If the world doesn’t end


Winter has some serious competition this year in the form of The Shift, which is slated around the date of Dec. 21, and at which time, as you very well know, the world will split into higher and lower dimensional realities. We’re not exactly sure how winter is going to play out in the new scenario, so we’re using our current Third Dimension, where other people’s bad luck/decisions/situations make for fun things for the rest of us lowlifes to talk about. Those of us who move on to the Fifth Dimension won’t be doing this kind of crap anymore.

1) Winter You Gotta Wonderland

We got to wondering if there were any real, sanctioned Winter Wonderlands out there. What we were looking for were places that are so goddamned wonderful that you almost can’t stand it. Instead, we found a story about allegedly great wintry places to retire because, if you don’t have to work, you don’t have to go outside in the towns’ really repulsive weather. Places like South Bend, Indiana. What the hell? Anyway, according to U.S. News, there are lots of great crappy wintry places to go if you don’t plan to go outside and deal with the fact that you’re in such a crappy situation. On the list: Juneau, Alaska; Syracuse, N.Y.; South Bend; Marquette, Michigan (where, in winter, you can usually saw off your own limbs without anesthesia after 20 minutes of being outside); Minneapolis (a relatively okay place due to a bunch of skyway tunnels to run around in, sort of like a gerbil habitat) and Aurora, Colorado (Aurora doesn’t necessarily have hideous weather, but if you’re moving to Colorado, you might as well take all your retirement money and spend three weeks in Aspen instead). There also were a few places where you might actually want to go outside: Burlington, Vermont, Salt Lake City and Portland, Maine.

2) Action-packed winter sports

It’s never too early to start getting all lathered up over the next Winter Olympics. If you want to get your sport listed for competition, a good place to start is by petitioning the International Olympic Committee via sites like Change.org or GoPetition.com. Really, it’s that easy; otherwise there’s no way they’d have curling or biathlon. That said, it’s anyone’s guess why the maniacs who race their cars on the partially frozen lake at Georgetown, Colorado, for example, have not had some sort of Olympic invitation/recognition. We digress (and to be fair, we should mention that they often place orange cones somewhere near the place where ice becomes water). You can plan to see women’s ski jumping added to the 2014 lineup at Sochi, in addition to a figure skating team event, a luge team relay, ski halfpipe for men and women AND the long-awaited biathlon mixed relay, which pretty much has everyone at the Mountain Gazette foaming at the mouth and/or experiencing bowel failure. Evidently, the XGames have had some influence on the addition of more extreme sports. Wielding his usual rapier wit, IOC president Jacques Rogge had this to say: “Such events provide great entertainment for the spectators and add further youthful appeal to our already action-packed lineup of Olympic winter sports.”

3) The winter of our discontent

While zillions of people attempt to escape the winter cold every year and thaw out in Arizona, we’ve got some real bad news. Both the Kingman/Lake Havasu City and Prescott areas apparently suck the good vibes out of people, or perhaps people with bad vibes are attracted to these locales, creating a vibrational suckhole that puts these spots among the top-10 saddest places in the United States, according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. It goes without
saying that Boulder took the top billing as the happiest place in the country (see Olympic sports entry for MG staff reaction to Boulder’s inherent perkiness). Conversely, out of 188 MSA’s (metropolitan statistical areas), Huntington-Ashland
WV-KY-OH took top billing as the saddest place in the country, followed by places like Youngstown, Ohio, and Beaumont, Texas. Coming in at No. 9, Prescott has a bunch of firecrackers who predominantly rank low in their feelings about their physical health and life in general. At No. 8, the folks in the Kingman/Lake Havasu City area ranked 52nd for emotional health, but completely fell apart on physical health and overall life evaluation.

4) Precision research on winter clothes

Operating on the assumption that colder, more-wintry places force people to buy warm clothes that are more expensive by nature, we learned many things in our extensive investigation. First of all, and no surprise here — folks in Jackson buy a lot of clothes — an average of $361 a month, according to Bundle. Meanwhile, Wyoming’s sartorial average is $121, with places like Sheridan ($119) and Rawlins ($97) holding the numbers and fashion down. If you seriously don’t want to dress to impress, Montana and Idaho are where you need to be. Montana has a scratchy $85 monthly average, with Livingston coming in at a paltry $81. Idaho’s average is $86, and if you really want to scrimp on style, Caldwell is your place at $53. We checked out Silver City, N.M., home of the Gazette’s esteemed editor, and folks there are parting with $91 a month on clothes.

5) Dirtbags, all

We were looking for some fun, weird-ish winter festivals to talk about here, and encountered the usual ice-water plunges, and, naturally, the après-Christmas fruitcake toss in Manitou Springs, Colorado. But ranking among the World’s Top-10 Winter Festivals, according to MSN Travel, is Dirtbag Day at Big Sky Resort. Held in March, it’s not so much about douchebags, although there is some statistical crossover here. It’s more about hardcore skiers and riders who hit the bars at night, with hygiene as a distant consideration. Anyway, on Dirtbag Day, the dirtbags get to dress up in whatever they want. “This is our Halloween, New Year’s Eve and Mardi Gras all in one,” one of the participants told The New York Times.  

Skiing Is Believing

cartographic October

Who knows if any of this news will matter to anyone now that Snooki has given birth, but Michael Phelps wants to join his mountain brethren in our sports of choice. Some parts of the U.S. will have better snow than they did last year; some of us will freeze our asses off. And no doubt there’s a pending lawsuit in whatever we choose to do.

1. A WTF frontrunner

We’re not sure if this 2006 entry in the WTF Hall of Fame is the absolute nadir for the legal world, but when seven-year-old Scott Swimm got sued for accidentally crossing over a man’s skis on a Beaver Creek catwalk at 10 mph, the reputation of the human species took a decidedly southward turn. The 48-pound Swimm and David Pfahler, 60, of Allentown, Penn. tipped over after Pfahler turned in front of Swimm. Pfahler reportedly grabbed the boy and told him to expect a lawsuit. Months later, a sheriff’s deputy showed up at the Swimm home in Eagle-Vail to serve papers to the child. It’s anyone’s guess who felt worse — the newly appointed defendant or the cop. Suffering a shoulder injury and claiming the young Swimm was in violation of the Colorado Ski Safety Act, Pfahler sought more than $75,000 in losses. His wife got in on the action as well, claiming that she had spent considerable time nursing her husband back to health. Long story short, the Swimms reluctantly let their insurance cover the claim — thereby giving up Scott’s right to sue Pfahler when he turned 18. They were featured in a 2009 U.S. Chamber of Commerce ad campaign against lawsuit abuse.

