Heard Around the West
Writers on the Range
Many things define the West: our vast swaths of public land, our fiercely independent spirit and, of course, our cows and the zany — sometimes disturbing — ways we interact with them, whether living or dead. Consider this Salt Lake Tribune headline: “Dead cow clogs Utah slot canyon; rancher’s impromptu barbecue makes things worse.” You know you want to know what happened. Well, in early December, the cow in question ambled down Peek-a-Boo canyon in southern Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, apparently unaware that ungulates of its ilk are forbidden. When the cow’s owner found out, he headed out on his ATV (also forbidden) to retrieve the cow. Slot canyons are skinny; the cow was not, and it became irretrievably jammed. The frustrated rancher then shot and killed the cow. He tried to extract the carcass, first by butchering it, then by burning it. Neither succeeded. As of mid-December, monument staff were still trying to remove the carcass. In the meantime, hikers are forewarned: That thing that smells like a charred, dead cow really is.
And in Pocatello, Idaho, a cow escaped the frying pan in December only to end up in the line of fire. An unhappy heifer bolted from a butcher shop’s chopping block, racing out into the town. Local cops gave chase, and the desperate cow rammed an animal-control truck and two police cars, according to the Idaho State Journal. Police officers, concerned about the safety of residents, shot the cow once, without result, then again, fatally. The former cow was returned to the meat-processing facility from whence it escaped.
Meanwhile, in Salmon, Idaho, cows have been vanishing at an alarming rate. Modern-day rustlers are believed to be trying to cash in on high beef prices. It’s a logical explanation. But then again, with cows elsewhere hiding out in slot canyons and busting out of butcher shops, you gotta wonder. … Is the Cow Liberation Moo-vement to blame?
Rural Westerners are so accustomed to seeing bears roam residential streets that they barely notice. Except in suburban Mesa, Arizona, where a single black bear sighting sent everyone into a tizzy. After local television channels showed aerial footage of the bear “on the loose” (as if bears aren’t supposed to be “on the loose”), running from wildlife officials through an alfalfa field à la O.J. Simpson in his Ford Bronco, folks headed out to watch the show in person. Social media was abuzz, and the bear even got his own Twitter account. Unlike the Pocatello runaway cow, the bear was deemed no threat, and it eluded its tranquilizer-dart-shooting pursuers for several days. Finally, on Christmas Day, it was captured and relocated to more bear-appropriate habitat in nearby mountains.
THE OIL PATCH
If you want to see how plunging petroleum prices are affecting oil country, look at applications for drilling permits (down), rig counts (down, but still higher than this time last year) and rents in the boomiest of the boomtowns, Williston, North Dakota. According to Craigslist, in early January, Williston rents were holding steady, i.e., hovering in the stratosphere: Two-bedroom apartments are still listed for up to $2,500. In other words, the boom hasn’t busted. Yet. We checked out the “Bakken Oilfield Fail of the Day” Facebook page, which documents equipment breakdowns and truck crashes, and also serves as a general soundboard for oil-patch workers and residents. There, opinion regarding oil prices is also mixed, with some posters forecasting an imminent crash (“work has definitely slowed down the last two months”), while others cling, cautiously, to optimism. (“Take a deep breath. Do not jump ship. This is the patch. It always bounces back.”) And some, though concerned about the impact of low oil prices, see a silver lining, particularly when it comes to what they regard as justice for local landlords: “What goes around comes around. I hope their greed comes back to bite them in the a–.”
Jonathan Thompson is a senior editor at High Country News (hcn.org), working out of Durango, Colorado. Please share tips of Western oddities to email@example.com.
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