Skiing and DNA

If you live in the Mountain West, chances are you are a transplant, and if you’re not, your parents are/were. While the occasional mountain dweller arrived here to work a legitimate 9 to 5, there is overwhelming evidence that skiing initially lured a high percentage of us here (and, cliché time here — summer seduced us into staying). And even if your knees, lungs and bank account have given out, plenty of people have stepped in to take your place. The National Ski Areas Association announced a record 60.4 million skiers and riders nationwide for the 2010-2011 season.Mountain Gazette #182 - Cartographic

1) Cheap turns

If you’re paying more than a hundred bucks for a lift ticket or haven’t made your arrangements until you get to the ticket window, you haven’t done your homework and probably don’t have it together enough to ski or ride safely anyway. If you ski more than five days a year at any given area, look at a season pass. The Tahoe Value Pass (as of August) was a scant $379 for both Heavenly and Northstar. Plus, many of the pass programs include huge deals at related ski areas and discount companion tickets (so if you don’t ski enough to buy a pass, suck up to someone who does). If you’re scouting out smaller resorts that hearken to days of yore, check out Badger Pass in Yosemite, where a mid-week ticket will put you back a mere $35. In Montana, there’s Lost Trail Powder Mountain, where 2010-11 rates were a scant $36. And in Colorado, there is always Ski Cooper. An adult ticket is just 44 bucks this year, and there are abundant cheap eats and real bars in nearby Leadville. Meanwhile, the steep and deep is available at Wolf Creek for $54. And if you’re still looking for cheap skiing, simply join the U.S. military, which will usually get you the best daily rate on the mountain — and get you fit enough to ski or ride the whole day — thereby increasing the value.

2) Got GNAR?

Inspired by Robb Gaffney and the very-missed Shane McConkey, GNAR is Gaffney’s Numerical Assessment of Raddness, which assigns points to your actions based on the level of discomfort and your attitude toward conquering it. For 500 points, you can do the entry-level PC, or Pro Call out: “Hey (name of pro)! I can’t believe you’re a pro. I’m totally better than you!” Then there’s the EH, or Employee Housing. This is when a non-employee spends the night in employee housing for 5,000 points, PLUS a bonus 15,000 points if you successfully score with one of the occupants. Vomiting (YP, or Young Gun Puke) sets you back a whopping 5,000. Similarly, a gaper gap (GG) will cost you 1,000, and the TT is a devastating minus 20,000 if you wear a tall T-shirt on the mountain or around town. A $25,000 GNAR contest was underway at Squaw Valley in March 2010, but not surprisingly, company officials put the kibosh on it after the general manager personally caught one of the participants buck naked (BN). The pulled pass was a 5,000-point deduction.

3) Nix on Global Warming?

Gasbags who still don’t believe in climate change used last season’s record snows on the East Coast and much of the West’s ski country to inflate their arguments against global warming. While Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) built an igloo on Capitol Hill and invited Al Gore to live there, some more intelligent discourse linked a warmer planet to bigger, more frequent weather events. That said, skiers and riders had some of the best snow anyone can remember. Vail, for example, had its snowiest season in its 48-year history, marking 511 inches (nearly 43 feet) mid-mountain between the opening and closing dates. Interstate 70 between Denver and Vail was closed 31 times due to bad weather for a total of 84 hours — compared to 12 closures the previous season. There were 159 weather-related accidents on that much-used section of Interstate, compared to 63 in 2009-2010. And, this year, 12 ski areas in the West had enough snow to still be open for the Fourth of July.

4) The National Brotherhood of Skiers

celebrates 39 years this season with its annual Summit at Sun Valley. Boasting about 3,000 members, the group’s aim is to promote athletes of color with the goal of having them on the podium in the Olympics and other major competitions. The group started in Aspen as the Black Ski Summit with 350 participants. While the numbers of black skiers and riders has grown, people of color still comprise a seriously small percentage of those who ski. Blacks are roughly 2 percent of the downhill skiing population, with Latinos at 3 percent, Asians at 4 percent and Native Americans at a scant 1 percent.