2. Clime and punishment

Having called the shots on the 2011-2012 Winter That Wasn’t, the Farmers’ Almanac is back at it for the 2012-2013 season, predicting that places suffering from drought should start to trend toward normal — if not seriously good — precip. Using several variations on the word “excrement,” there are many descriptions for the worst season in 30 years, so for the sake of bringing skiers and riders in off their window ledges, we hope the FA is right. In addition, we personally checked out the NOAA/NESDIS Geo-Polar Blended 11 km SST Analysis for The Equatorial Pacific, and initial conclusions point to a little less snow in the northern Rockies and Northwest, with southern storms fueling better-than-average powder in Mammoth, New Mexico, northern Arizona, Utah’s Southern Wasatch range, and in Colorado: Wolf Creek, Durango and maybe even Summit County.

3. Swimming sucks in comparison

Michael Phelps has a lot going for him as he segues into skiing/snowboarding. Before shattering Olympic medal records in London, the swimmer declared he’d like to take up snow-sliding sports when he could get a little mangled and not damage his career. “I knew if I got hurt, it wouldn’t be good,” he said. Anyway, we’re guessing those award-winning paddles at the ends of his legs are going to make boot-fitting difficult and that Phelps will ultimately use his own feet — adequately waxed, of course — in lieu of boards. And while he hasn’t revealed where he plans to obtain his new skills in skiing, snowboarding or paddlefooting this winter, we’re putting our money on Aspen.

4. At what price do we pay to play?

When Canadian freeskier Sarah Burke died from brain injuries last winter after crashing at the bottom of the Park City superpipe (following a routine 540-degree flat spin), the very sad incident raised the question: Can protective gear keep up with extreme sports? Stating the blatantly obvious, researchers say human bodies just weren’t made to withstand hard impacts at big speeds, or to get dropped upside down, and that despite the continued development of helmets, boots, bindings and various braces and paddings, the fatality rate in snow sports hasn’t improved in 40 years of tracking — although there have been changes in how we specifically die. Thirty-five to 40 people die each year at U.S. ski areas, not counting heart attacks, avalanches and the occasional fall from a lift. Statistically, there are .7 trauma-related deaths for every million skier visits. For those not wearing helmets, head injuries are the cause of death more than 75 percent of the time. If you’re wearing a helmet and manage to expire on the slopes (short of a heart attack), it’s most likely due to torso trauma, usually the result of hitting rocks, trees or other skiers. It also should be noted that, while helmets help the statistics, nearly half of deaths among people who wear helmets are due to head injuries. That kind of sucks, no?

5. Bargains

A survey last year by TripIndex claimed that Salt Lake City is the best place to ski on the cheap, where a trip can cost as little as $239. That compares to Vail, at $746; Aspen, $673; and Park City, $667. The figures are based on one night in a hotel, a basic ski-rental package, an adult one-day ticket, a local restaurant meal and a beer purchased at a ski resort. The Salt Lake City ranking was apparently due to affordable lodging — $122, compared to Vail at $582 nightly. MG researchers, however, found considerably better deals at the latter, and if you want to get the best rates for lift tickets, remember that the ticket window is usually the most expensive way to go. Plan ahead, find a couch and know that you get more mileage from your beer dollar the farther you get from a ski area.

Tara Flanagan is an equine enthusiast who lives in Breckenridge, CO.  

Holidays In and Around Hell

Holidays In and Around Hell

Gas prices might help save us from bad trips this season, but it is, after all, High Summer. All of us will go somewhere. Or wish we did. It’s that scant subseason in which we try to cram a year’s worth of warm fuzzies and completely sick activities into a week-long outing in the increasingly stuffy Subaru. Chances are, some of it will be good. But guaranteed? There’s always a little bit of Hell on the horizon.

1) Hot fun

With the idea that a vacation is vacating the everyday grind and spending a short time in some form of upgrade, it always amazes/confounds/befuddles us that people travel to/through/near Yuma in the summer. Boasting an average WTF July high of 106 degrees (to be fair, it’s a sweet 73 in February), Yuma is Arizona’s hottest city, and, that said, Arizona is the hottest state in the U.S., and, that said again, record highs are expected throughout the country this summer. Still, there are things to see while you’re slowly committing suicide. We suggest viewing the M65 Atomic Cannon at the entrance of the Yuma Proving Ground on U.S. Hwy 95. The cannon was built in the mid-’50s with the idea of hurling nuclear shells far enough so they wouldn’t kill the people who launched them. (The underlying message here is they would kill/maim the people who did not launch them.) Specifics: A single shell was detonated at the Nevada Test Site in 1953. It was launched 500 feet in the air before yielding a 15-kiloton explosion. We knew you’d want to know this.

2) Where has the chill gone?

If you’re visiting the Inland Empire (or anywhere in California) this summer, know that your card-bearing brethren are nervous and potentially poor hosts. The DEA has been going batshit crazy on dispensaries as of late, in one case busting in with guns drawn, handcuffing four patients and leaving with 25 pounds of marijuana and 89 pounds of edibles. Despite the passage of Prop 215, which allows for medical-marijuana dispensaries, raids are now epidemic, shuttering hundreds of stores statewide. Sacramento County alone has seen nearly 100 closures. The California Assembly voted 48-21 June 1 to pass a pro-dispensary bill to create a state licensing/policing agency for medical pot, which has been valued as an industry worth more than $1.5 billion in the state. The bill sees a harsh road through the senate and to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown.

