Heard around the West | VailDaily.com

Heard around the West

Betsy Marston
Writers on the Range


Some day, the bears just might get peeved.

That worries Lisa Herron, who works for the U.S. Forest Service at South Lake Tahoe: “We’ve had mobs of people that are actually rushing toward the bears trying to get a ‘selfie’ photo,” she said. “We are afraid someone is going to get attacked.”

The Reno Gazette Journal shared a picture of one hiker who feigned intense fear as he snapped his selfie with a bear — the animal staring intently at the photographer from a few hundred feet away.

There are bears galore to gawk at: Close to the popular visitor center at Taylor Creek, an annual run of kokanee salmon attracts bears eager to chow down before they hibernate for the winter. What’s new these days are the smartphone-wielding photographers who seem “desperate for unique social-media profile photos,” said reporter Jen Markham. Some of these folks even dash across highways or charge off trails in order to snag their selfies.

But Herron cautions that the bears don’t always hold still: “If a bear has a mind to, it can run very fast.”


Sometimes it’s all just too much. A bull in Cedar City, Utah, apparently got fed up with captivity, so it broke down a fence and took off running down the street. Unfortunately, on its way to anywhere, it encountered a woman and knocked her down; then a few blocks later, another woman in its path was sent reeling, reported Iron County Today.

That second run-in did it for the police, who decided they had to “utilize deadly force to stop the bull.” The bull’s owner remains unknown. As for the unlucky women, they were treated at a local hospital and released.

Then there’s the driver of a semi-truck near Missoula who decided to abandon his 37,000-pound load of frozen chickens and walk off, reported the Idaho Press Tribune. After a few days of increasingly smelly deterioration, the birds were no longer worth $80,000 and got dumped in a landfill. The driver, wanted on a felony probation violation, is under investigation.

But something must have really snapped for 22-year-old Derek Skyler Brux in Wyoming, who became so upset about working conditions that he stole a train from the North Antelope Rochelle Mine, driving it for 13 miles before “plowing into another train.”

Brux, described as “disgruntled” by the Gillette News Record, called his supervisor at Rail Link while piloting the locomotive to ask if “she wanted to play chicken.” But when he got a call on his employee phone, Brux said later, he got so mad he “smashed the phone for something to do.”

The joyride ended when Brux, by now traveling less than 10 miles an hour, crashed his train into another train, saying later, “I wanted to see what it was like to hit something, so I hit at it.” Afterward, Brux jumped down from the locomotive and fled, but deputies managed to cut him off. He tried to explain to them that “he was having a bad day. …”

Brux may end up having a few more bad days as he faces multiple felony charges and possible jail time for mangling property.


It was a startling headline in Pacific Standard: “The Heist: How visitors stole a national monument.”

The story was even more startling because it was true. By 1957, 35 years after Fossil Cycad National Monument had been established in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the world’s greatest collection of 120 million-year-old “cycadeoids” had disappeared, stolen by visitors who hauled off the petrified logs and pineapple-shaped fossils that seemed to litter the ground.

“So Congress stripped the area of its protected status as a national monument — a rare demotion — and it faded from public memory,” said reporter Kate Siber. The story of the depleted park survives, however, because “pistol-packing paleontologist” Vince Santucci, who works for the Park Service to halt paleontological theft, won’t let it die.

Most fossil thieves mean no harm, he tells people, “they just have no sense of the damage they wreak.” Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, for example, found that back in the 1980s, tourists were removing 12 tons of wood from the park every year.

Yet after a three-year study, Santucci realized that some visitors didn’t even know that collecting fossils from the park was prohibited. He’s found that describing what happened in South Dakota helps people understand what’s at stake for Petrified Forest National Park. Every theft has consequences, he emphasizes, urging greater supervision so that people aren’t so tempted to pocket things they shouldn’t.

Santucci’s now designing an educational exhibit that will tour the country. It will include a sign found in a basement of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. The sign reads: “No Prospecting.”

Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, a column service of High Country News (hcn.org). Tips of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared, betsym@hcn.org.

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