5) Get scared. Really scared

Corbet’s Couloir (named after one-time frequent Mountain Gazette correspondent, the late-Barry Corbet) at Jackson Hole consistently ranks among the scariest ski runs in the world, and tops many a domestic list for white-knuckle experiences in which you’re best to check your insurance policy and don a Depends beforehand. The entrance is a 10-to-30-foot free fall off a cornice, followed by a 60-degree slope. If you fall, that’s it. You’re pretty much committed to falling the remainder of the run. Crested Butte’s Body Bag gets considerable bragging rights, boasting a 275-foot vertical drop at 55 degrees. If you survive these, head over to the Silver King Runs at Crystal Mountain Ski Resort in Washington, where you can experience why Pin Ball, Brain Damage and Lobotomy are so named. Indeed, a good day is any day you finish with the same number of bones you started with, and all the ligaments attached.

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


There’s something satisfying when you put your feet to the ground and see places, log great distances and put up with conditions that for various reasons make you want to cry. And we salute those whose feet, or obsessions with feet, have made cautionary tales for the rest of us.

Mountain Gazette #181 Cartographic...graphic

1) Got an app for that?
Park Service officials will tell you that electronics can make stupid people incredibly brave — almost always a bad combination. Armed with smart phones, GPS technology and all the latest things to keep them interconnected, novice hikers might assume they can do incredibly ill-advised stunts and then rely on the latest upgrade from Apple to get them out of a jam. Sometimes, they call from mountaintops to request guides. In one case in Jackson Hole, a lost hiker called to ask for hot chocolate. There’s also the distraction factor. Last year, a teenager plunged 75 feet off the South Rim of the Grand Canyon after backing up too far while taking pictures. But on the flip side, the Park Service enjoys its own gadgets as well. Two years ago in Yellowstone, rangers busted a group of men who had the noble idea of urinating into Old Faithful. Thanks to a 24-hour camera that captured the fabled geyser online, aghast viewers saw every last detail and reported the urinators to the park.

2) Crazy, eh?
This June the annual Volksmarch at South Dakota’s Thunderhead Mountain drew 10,000 hikers who logged the 6.2-mile trek, where a crew is slowly blasting and chiseling the rock into a very big and controversial likeness of Crazy Horse, the Oglala Lakota chief. The piece is looking to be the world’s largest sculpture when it’s done (while our math here at MG fails to come to this conclusion, all four 60-foot heads at Mount Rushmore would fit into Crazy Horse’s head, according to literature from the Crazy Horse Memorial). The Volksmarch means a lot of feet on the ground, but it supports good things like camaraderie, fitness and food drives. The record turnout was in 1998, when 50,000 hikers made the journey.

3) We’ll get our kicks here instead, thanks
Geocachers and the hotels and restaurants that make a living off them are all pissed off at the Nevada Department of Transportation, which, in the name of safety, recently removed an estimated 1,000 caches along the Extraterrestrial Highway, a.k.a. Nevada Route 375. The agency claims the cachers were “going 2 mph on a 70 mph highway” and doing other risky things, but we figure the throngs of treasure-hunting nerds (we say that lovingly) were just poking around too close to Area 51. That said, there is a movement to send those displaced geocachers and their significant money to California and down onto Route 66.

4)There’s a reason they call ’em sneakers
In some old Denver police stories, we find the saga of a David William Christensen, who in 2002 went about buying several pairs of Keds, in itself not a crime. But three women came forward to report finding the sneakers near their homes or on their cars, each time with a sexually explicit message written on the shoes. Someone, allegedly Christensen, then broke into the women’s homes in attempts to get the shoes back and steal photos of the women, according to police. “Most people, I’m assuming, are not familiar with this fetish,” a police spokesman said, adding that this was the first Keds-specific fetish case they’d dealt with. Upon further investigation, however, Mountain Gazette staff uncovered several sneaker-fetish sites online, with (“the world’s largest sneaker fetish community”) offering 833 high-rez thumbnail galleries. Wikibin adds that sneakers, as opposed to other shoes, offer rubber, laces and the paddling capacity that thrill-seeking guys enjoy. “Women may have a shoe fetish,” the site says, “but it is rarely sexual.”

5) And there’s more …
Speaking of foot fetishes, there’s also the case of a 27-year-old California man who faced misdemeanor battery charges and one charge of child annoyance after sucking the bare toes of unsuspecting women. He approached three women and one 15-year-old girl who were working alone in stores and told them he was a massage therapy student in need of experience.