3) Hang on tight, indeed

In short, we Americans suck. In a recent survey by LivingSocial, we topped the list as the worst-behaved tourists on the planet. More than Canadians, Australians and Brits (also high on the list of loud, cheap assholes the rest of the planet would rather not see), we steal towels, bathrobes, TV remotes, sheets and even Bibles from hotels. And our aspirations for seeing the world? The top-10 dream destinations for Americans was basically a run-down for Holidays In and Around Hell, including the Eiffel Tower, Buckingham Palace, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Rome’s Coliseum, Disney World and, without a doubt, Las Vegas. As for the Eiffel Tower, we have personal experience of a fearful, fanny-pack/seed-corn-hat-clad Texan screaming to another in the elevator: “Hang on tight, Billy Bob!” Interestingly enough, in a recent survey of Twitter users, Ellen DeGeneres topped the list of celebrities (followed by Oprah) with whom Americans would most want to hit the road. No word yet from Ellen if she wants to meet up with Billy Bob for some pommes frites.

4) Sartorial Hell

By now we’ve all contacted our pals in Anchorage and congratulated/berated them for being the worst-dressed people in America, according to Travel + Leisure’s recent unleashing of its list. (We’re guessing the Fashion Police were somehow diverted from Summit County, Colorado.) Anyway, if you’re traveling this summer and want to feel good (rightly so) about how other people are dressing, you need to steer clear of Salt Lake City, which earned the No. 2 post. A pleasant, clean town that isn’t particular keen on boozing, it’s also kinda 1980s when it comes to the sartorial arts. As the T+L people say, there are only so many ways to rock a polo shirt. Coming in at No. 9, Phoenix has seen a dangerous uptick in the oft-maligned bolo tie. Baltimore and, oddly enough, Orlando made the top-10 list, while Portland made it into the fray at No. 13 (something about prom dresses). Denver, which often fails to distinguish between unwashed rock-climbing clothes and office casual, earned a respectable 17th place.

5) Cheap thrills

For the most part, Time magazine went a little short on the American West in listing the top-50 roadside attractions. But let’s say you’re driving along Hwy 50 in Nevada, often hailed as the Loneliest Road in America, and you’d like something to do besides careen into the ditch and kill the rest of the people in your car. You’ll want to stop at the Shoe Tree near Middlegate. It’s a cottonwood with a bunch of shoes hanging from its branches, and it’s a whole lot better than 30 to life. Up in Driggs, Idaho, we’ve got the Spud Drive-In Theater, which is fairly cool because there basically aren’t any of those left. But what you really want to see there is Old Murphy, the 1946 Chevy Truck that holds a two-ton concrete potato in the back. We’re not making this up. And rounding out the list of roadside WTFs, we have the esteemed giant thermometer in Baker, California. We saw that thing hit 124 one July afternoon while pulling a U-Haul back to Colorado. The asphalt was so hot that it squished under our shoes en route to the gas station convenience store. We were pretty sure we didn’t need the thermometer to tell us that we’d arrived in Hell.

Long-time newspaperhumanoid Tara Flanagan splits her time between Boulder and Breckenridge, Colo.   

Higher, Ever Higher

Cartographic Map

People and various critters aren’t the only things that climb or seek gratification via highness. And contrary to the core beliefs of the Mountain Gazette, higher isn’t always better. We’ve got climbing debt, climbing temperatures and climbing tempers for starters. And then there are the deathless arguments regarding all things marijuana.

1) Up with the climate

Washington stands alone as the only state in the U.S. that had below-normal temperatures for March, which was the all-time warmest on record. Twenty-five states reported record heat climbs, with Colorado, Wyoming and Montana scoring their third-highest temperatures for March and ranking “much above normal” by NOAA. Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico ranked as “above normal,” with California and Oregon coming in at “near normal.” The second-warmest March was back in 1910, well before all this hooey about climate change.

2) The lows of getting high

We saw this coming, no? Colorado lawmakers are recognizing that a) people smoke marijuana, b) they drive cars and c) sometimes there’s cross-pollination. Ergo, the state senate is once again (a similar measure failed last year) moving toward THC blood standards for drivers. Colorado, which already has drugged-driving laws that cover cannabis, is looking at a 5 nanogram THC limit. Activists say blood tests are invasive and inaccurate; proponents of the Senate Bill 117 are arguing what you’d pretty much expect — that stoned drivers are a menace. “I’m just sick of the abuse that the state of Colorado has taken from the medical marijuana industry,” said Sen. Nancy Spence, (R) Centennial. Adding to the chorus: “We are well on our way to a doped-driving epidemic that will match the DUI epidemic that we had 15 and 20 years ago,” said sponsor Sen. Steve King, (R) Grand Junction. Denver Democrat Pat Steadman, however, pointed out that some folks get up in the morning with 5 nanograms in their systems, but they’re not high. Such is the nature of the lasting, fat-soluble THC. Right now, 12 states have THC-limit laws. Other states have zero-tolerance policies.

3) You’d think Wyoming would use that space

While we’re on the topic, we’ll throw in this shocker: California produces more marijuana than any other state! The most-recent stats we found showed 21,667,609 plants produced in the state annually, and no, we have no idea whose job it was to count them. But interestingly, Tennessee and Kentucky hold their own in second and third place, and Tennessee wins the plant-productivity battle, with a stout $706.18 per plant, according to cannacentral.com. Not too surprisingly, Wyoming is one of the worst places for marijuana, with the 49th-worst stats for plants and pounds yielded, and the worst stats for plants and revenue per square mile. While Hawaii is the square-mile champion at $594,676.78, Wyoming’s wide-open spaces ain’t so much: $21.49.

4) Big spendahs

With a scant population of 127, the town of Brian, Utah, has some explaining to do for its $22.15 million in liabilities and the average debt per person at $174,409.45. What’s going on? Town honchos explain that Brian has had to pay for the infrastructure for 1,400 vacation-dwelling units, for starters. Evidently, water projects, public buildings and road improvements just cost a lot here, and with the really little population, those numbers can easily look out of whack. Park City comes in a distant second place in Utah’s climbing debt race, with just $15,427 in debt per person and liabilities of $116.6 million. In comparison, the pay-as-you-go city of Layton has a tidy debt per person of $352.

