters from Washington violated a slew of federal regulations as they blundered around the Lamar Valley in the dark. They were under-equipped for cold-weather camping and swollen streams, and uninformed about bears, bison and other wildlife that scared them. But carrying only a metal detector and a shovel, Darrell Seyler, 50, of Everett, and Christy Strawn, 37, of Seattle, were determined to (illegally) dig up the treasure — assuming they found it — directed by Fenn’s extremely vague description that it was “somewhere in the Rocky Mountains north of Santa Fe.” The Jackson Hole News&Guide says that Park Service staffers had to rescue the couple at night from drowning after their makeshift raft fell apart in a creek. Now, the pair faces a variety of charges, including reckless endangerment. Since Fenn’s memoir has become a bestseller, unsuccessful searchers have spent an uncomfortable night out at Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico; another seeker was arrested after digging up a roadside memorial; and a few have been caught excavating various parts of Yellowstone National Park. As for Fenn, he pooh-poohs the notion that the people he’s inspired do any damage to public lands. There’s so much land out there, he argues: “Why are we so excited about the little things?”
Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, a column service of High Country News (hcn.org). Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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