6) Scary things afoot
Some people hike for relaxation and deepening the connection to the Mother Rock. Others do it for fitness, and in our final category, some do it because they like to get the living crap scared out of them. That can be the adrenaline that comes, for example, from navigating Angels Landing, often hailed as the most dangerous hiking trail in Utah. The 5-mile trip in Zion National Park gets extremely dicey when there’s ice or lightning, and the sliver-wide sandstone footing and sheer, 1,000-foot drop-offs on the last half-mile add a gamble that takes one or two lives each year. Note: If you routinely freak out or lose your balance, this isn’t the place to try to change that up. Fear also can come in bump-in-the-night form, as found at the Great Sand Dunes National Park, where hikers routinely see strange orbs, black triangles and red cigar shapes in the skies. The best UFO watching allegedly comes at the 750-foot Star Dune on a clear summer night. If you like it even weirder, try the Big Tree Loop Trail at Oregon Caves National Monument, where psychologist Matthew Johnson took a bathroom break off the trail and spotted a Bigfoot spying on his family from behind a tree. Researchers say this guy has a pretty solid story that just might be legit.

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 

Mountain High

This month’s theme is High Summer, as you’ve noticed. Ergo, we look at marijuana and the Reefer Madness pandemic.

1) On the World-Wide Web
Colorado has a state law that prohibits local governments from disclosing the location of medical marijuana cultivation centers, which is a very good idea. With people desiring large quantities of bud and the money it nets, it ain’t prudent to let everyone know Where The Marijuana Grows. That said, in January, the City of Boulder accidentally published on its Web site a previously secret map disclosing the locations of 60 cultivation centers and 12 product manufacturing sites, along with a list of the city’s various dispensaries, the latter merely being free advertising. The SNAFU was cleaned up quickly, but left some folks scratching their heads. “The incompetence epidemic is so virulent and widespread nowadays that you never know whether to attribute an episode like this to political hostility or viral incompetence,” wrote Fred Gardner in CounterPunch (which contains some good reads, incidentally).

2) Big, giant piece-of-crap life
A Missoula man was sentenced in May to two years in the slammer for sharing a bowl of his medical marijuana. Matthew Otto gets to hang out at the Montana State Prison for passing the pipe to two passengers in his car, and because an off-duty cop saw the exchange. (He also should receive some form of recognition for having the worst timing of anyone on the planet.) Now, the actual sentence for distribution of dangerous drugs is 20 years, but the court is making him serve just two in the Big House with the remaining 18 under DOC supervision. While it sounds a tad harsh, the deputy DA reminded the court that Otto was a “persistent felony offender” who had racked up 30 convictions as a juvenile. Otto told the court that he was seriously rethinking his “big giant piece-of-crap life” when all this went down, and that he may require, um, medication and another chance to get things right. The judge told Otto he’d be spending a real 20 years in prison if their paths crossed again.

3) Should be interesting
More than 2,300 Arizona residents now have permission to cultivate up to 12 medical pot plants each in their homes, due to the passage of Proposition 203. The idea is to allow people to grow what they need until medical dispensaries get approved in August. Then, if you live within 25 miles of a dispensary, you need to pull the plug on your grow lights or face criminal charges. The thing is, local law-enforcement agencies don’t have the budgets or necessarily the inclination to check up on small-time growers, and cops are anticipating a lot of gray area while medical marijuana settles in. Meanwhile, marijuana looks to be good business. The Green Horizons University, one of several for-profit information outlets, has set up shop in Scottsdale, offering cultivation classes, as well as legal and auditing advice to dispensaries. Arizona is the 15th state to legalize medical pot, although U.S. attorney Dennis Burke has warned Arizonans that they are still violating federal laws by partaking in the state’s program.

4) Destruction
According to 2009 DEA data, more than 7.5 million marijuana plants were destroyed by law enforcement in California. That compares to 0 in North Dakota.

5) Pot Capitals
This year, The Daily Beast designated the country’s newest Pot Capitals on 4/20, putting Portland at No. 3 and at the top of the American West. The Beast gave the city a 9 out of 10 ranking for pot culture and reported that 10.93 percent of city residents are users. Boulder came in at No. 4; Bozeman, 9; Eureka-Arcata Calif., 10; San Francisco, 13; Laramie, 14; Santa Fe, 17; and Oxnard, Calif., 20. Tallahassee took the top honors this year. Evidently the Florida Supreme Court ruled that police must get a search warrant before using a drug-sniffing dog outside a residence, and hence the hard-won victory at The Daily Beast.