5) Touchy-feely and high

You can split hairs over this for hours — what constitutes a town or city and who’s the highest in the U.S. But all aside, it appears that Santa Fe takes the honors for the highest real “city” in the U.S. at 7,000 feet. Denver might get bent out of shape over this, since it’s the highest “major metro area” at 5,280, but we’re defining a “city” as a place that has a shopping mall, college, traffic, at least two entries in the racial mix, and a lot of places to drink. That precludes Alma (Colo.) at 10,578 and Leadville at 10,152.

6) Are we safe?

A study published in the Journal of Wilderness and Environmental Medicine analyzed 212,708 people who were treated for injuries sustained in Western outdoor activities. Snowboarding came in as the most dangerous, with 25.5 percent of all injuries, most of them among younger males. Rock and mountain climbing, however, accounted for a scant 4.9 percent. If you really want to geek out on this, get yourself the 2012 copy of Accidents in North American Mountaineering (available in August). That said, from a cardiovascular-numbskull standpoint, the 14-mile round-trip Half Dome in Yosemite National Park is arguably the most dangerous piece of terrain in the U.S. This is because it’s a hike (the label enlists far more participants than a climb) that’s actually a climb, requiring cables if you don’t want to take a major slide. The granite dome snares about 4 million visitors a year, with a very small percentage making it to the top.

7) A speedy little devil

At 867 feet from base to top, Devil’s Tower isn’t the biggest game in the West, but the igneous intrusion is not the easiest, either. It typically takes 4-6 hours for two climbers to summit the Durrance route, and another 1-2 hours to rappel down. So how weird is it that in the 1980s, Wyoming native Todd Skinner climbed the Tower (Walt Bailey route) alone, without ropes or other protection, in 18 minutes?

Long-time newspaperhumanoid Tara Flanagan splits her time between Boulder and Breckenridge, Colo.

River tales: Heartfelt, Sad and Patently Absurd


I’ve known rivers: I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins. My soul has grown deep like the rivers. I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young. I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep. I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it. I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset. I’ve known rivers: Ancient, dusky rivers. My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

— Langston Hughes, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”

1) I’m not, she said

Richard Brautigan wrote the peculiar and brief “Trout Fishing in America” in the summer of 1961 while camping with his wife and baby daughter in the Stanley Basin. Piloting a beat-to-hell Plymouth wagon they bought with a $350 tax refund, they’d camp beside streams and the author would set up a card table and an old portable typewriter. He recorded the names of trout-bearing creeks and rivers in his notebook: Big Smokey Creek, Queens River, Big Pine Creek, Salmon River — you get the drift. In that time, some lasting sage entered the American literary scene. To wit:

“I remember mistaking an old woman for a trout stream in Vermont,
and I had to beg her pardon.”
“Excuse me,” I said. “I thought you were a trout stream.”
“I’m not,” she said.

2) Desperate measures

American Rivers’ annual top-10 list of the country’s most-endangered rivers is a more depressing read than, say, Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. Completely guaranteed to put you in a crappy mood, the 2011 list is about rivers at their ecological tipping points, and is largely about dams and desperate extractive industries that have run out of safe places to do their bidding. Topping the nominees is the East Coast’s Susquehanna River, which has taken a major hit from natural gas fracking. Three Western rivers made the list, with California’s Yuba River in fifth place. Here we have two outdated federal dams blocking migration for the threatened steelhead and spring-run Chinook salmon. In Washington, threats from a Canadian mining company put the Green River at No. 6. Opponents are quick to point out that a big mine next to Mount St. Helens, in an active earthquake zone, is a prescription for water-quality disaster. In Wyoming, we have the possibility for natural gas drilling and a potential environmental blowout on the headwaters of the Hoback River, listed at No. 7.

3) Stay here

Take your choice of Mountain West rivers and thank your stars. Our point is, if you’re going to hang out in, on or next to rivers, you need to select them with the Limb-Severing (Or Worse) Monster Ratio in mind. You won’t need to worry about that in most of the Mountain West, but if you leave here and travel to, say, the murky, stump-riddled Trinity River that flows down through Dallas and around Houston, don’t say we didn’t warn you. Here you will encounter the alligator gar (probably a bunch of dead bodies as well — if the gars haven’t gotten to them). This fish gets up to 10 feet, has an alligator-like snout, a double row of dagger teeth, AND it can live outside the water for up to two hours. It could, like, come to your tent or motel room. Anyway, it gets a lot worse once you leave the States. There are tons of river monsters, but the absolute most loathsome is the tiny Candiru catfish — the Amazon’s most-feared fish. The Candiru is known for entering orifices and dining off the victim’s blood. There’s an apparently true story about a man urinating into the Amazon, and — you got it — a Candiru swimming up the urine stream and into his penis. A surgeon removed the fish after four days, after it got particularly problematic. Spiny gill flaps … Don’t leave home.

4) That damned fish is a lot scarier than this

While we always wax poetic about how nice Portland is, with its fine beers and environmental cheeriness, it appears we’ve got some weird crap going on with the Willamette River. While there have been no sightings of the justifiably maligned Candiru fish, there have been several reports in recent years of an unmanned, phantom rowboat making its way about the Willamette. When officials are called to the scene, the boat allegedly disappears right in front of them. Evidently, there is a creepy, unfinished mansion across the river, where the builder reportedly hanged himself in the elevator shaft. He probably heard the story about the Candiru.

5) Go ahead and jump

If gravity and water are on your agenda, consider the West’s finer swimming holes, some offering the ultimate vertical experience. Check out Aztec Falls in Deep Creek in the San Bernardino National Forest. The sissy ledge is a mere 30 feet, with the big ledge at 60. There’s also the well-attended Mushroom Hole in Tahoe National Forest above the Middle Yuba River. At roughly 30 feet, it’s one of the most popular leaps in the northern Sierra. Now, if open-river swimming is more to your taste, consider the June 23 Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, a scant 28.5 mile dip in the pristine waters surrounding New York City, starting and ending at Battery Park.

Spring Fevah!

There’s hardly a dweller in the Mountain West who doesn’t vacate at some time during spring mud season. Sometimes it’s just an afternoon trip down the hill to get your feet on some steady turf. Or you can have the trip of lifetime and travel only 300 miles. Note that “trip of a lifetime” can be a good or bad thing.

1) Got Prozac?

If your spring travel plans mandate that you rub elbows with cheery people, you’re doing well to remain in the Mountain West, where only one city ranked in the top half of Travel + Leisure’s top-20 rudest cities for 2012. The Phoenix-Scottsdale area got tagged at No. 8 due to crabby locals. Evidently this edginess is due to snowbirds filling their space just as the weather gets nice enough to go outside. Three-time champion Los Angeles lost its spot to New York City this year, so we’re wondering if folks in L.A., now in fourth place, will get pissed off enough about that to reclaim their title in 2013. Other non-friendly spots in the top-10 include Miami, No. 2; Washington, D.C., No. 3; Boston, No. 5; and Dallas-Ft. Worth, No. 6. Las Vegas managed a semi-respectable 12th place, Seattle for some odd reason came in at 17th, San Diego in 19th, and — get this — Salt Lake City was 20th. FYI: You should know that T + L listed Vegas No. 8 for the worst drivers in the country, with Phoenix-Scottsdale at No. 10.

2) Gas pains

These days most people would rather go to hell than the gas pump. Spring travel usually has a lot to do with gasoline, unless you’re hitchhiking, teleporting or just staying on the couch and taking hallucinogenic drugs. We digress. As of Feb. 28, these were some of the prices found in the West: Colorado Springs, $3.11; Salt Lake City, $3.21; Santa Fe, $3.40; Phoenix, $3.79; Seattle, $3.99; and Santa Barbara, $4.40. The lowest price we found was at the Gasamat at Elk Street and Elias Avenue in Rock Springs, Wyoming, where a gallon put you back a scant $2.89. The U.S. average was $3.68.

3) Beats airport pat-downs

In the name of keeping it together, we’re not recommending the first teleporters to come off the assembly line. But if you’re looking for fast travel into another dimension (or just Rock Springs, for that matter) for your spring travels of the future, consider that quantum physicists at the University of California at Santa Barbara have developed a rudimentary teleportation device. In basic terms, it means that an object you can see in front of you may exist simultaneously in a parallel universe — a multi-state condition. See previous entry about hallucinogenic drugs.

7 hot spots in the Mountain West

4) What happens in these places

One of the absolute worst things to happen during spring travel is to arrive at a destination, only to find it is listed among the top places in the United States for illicit drug use. To help your planning, you should know that Iowa has the lowest rate of marijuana use (3.8 percent), while the District of Columbia, oddly enough, has the highest reported cocaine-use rate at 5.1 percent within the previous year. Closer to home, you need to know that it is not California causing all the problems, but rather, Colorado. A handy study we found from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of Department of Health and Human Services showed that a full 10.96 percent of Colorado residents over age 12 had used drugs within the previous month. That compares to 9.1 percent in California, 6.43 percent in Utah, 8.6 percent in Wyoming and 10.2 percent in Washington.

5) So many choices

The lead-in goes like this: “Would you rather eat ice cream that’s been sprinkled with dead bugs, or have a photo of yourself being disemboweled by aliens?” Portland’s Freakybuttrue Peculiarium Museum, established in April 2011, has a little something for everyone. We don’t know about you, but it’s on our short list of Spring Travel stops. There were rumors about a new exhibit on spontaneous human combustion, as well as one entitled “Star Wars fan, Star Trek fan fight to the death.” Does that mean both of them die?

6) A little dirt to clean you out

Three-hundred-thousand people can’t be wrong. Now, we can’t say that number of annual visitors have been healed by the famous dirt of El Posito, the sacred sand pit housed in El Santuario de Chimayo. But we have to say, the place known as the Lourdes of America has an eerie but good feel to it. Tons of people have attested to instant cures to incurable diseases after visiting the shrine and handling the dirt (one room is stacked with braces and crutches that have been cast aside). And if you’re not in need of a miracle, you can still go home with a refrigerator magnet from the nearby gift shop.

7) But it feels good, really

With spas becoming big business in destination travel, the things they offer have gotten substantially weirder/decadent in recent years. For example, if you want to add a plane ticket to the cost, you can travel to a spa in Israel that specializes in snake massages — letting the cool serpents slither over your tired muscles. If reptiles aren’t your thing, there’s a spa in New York that will give you a $180 facial with sanitized nightingale dung. Closer to home, you can travel to Santa Fe’s Eldorado Hotel, where a 24-karat facial (using a sheet of liquid gold) will erase fine lines and tighten your skin. It will make your wallet a bit looser, however — the cost is $475.


Tara Flanagan splits her time between Boulder and Breckenridge. 

Gone to the Dogs

It’s hard to imagine the American West without our countless curs flapping their tongues out car windows, going blissfully insane at trailheads and, if there is water involved, shaking themselves dry, without exception, next to that one person who seriously doesn’t like dogs. There also seems to be a trend in the West for people to assume the name Dog. Not the urban Dawg, but just Dog. Has anyone else noticed that?

1) Good Dog!

We’ll start with the good Dog first. Ted “Cave Dog” Keizer of Portland has set hiking records just about everywhere he’s made a paw print. With the help of a long list of friends and family, a.k.a. the Dog Team, Cave Dog killed the Mighty Mountain Megamarathon, scaling (the Team reports he climbed 55, while the official number is generally 54) all of Colorado’s 14ers in 10 days, 20 hours and 26 minutes in September 2000. He climbed all 46 Adirondack High Peaks in three days, 18 hours and 14 minutes in 2002; all 48 4,000-footers in the White Mountains, including Mount Washington, in three days, 17 hours and 21 minutes; and the 35 Catskills peaks of more than 3,500 feet in two days, 15 hours and 24 minutes, also in 2002. He’s gotten a lot of criticism for his big support team and attacking the trails in a less-than-leisurely mode, but you can’t fault the guy for getting his job done.

2) Bad Dog!