6) Shocker! Celebrities and reefer madness!
A deep and saddening investigation reveals that celebs such as Natalie Portman, Lady Gaga, Bill Maher, Babs Streisand, Prince Harry, Morgan Freeman, Whoopi Goldberg and maybe even Marilyn Monroe have smoked marijuana. We were beside ourselves to also learn that Goldberg was under the influence during her 1991 Oscar acceptance speech for “Ghost.” Her mom later scolded her for her “glistening” eyes, but Goldberg was nervous and said she just had to relax, okay?

7) Billion-dollar baby
In July 2009, law enforcement folks around Fresno rounded up more than 330,000 pot plants from fields hereabouts, making it one of the biggest marijuana busts in history and valued at $1 billion. Arrested were 82 suspects with links to Mexican drug cartels.

8) Bear mauling, weed and workers comp
The Montana Supreme Court ruled in March that a worker at a privately run nature park would be entitled to workers compensation from a 2007 bear mauling — even though he was stoned when the incident occurred. Brock Hopkins admitted that he smoked a joint before feeding the bruins at Great Bear Adventures. A grizzly named Red attacked Hopkins and messed him up pretty badly, and initially his workers comp claim was denied (the owner of the park said Hopkins didn’t truly work there and that he gave Hopkins money just to help him out). The Supreme Court had a different opinion and said that Hopkins was indeed working and deserving of compensation. The stonedness was not of consequence, the court said, because grizzlies are “equal opportunity maulers.”

9) You’d think they’d be higher
We figured California would be at the top of the marijuana-use stack, followed perhaps by Colorado. But according to (we’d never heard of them, either), Alaska leads the country in pot users over the past year with a stout 15.83 percent. Elsewhere in the West, Colorado comes in 7th place at 13.32 percent; New Mexico in 8th place at 13.25 percent; and with Oregon and Montana coming in at 9th and 10th, respectively. California comes in at a scant 18, with Mississippi at the end, where 7.83 percent are pot users. On average, 10.9 percent of us, er, you partake.

Tara Flanagan splits her time between Breckenridge and Boulder, where she works as an equine massage therapist.


In American culture, up is regarded as better than down. You’ve got things like the stock market and martinis to bear that out. However, if you find yourself in a long, downward plunge — say a freefall from an airplane or very tall ledge, here is the latest Safety Suggestion from the MG staff: Try to influence your velocity by spreading yourself out — arms and legs out to the sides, hands up by your head. Observe the terrain below you as you fall (really?). And then, do what you can to land on your feet, knees bent. And most important, relax as you find the best landing spot.

1) Piles of awesomeness
Overheard on Boulder restaurant  patio: “Dude, how about, like, getting a sponsorship for climbing the top-10 biggest garbage heaps in the U.S.?” If these three brotastics succeed in getting someone to pay them (never mind that they’ll get arrested), they’ll begin their ascent at the esteemed Apex landfill, an hour north of Las Vegas. Billed as America’s biggest dump, it contains more than 50 million tons of rotting garbage, plenty to keep the boys amused. Elsewhere in the West, Denver’s Arapahoe Disposal Site comes in at a hefty sixth place, with 12,000 tons of new waste every day. El Sobrante in Corona, Calif. is seventh, the Frank Bowerman site in Irvine is ninth and Columbia Ridge in Arlington, Ore., is a respectable 10th place, taking in garbage from all over the Northwest.

2) Climb every … really?
While much of “The Sound of Music ”was filmed in and around Germany and Salzberg, Austria, a good share of the movie was made in — yawn — L.A., nonetheless causing a small spike in people who wanted to walk up the sides of mountains. Ever notice how everything looks so damned breezy in the big mountain scenes? The billowing frocks are from the film copter’s downdraft, which knocked Julie Andrews off her feet several times before she started to get pissed off. One more buzzkill: While the von Trapps climbed over the Alps to Switzerland in the movie, in reality, they took a train to Italy, then went to London and the U.S. Had they hiked over the mountains, they would have ended up in Germany, perilously close to Hitler’s vacation digs.

3) Having fun yet?
While Rainier is on most American mountaineers’ bucket lists, it is itself cause for much premature bucketing, as it were. More than 90 climbers have slipped or frozen trying to reach the 14,410-foot summit, and 294 deaths have happened elsewhere on the mountain. Seasoned climbers occasionally meet their maker after sliding into crevasses or getting disoriented in short-notice blizzards, but there’s also a lot of Amateur Hour, typified by flip-flops and a complete lack of basics like food, water, extra clothes, map, compass and brains. FYI — if you want to increase the odds of your demise, you can head up Nepal’s Annapurna. Since 1950, there have been 58 fatalities in 153 ascents, putting the death rate at 42.85 percent.