A&E TV staple bounty hunter Duane “Dog” Chapman has managed to piss off a whole bunch of people in Colorado lately, and they aren’t even the greasy vagabonds he culls for a living. First, we’ve got Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey all lathered up last July because Chapman blasted suspect Andrew Distel with pepper spray, then brought the fugitive into the sheriff’s office without decontaminating him first. Hilkey blogged that people were in danger of getting downwinded from Distel while “While Dog stayed outside, shirtless and sweaty, prancing back and forth, waving his golden locks for the camera …” Really? What’s this shirtless business, anyway? Chapman responded that he’d used the right protocol to clean up Distel, and that he even gave him a cigarette and clean shirt to wear. Oddly enough, the garment was a Dog promotional T-shirt. Chapman also threatened to return to Grand Junction to run for sheriff someday. Earlier that month in Breckenridge, the Chapman entourage barged into a crowded bar looking for someone who wasn’t there. The interruption resulted in a barroom melee that continued onto the sidewalk, with Chapman yelling his trademark, “Come one white boy … come on motherfuck*r!” A potted plant was thrown, a taser was brandished, someone’s shirt came off and someone ended up in the ER with 15 stitches to his head.

3) Why they go postal

In May, the U.S. Postal Service released its list of the top-25 most likely places to be attacked by other people’s curs. Houston topped the billing with 62 incidents in 2010, followed by San Diego and Columbus, Ohio, for second place, and Los Angeles in third. Elsewhere in the West, Phoenix took a respectable sixth place, followed by Portland in seventh, Denver in eighth and Seattle in 10th place. State Farm insurance processed 3,500 claims for dog bites in 2010, with California making more than $11 million in claims for 369 attacks.


4) Shocker! People like Labradors

The American Kennel Club released its highly anticipated list of which dog breeds are most popular in which cities, and we confirmed after exhaustive research that in Denver, and almost everywhere else, the Labrador retriever was at the top. Denver dog owners chose German shepherds and golden retrievers for second and third place. Portland and Seattle had the same top three, with bulldogs tied for third place in Seattle. It’s interesting that the smelliest breed (we’re basing this on the Must Swim in Foul Water Quotient, in addition to the Voluminous Flatulence and Dung Rolling scales) consistently rates as the most popular dog in America.

5) Dog party in San Diego

DogFriendly.com, in its 2011 list of best places for dogs, put Portland at the top, because Portland is always on the top of any list of things in the Known Universe that are friendly, hip, eco-conscious — you get the drift. We’re pretty much assuming at this point that bad/uncool things do not happen in Portland. Anyway, Chicago came in second and San Diego came in third for its availability of dog-friendly beaches, which are getting exceedingly rare these days. Kudos to Seattle (fourth place), because you can take leashed dogs on public transit. This means lower-income people can do crazy things like take their dogs to the vet.

6) Dogs we love

In American Humane’s 2012 list of dog heroes, there are numerous mutts whose deeds are enough to get most of us dewy-eyed. Take, for example, Sage, a border collie from Hagerman, N.M., who was called to the Pentagon as part of New Mexico Task Force 1 following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She has responded to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, searched for missing or captured soldiers in Iraq and, locally, has helped find missing people. Sadly, she was diagnosed with two types of lung cancer in 2009, probably the result of searching through so much toxic debris. She now works with cancer patients and survivors. Probably the most tear-jerking account in this year’s picks is that of Roselle, a Labrador guide dog that took her owner down 1,463 stairs in Tower One of the World Trade Center after the plane hit the building in the 9/11 attacks. She passed away in June.

Tara Flanagan splits her time between Boulder and Breckenridge. 

The Deep, Dark Winter of Our Discontent

“For what? For a little bit of money. There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tchya know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well, I just don’t understand it.”
— Marge Gunderson, “Fargo”

1) Got irony?

The Denver area has been scoring more than its share of Full-On WTFs lately, and while the two gentlemen who took a corpse out for a night on the town comprised our Best of Denver for 2011, we’re looking at a whole new year and, with it, infinite possibilities for Cartographic. The following happened in November, but because it’s for the January issue, we’re reclassifying it as 2012 material. Ergo: Patrick Sullivan, the former Sheriff of Arapahoe County and the stalwart person for whom the Patrick J. Sullivan Jr. Detention Center was named — ostensibly for the dearth of stupid things he had done — was busted Nov. 29 on charges of trying to trade methamphetamine for sex with a man. And, last we heard, he had taken residence in the chateau that bears his name. During his time as a cop, Sullivan was the 2001 National Sheriff’s Deputy of the Year and — only to add to the Full-On WTF classification here — was a member of a methamphetamine policy task force that made recommendations to the state legislature. No word yet if they’re renaming the jail, but we’re guessing Sullivan is having a pretty deep, dark winter.

2) We’re not all that sad, but not that happy either

We High Country dwellers often talk about our multitude of outlets for happiness, but according to a recent piece in Men’s Health that seemed to piss a few people off, we really aren’t that jolly. Using things like suicide rates, unemployment, percentage of households using antidepressants and the number of people who report feeling emotionally lousy all or most of the time, the magazine came up with St. Petersburg, Fla., as the saddest city in the U.S., with Honolulu as the happiest — or most blues-proof town. So there goes the sunshine factor. Anyway, none of our Mountain West locales made the top-10 list for happiness, falling well behind No. 3 Fargo (let us recall how happy Marge Gunderson was, and whose character rates a No. 75 in Empireonline’s 100 Greatest Movie Characters ) and No. 7 Sioux Falls. Out of 100 cities, Billings managed a 28th-happiest ranking and a C+, while Cheyenne (C+) was 30th. Seattle was 47th, rating a C-, and Denver rolled in with a D+ at No. 47. And our venerable Portland, which always gets raves for being so overwhelmingly pleasant, scored a lowly D at 69th place, three slots worse than Milwaukee, and just below No. 70 Albuquerque. Time to change up our prescriptions, don’tchya know?

3) Wearing whiskers for warmth

If the Deep, Dark Winter has you seeking new sources of warmth (with the possible exception of St. Petersburg), Portland appears to have the last word on facial hair and is the self-acclaimed Beardiest City in America. According to a 2009 issue of Portland Monthly, guys can feel at home with their warm, whiskery plumes in the lumberjack culture of the Pacific Northwest. If you want facial hair but can’t commit to a beard, a study by Quicken and the American Mustache Institute (americanmustacheinstitute.org) found that mustached men earn more money than those who have no mustaches or who have full beards. FYI: Chicago is rated as the most mustache-friendly city in the U.S., and if that ain’t enough — albeit unrelated — the AMI recently shaved its endorsement for presidential candidate Herman Cain.