4) A tall order
Last January Johnny Collinson of Snowbird, UT, became the youngest person, at age 17, to scale the Seven Summits — the biggest peak on each continent. That includes Aconcagua in Argentina (22,841 feet), Everest (29,030 feet), Denali (20,320 feet), Russia’s Elbrus (18,510 feet), Kilimanjaro (19,340 feet), Carstenz Pyramid in New Guinea (16,023 feet) and the 16,067-foot Vinson Massif in Antarctica. But in a contest that is seeing increasingly young people on increasingly big mountains amid increasing how-young-is-too-young criticism, it looks like Jordan Romero of Big Bear, Calif., who set a record by climbing Everest last May at age 13, is seriously in line to grab the Seven Summits age record. Snowbird Ski Resort founder Dick Bass was the first of roughly 200 to make the required ascents.

5) Ascension, man
So it comes out that former Van Halen lead singer Sammy Hagar may have ascended higher than most of us. And he’s pretty damned serious. In his memoir, “Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock,” Hagar admits that he has been abducted by aliens, who either stole from or placed a bunch of stuff into his head. “It was real,” Hagar told a reporter. “[Aliens] were plugged into me. It was a download situation. This was long before computers or any kind of wireless. There weren’t even wireless telephones. Looking back now, it was like, ‘Fuck, they downloaded something into me!’ Or they uploaded something from my brain, like an experiment.”

6) Morons
If you’ve never paged through “Accidents in North American Mountaineering,” we highly suggest you get yourself a copy, which is updated each year to include gems such as the following: A group of morons hiking in Grand Canyon activated a help button on a SPOT unit because they’d run out of water. So … expensive rescue chopper arrives the next morning and previously thirsty morons decline a rescue because they had found a water source. So … later that evening, same morons hits “911” button again, and chopper arrives a second time (we’re not making this up), only for rescuers to learn that the group of morons was worried about “salty” water — but no emergency existed. Rescue crew declines the group’s request for a night evacuation. So … the next morning, another SPOT “help” call goes out. This time, group members are flown out but refuse medical assessment or treatment (something involving probes would have been appropriate). Leader of morons is asked what his group would have done without the SPOT device. His answer: “We would have never attempted this hike.” The group of morons’ leader was cited under federal regulations for creating a hazardous condition.

Water on the Brain

We drink them, play in them, and solve the world’s problems on their banks. We also tourniquet them with dams, foul them beyond recognition and then engage in legal wars over their contents and how we can return to a time when we drank them just a little bit, played in them gently and had far fewer problems to solve, sitting on the banks.

1) Coming up short
For some years, Oregon had proudly proclaimed its 440-foot D River in Lincoln City as the shortest river in the world, earning a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. Not to be outdone, the 200-foot Roe River in Montana took over the record in 1989, largely due to finesse in measuring by some elementary school students — one of whom appeared on The Tonight Show with NFL player and Great Falls native Dallas Neil. The D River supporters claimed that the kids had capitalized on Neil and a drainage ditch, and, understandably pissed off, the people of Lincoln City took another measurement, and somehow whittled the D down to a compact 120 feet, marked at “extreme high tide.” Perhaps due to the fact that this was more of a Complete Bullshit competition than of river length, Guinness first offered a dual title to the towns, then abandoned the Shortest River category in 2006.

2) Victory, one dam at a time
It’s not easy to dredge up great news out of economic downturn or the state of the West’s rivers, but it appears that cash-strapped bureaucrats are to thank, at least somewhat, for the disappearance of a few outmoded dams. The Powerdale hydroelectric dam on Oregon’s Hood River was taken out last fall after the powers-that-be decided it was the cheapest option in dealing with the 1923 facility. The tear-down improved several miles of salmon passage and 465 acres associated with the project have been transferred to the Columbia Land Trust. The Gold Ray Dam on the Rogue River disappeared last fall as well, improving access to 333 miles of spawning habitat, including 1.5 miles that had been inundated by the dam’s reservoir. In 2010, the American Rivers group and 25 other parties signed an agreement with utility company PacifiCorp to take down four dams on California’s Klamath River in 2020. All told, 450 American dams have been removed since 1999.