Cartographic #185

4) Florida’s looking good

Every year we seem to come up with a new place that is The Most Ass-Biting-Cold Place in the United States, and every year we find slightly different rationale used for the awards. Like, how many frozen-off buttocks are found in the streets. Anyway, courtesy of The Weather Channel, we’re finding Gunnison, Colo., as the second-most-ABC Place in the U.S., with an average daily temperature of 37.3 degrees and a thoroughly enjoyable 60 days on average that go below zero. Jackson, Wyo., came in at a respectable fourth with an average temp of 39 degrees and a record low of -50 on Jan. 1, 1979. We’ve got International Falls, Minn., in third place, naturally, Caribou, Maine, in fifth and the esteemed Barrow, Alaska, leading the pack. With an average daily temp of 10.4 degrees, it plummets below zero a stinging 167 days a year. If you seriously want Deep, Dark Winter, this is your party town.

5) With snow comes shame

According to our research department, whose influence spans the globe, last year’s heavy snows in the U.K. forced snowed-in people into the ravages of adultery. Illicitenounters.co.uk reported 2,500 new members in a single week of last year’s extreme weather. Bringing that methodology to the Mountain West, we can conclude that Squaw Valley, for example, had some serious indiscretion going on with its all-time record snowfall of 810 inches reported as of June 6. Other shame-inducing record snowfalls: Snowbird, Utah, with 783 inches, and Vail at 511 on closing day.

6) Deep dark boredom

It’s the ultimate insult to be on Forbes Magazine’s Most Boring Cities list, which seems to have it out for Arizona — particularly Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert, which took the top three honors in 2009. That’s the latest data we found; figuring people got, well, bored with reading about boring places. Anyway, the list is based on the least amount of national news coverage, making these locales the ultimate places to chill back, or, depending how you see it, a couple notches above hell for a long winter. Gilbert Mayor Steve Berman seemed a bit chafed but came clean, calling his town a “hotbed of celibacy.” Elsewhere in the Mountain Gazette area: Henderson and North Las Vegas, Nev., and Aurora, Colo.

Tara Flanagan splits her time between Boulder and Breckenridge. 

Death, Taxes and Holidays

These are the days when people affix GPS tracking devices to publicly displayed Baby Jesuses and when holiday DUI checkpoints get outed on Twitter. In some ways, it feels like we’ve gotten smarter or classier, or that we’ve at least purchased the means to fake it. That said, we’ve got a criminal re-gifting a bathrobe that he yanked off his assault victim.

1) The wrong gift

In a story that takes bad decisions and meanness to ionospheric levels, King County deputies arrested a robbery and assault suspect after he had the cojones to give his mother a stolen, bloodstained bathrobe for Christmas. A neighbor of the victim (who was robbed, beaten and run over after he tried to stop his car from being stolen) called police to report a bloodied, naked man crawling around outside. His robe, described as a “very distinctive” green garment that featured a large, exotic cat, had been taken. The mean, tasteless suspect then showed up at his grandmother’s house dirty and covered with blood, and told the woman he’d just “stomped” someone. In a continuing act of complete stupidity, he then gave the very distinctive robe to his mother, who managed to spill the beans when cops interviewed her. “The bathrobe was recovered and positively identified by the victim’s wife as the one he was wearing the night he was assaulted,” a sheriff’s spokesman said.

2) A reminder to travel light

A man carrying a carefully wrapped holiday present was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport several years back. Why? Because he was more than likely the biggest idiot in the Western Hemisphere for thinking that commercial airlines are a viable means for transporting illegal materials. Airport officials who do things, like — I don’t know — scan and examine the things people carry on planes opened the gift to find 23 pounds of marijuana. That got police to thinking and it led them to a Fountain Valley home, where they arrested two more ridiculously stupid suspects and confiscated nine pounds of cocaine and $17,000 in cash.

3) Even better than Mr. Hankey

Coming in on some surveys as the 10th all-time ranking “South Park” episode and topping out the Christmas episodes for the long-running series, “Woodland Critter Christmas” features a confused Stan and some new friends in the form of devil-worshiping forest creatures. “South Park” aficionados go so far as to rate the episode above Season One’s holiday classic, in which we are introduced to Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo; and Season Three’s “Merry F&*#ing Christmas.” And yes, Virginia, there is a South Park, Colorado.

News of the weird from around the Mountain West - Holiday edition

4) Add this to your hangover

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, for which Mountain Gazette leans mightily for all manner of information, New Year’s Day is statistically your worst day of the year for getting your car stolen (and Thanksgiving logs the most DUIs). And we’re guessing New Year’s Day is also the top day for simply not knowing where the hell your car is. Anyway, in 2009, 2,760 cars were reported stolen on Jan. 1 in the U.S., with 2,325 on Halloween and July 4 and Memorial Day tied at 2,207. Coincidence? We think not. Anyway, if you live in the Western U.S., you’ve got a bigger chance of your car getting stolen, according to the Insurance Information Institute. California runs away with the stats, with Modesto ranking No. 1. Oddly enough, Las Vegas comes in at No. 2, with Albuquerque at No. 7, Phoenix at 8, Yakima at 9, and Tucson in 10th place. Arizona comes in at No. 4 among states, with Washington at No. 6.

5) We’re seriously not worthy

According to AOL Travel, if you live in the Mountain West, you aren’t anywhere near a tasteful and worthy holiday light display. New York City tops the list, followed by New Orleans. Las Vegas comes in at No. 5, and while it abuts mountains and is frequently included in Cartographic digressions, Vegas always has light displays. So we’re disqualifying it and checking out TackyLightTour.com instead. Here, we found domestic light designs in Phoenix and Cave Creek, Arizona, and a phallus in Kent, Washington, that took top rankings as Most Likely to Be Seen From Outer Space.