3) Oh crap! It’s La Llorona
If you’ve grown up in the Southwest, chances are you’ve had a seriously twisted babysitter or desperate parent who has threatened to hand you over to La Llorona if you didn’t change things up (and I will attest that this has worked well with my own son). The legend varies from place to place and follows Hispanic culture, but this suffices: Woman sees husband with another woman and gets pissed off, so naturally she throws her own children in the river, only to regret this mightily and carry on her mournful wailing well past her own death. These days she is said to be in the business of dragging children into rivers if they stay out too late, smoke their parents’ marijuana or otherwise fall into bad graces. In Santa Fe, people have encountered La Llorona’s spirit repeatedly in the PERA (Public Employees Retirement Association) Building, which is built on an old graveyard (as always) not far from the Santa Fe River. There are creepy reports of cries in the hallways and unseen hands pushing people on the stairs.

4) Violated
Between its history of uranium mining and the oft-maligned prairie dog shoot that is no more, at least officially, the little town of Nucla, Colo., has had more than its share of PR standoffs. The Nucla Station coal-fired power plant doesn’t help that image much, nor does it bode well for the nearby Dolores River, scoring 45 Clean Water Act violations as of 2009 — more than any other plant in the West (well, many plants had a convenient “no information available” on their reports). So said the New York Times in its “Toxic Waters” series, which pegged Reliant Energy’s facility in New Florence, Penn., as the worst offender, with 523 violations and apparently zero fines — the norm for water offenses.

5) A list to avoid
The Upper Colorado River came in at No. 6 for the 2010 American Rivers Most Endangered list, largely due to a) the river being tapped out from too many diversions over the years and b) new threats from two proposed diversion projects — the Windy Gap Firming project and Moffat Tunnel Collection System. The list isn’t so much a rundown of the most-polluted or otherwise messed-up rivers, but rather those that are facing major socio-political obstacles in the coming year. River watchers say that if the diversions go as proposed, the Upper Colorado is screwed. If the projects use appropriate river protections, they could herald an era of water supply planning that incorporates water development with, oddly enough, the needs of the river. Elsewhere in the West, Oregon’s Chetco River came in at No. 7 because of a strip-mining proposal; the Teton River in Idaho scored at No. 8 due to threats of the Teton Dam being rebuilt; and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in California came in at a whopping second place because of lousy water and flood management. No. 1? That would be the Upper Delaware in Pennsylvania, which is battling chemical-intensive natural gas extraction plans.

6) Pig effluent and fish kills
The largest North American river fish kill took place on the Neuse River in New Bern, N.C., where roughly a billion fish — many of them sporting open sores — washed up in fewer than five days in 1991. Some fishermen suffered memory loss from the toxin found in the river, which was later attributed to the enormous hog industry in the area. “When you store 20 million gallons of raw animal waste in a holding ground and let it cook in the hot summer sun of North Carolina and you don’t expect there to be consequences,” an observer offered, “you’d have to be crazy to believe that.” Back in the West, which doesn’t offer so much in the way of hog-farming-effluent one-upsmanship, the Klamath River suffered a hellish salmon kill in 2002, where more than 65,000 salmon died. Experts blame the event on irrigation and low river levels, and described a lost generation of fish because of the salmon that died before they spawned.

Tara Flanagan splits her time between Breckenridge and Boulder, where she works as an equine massage therapist.

Getting a Move On

With Mud Season soon upon us, it’s customary for mountain folk, many who live and breathe tourism in order to dwell in the thin air, to take a temporary leave. Some of us will attempt to be learned travelers in the spirit of evolution. But given that only 37 percent of Americans have passports (half of which are used traveling to Canada and Mexico), a few of us will opt to be garden-variety tourons — not that there’s anything wrong with that. Embracing the endangered rubber tomahawk store, the fanny pack worn frontside and sturdy white walking shoes, here’s to all we do.

1. Pancho Villa, Gilligan’s Island and fizzled neurons
I, uh, know some people who many years ago planned to see a professional wrestling gig in Denver. Let’s just say that the people who knew where the event was had ingested a substance with hallucinogenic properties, and let’s just say they got crazy lost and for reasons that have yet to reveal themselves, ended up at Denver’s venerable Casa Bonita. The copious servings of assembly-line Mexican food can have a satisfying and sedative effect, depending on your needs, but depending on what else is going on in your head, the headhunters and the guys who high-dive into the 35,000-gallon lagoon every 15 minutes can make things neurologically dicey. “Man!” someone reportedly said, “Are they going to make us do that?” But seriously, if you’re on a Colorado stay-cation this year, put the “World’s Most Exciting Restaurant” in your game plan. There’s a reason Cartman was willing to kill Butters to get a chance to dine here.