6) Seriously Not Worthy Part 2

When it comes to our willingness to part with our money for holiday gifts, the denizens of the Mountain West once again come up short. For reasons we do not completely understand, the folks in Raleigh, N.C., spent $1,269 apiece over the 2009 holidays, coming out at No. 1. An exception to the Mountain West, Scottsdale came in at No. 4, with $1,118 per person. And the Scottsdale young adults (18-25) managed to outspend their way to the No. 1 position in that age group, beating out the young adults in second-place Arlington, Virginia, by $200 apiece.

7) Not In Our Town

The national Not In Our Town anti-hate movement was born in Billings in 1993, when a year of pathetic and racist BS came to a head. It was a Montana Cold Night when someone hurled a brick through a six-year-old boy’s window, where he had placed the family’s Hanukkah menorah. The town came together to say Not In Our Town (for example, the Billings Gazette printed menorahs for people to put in their windows, and nearly 10,000 people participated), which inspired communities across the country take similar stands against intolerance. The movement became a national PBS project.

Tara Flanagan splits her time between Boulder and Breckenridge, where she works as an equine massage therapist. Her blog, “Out There,” can be found at mountaingaztte.com. 

It’s Always Weekend At Bernie’s Somewhere

Cartographic - Beer DrinkingThere’s some predictability when it comes to the West’s watering holes and the all-too-human habit of using them. Each year, Portland will snag a lot of mention for its exquisite beers, a bunch of people will do stupid things under the influence and someone, somewhere, will outdo the people who established the previous year’s criminal records relating to alcohol and its consumption. But this year we’ve got a couple idiots in Denver who simply won’t be outdone, shored up by a visit from Dog Chapman. Apologizing in advance for the 2012 issue, we present …

1) Things to do in Denver when you’re dead

Robert Jeffrey Young and Mark Rubinson must have anticipated the Mountain Gazette’s annual Bar Issue when they took Young’s roommate out for a night of boozing, with the roommate picking up much of the evening’s tab. Jeffrey Jarrett had no complaints as the trio went to Teddy T’s bar and grill. The three went on to Sam’s No. 3 bar before Young and Rubinson drove Jarrett home and put him to bed. Young and Rubinson then went back out to snag a little Mexican food and naturally, made a final stop at Shotgun Willie’s strip club, where they used Jarrett’s ATM card to withdraw $400. Right about now you’re saying Jarrett should be pissed, but we’ll never really know. You see, Jarrett was dead when the two loaded him into Rubinson’s Lincoln Navigator, and he stayed in the back seat for a couple bar stops before being returned home. Young allegedly found his roommate unresponsive on August 28, and instead of, I don’t know — calling 911 or something — he took Jarrett out for one last night of fun. According to police reports, Young and Rubinson flagged down a cop at about 4 a.m. and indicated that Jarrett was back at the house and might be, I don’t know — dead or something. The two are charged with abusing a corpse, identity theft and criminal impersonation, although neither is charged in Jarrett’s death. Denver police aptly described the incident as “a bizarre and unfortunate crime.”

2) Come on, white boy!

La Montaña Linda is a cozy little bar and restaurant on Breckenridge’s funnish Ridge Street, and most nights you can rest assured that Duane “Dog” the Bounty Hunter Chapman isn’t going to come in and go batshit crazy. But all bets were off in early July, when the mulletted Chapman and his entourage busted in, looking for the owner’s father and generally acting like a bunch of assholes. Something to do with jumping bail, naturally. The father seriously was not there, but that didn’t stop a near-brawl from ensuing, with several bar loyals getting in Chapman’s face, and one of them spraying one of Dog’s muscle men in the face with cleaning fluid. The spray-wielding patron ended up in the emergency room with a cut face requiring 15 stitches — after Chapman’s man lashed back. A potted plant was thrown, naturally, Chapman allegedly brandished but didn’t use a stun gun, and the incident moved into the street, which had filled with patrons from nearby bars. Somewhere in all this Chapman issued his famous “Come on, white boy! Come on, motherfuck@r!” mantra to a would-be aggressor, and was able to get in a brazen hair toss before jumping into the getaway SUV with similarly haired Buxom Wife Beth. Catch the action on YouTube.

3) With distinction, naturally

The Daily Beast came up with a formula that combines total drinks per month, percentage of heavy drinkers, percentage of binge drinkers and deaths per 100,000 of alcoholic liver disease to establish the esteemed Most Hungover Cities of 2011. We were stunned to see Milwaukee top the list, but a few locales in the American West show that people here are willing to live and die for booze. Coming in at No. 5 is Reno, which quaffs an average 12.13 drinks per person per month, and where 11.9 out of 100,000 die from alcoholic liver disease. Denver held up its end at No. 12, with 12.94 monthly drinks and 7 liver deaths, respectively, and 17 percent of adults admitting to binge drinking.

4) Buzz Killers

Montana State Rep. Alan Hale (R-Basin) spoke out last spring against a law to stiffen DUI penalties for repeat offenders. Montana consistently leads the country in drunk driving stats, but Hale, who runs a tavern, oddly enough, said DUI laws were “destroying a way of life that has been in Montana for years and years… They (bars) are the center of the communities. I’ll guarantee you there’s only two ways to get there: Either you hitchhike, or you drive, and I promise you they’re not going to hitchhike.”

5) If Esquire says it’s true…

From the magazine that rightfully decries Bud Light’s Chelada, which is infused with Clamato (yeah — tomato and clam juice), salt and artificial lime as the worst beer on earth, we have the best cities for drinking beer. In no particular order we have Chicago, Denver, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, St. Louis and San Diego. The other cities come and go in various ratings, but Portland is always on any list that puts beer in a favorable light. Perhaps because it has more breweries than any other city on the planet, Portland is bound to get it right at least some of the time.

6) Brrrrrp

The general rule is that the colder the state, the more beer people drink. That said, Alaska and Hawaii’s annual consumption are nearly tied at 32.4 and 32.7 gallons per capita. With kudos to Las Vegas, Nevada comes in at No. 1, with a belchsome 44 gallons. Montana is 41.5, New Mexico, 37.8, and Arizona, 36.4. No shocker here that Utah lags behind the pack at 19.5 gallons.

Tara Flanagan splits her time between Boulder and Breckenridge, where she works as an equine massage therapist. Her monthly blog, “Out There,” can be found on mountaingazette.com.