2. Forget the Grand Canyon
For the price of a couple tanks of gas (let’s hope you’re not driving the Santa Fe for this) and the $5 admission fee, most of us are close enough to enjoy the world’s biggest hole at Utah’s Bingham Canyon Mine. For a century, the Kennecott Copper Corp. has been digging 250,000 tons of rock out of the mine every day. “A mountain once stood where this huge bowl is now,” a sign boasts. Two-and-a-half miles wide and a half-mile deep, the hole could seat 9 million people if it were a stadium.

3. Whorehouse for the ages
The Oasis Bordello Museum in Wallace, Idaho, made the quantum leap from whorehouse to history one night in 1988, when rumors of an FBI raid sent the ladies running out the door for good, leaving everything, down to the packages of red light bulbs, cigarette butts and kitchen timers for each room — in their original places. On your tour, you’ll get a first-hand glimpse of the lingerie that had to stay behind, the price list on the wall (“Eight minutes, fifteen dollars, straight, no frills”) and the frequent-flier rug collection (repeat customers were asked to BYO to facilitate cleanup). In the Oasis’s heyday, the staff made upwards of $2,000 a week, although the museum owner says she doesn’t show the price list to children.

4. Wanderlust? Not so much
With 1,939,159 passport holders in 2010, California holds the U.S. record for people who think they might want to cross the border for whatever reasons. Meanwhile, folks in Wyoming are staying put. Perhaps the winds in Rawlins and Casper blow people around enough to kill any wanderlust, but only 19,738 Wyomingites have passports (yeah, yeah, we do know that California has more people). Compared to Americans at 37 percent overall, 75 percent of the residents of the U.K have passports, as do 60 percent of Canadians.

5. Don’t be them
Actual tourist questions at Grand Canyon National Park: “Was this man-made?” “Do you light it up at night?” “Is the mule train air-conditioned?” “Where are the faces of the presidents?”

6. Class it up a little
I know most of us are tent and pension folk, but in the event that we might do something classy for a change, here’s the deal: The Prevost 2012 Santa Fe motor coach is what you’ll want to be in as you summon the highway ghosts of Hunter Thompson and Jack Kerouac. With an MSRP of $1,920,896, it will likely boast (they’re still working out the details, and most coaches have custom additions) a residential refrigerator, mini wine cellar, king bed with a power recliner, master closet with suede-lined shoe racks, power sliding kitchen island, touch-screen monitors all over the place, integrated doorbell with audio and visual components, heated floors and his-and-hers bathroom sinks. There’s more: You can get it for $1,439,000 if you work the right deals, bringing your monthly payment down to $12,150.78. If you want to bring a car, consider the Vantare Platinum coach, which has its own slide-out garage that holds a small car. The 235-gallon gas tank costs a mere $1,000 to fill, and for all this, a mere $2.5 million.

7. Lonely out there
Fodder for Stephen King’s “Desperation,” Highway 50 through Nevada is better known as the Loneliest Road in America. In the 409 miles from Fallon, Nev., to Delta, Utah (roughly the distance from Paris to Zurich), you’ll encounter just three small towns: Austin, Eureka and Ely. Years ago, an American Automobile Association spokesperson famously warned the traveling public “not to drive there unless they’re confident of their survival skills.” Naturally, all this attention about Highway 50 being lonely has given it plenty of company over the years, so while you might drive until you hallucinate, you won’t be the only one on the road.

8. Avalanches, roadkill and motorhomes
We have the recession to thank for the historic decline in highway fatalities (people are commuting to work less and otherwise traveling by car less). True enough, but that doesn’t take the natural hazards out of some of our most dangerous stretches of highway. Topping’s list of most dangerous roads is U.S. Highway 550 from Ouray to Silverton, Colo. The two-laner has wooze-inducing S-curves through three passes in the San Juans, contains major avalanche zones, is a popular place for RVs to travel at perilously languid speeds, and is a great place for some really big roadkill. Highway 550 outpaces the 101 and 405 freeways in Los Angeles, as well as Atlanta’s I-285 at I-85 interchange, which occupy the second and third places as most dangerous pieces of U.S. road.

Dogged Pursuits

At last count, we Americans had roughly 77.5 million dogs among our ranks. Nearly 40 percent of our households contain at least one dog, and despite the recession, we are spending record amounts on our curs. If you doubt our willingness to spend big, consider Neuticles, a testicular implant that restores “anatomical preciseness” to neutered dogs. The cost? $919. For a pair, naturally.

1. Complete WTF situation
A former University of Colorado student was sentenced last summer to a month in jail and three years’ probation for taping her boyfriend’s dog to their refrigerator. Boulder police encountered a complete WTF situation when they entered the boyfriend’s apartment on a domestic dispute complaint and noticed that things were not going at all well for little Rex the shiba inu. Apparently Abby Toll had been upset about the dog’s behavior as well as her boyfriend paying more attention to the dog than her, and she played out her frustration by binding the animal’s feet and snout, then encasing him in packing tape and sticking him to the fridge. The judge denied a prosecutor’s request for Rex to enter the courtroom for the sentencing. Toll, meanwhile, has been ordered to stay away from animals during her probation. She could have faced up to 18 months in prison for felony animal cruelty, which would have gone over well with throngs of outraged animal rights activists. The dog was adopted into a new home that does not use packing tape for discipline.

2. Top dogs
It’s no surprise that the Northeast U.S. dominates any one-upsmanship relating to hot dogs, but last year Jane and Michael Stern, founders of, included two Western eateries in their Best Hot Dogs in America list. Otto’s Sausage Kitchen in Portland received honors for their vaunted chicken dogs, smoky Octoberfest sausage, bockwurst and Cajun andouille, while Tucson’s Sonoran Dog was recognized for being flipping amazing. The bacon-wrapped frank is topped with tomatoes, beans, “an artistic squiggle” of mayo and hot sauce, and served with a roasted and stuffed guero pepper, all on a soft bun from a Mexican bakery.

3. He was quite breathtaking
People have ugly dog contests to the point where they barely merit mention, but Sam, the world champion ugliest dog from 2003-2005, made your average chupacabra look like Lassie in comparison. The rescue from which he was adopted initially deemed him as too old and ugly to re-home (he also was blind), but a woman who already had a squad of hairless, ugly dogs saw his championship qualities and took him in, repeatedly winning the esteemed Sonoma-Marin County Fair contest among the world’s most revolting curs. The white-eyed, snaggle-toothed Sam dominated the ugly dog scene until his death, and while other Chinese cresteds have stepped up to the winner’s podium, it’s doubtful that any will surpass his attributes. Sam was so well known that he appeared on TV with Donald Trump, making The Donald’s combover (“No animals have been harmed in the creation of my hairstyle,” he has said against allegations of wearing a toupé) look downright hot. Go to to see what we mean.

4. Doghouse
Speaking of hair, the ever-reliable internet has several snippets of celebrated bounty hunter Duane “Dog” Chapman residing, at least part time, in Castle Rock, CO. A report said he had “roamed the area wearing festive garb and mingling with the locals.” No word if he placed any of them in headlocks and, his golden locks flowing, dragged them away at gunpoint with buxom wife No. 5, Beth, nearby and ready to assist. Oddly enough, Dog served as the warden’s barber at the Texas State Penitentiary, where he served two years of a five-year sentence in connection with a gang killing in the 1970s.

5. Love those curs
Albuquerque is frequently rated among the country’s most dog-friendly locales, flanked by Portland, Colorado Springs, Seattle and even Las Vegas. With plenty of nearby trails and restaurants that reward curs with biscuits, the Duke City is a good place to have a dog or four. It ranked No. 8 in BellaDog’s 2010 top-ten list, and Forbes put Albuquerque at No. 3 in its 2007 survey.

6. That’s one big dog
George, a Great Dane who weighs in at 245 pounds (that’s not a typo) and stands 43 inches at the shoulder and 7 feet, 3 inches from nose to tail, is the new Tallest Dog Ever in the Guinness Book of World Records. A resident of Tucson, George consumes 110 pounds of kibble each month (you do the math on what his owner, Dave Nasser, has to pick up in his back yard) and has his own queen-sized bed. George beat out record-holder Titan, a Great Dane from California, by three-quarters of an inch.

7. Hero dogs
The West abounds with hero-dog stories. There’s Willy the Weimaraner waking his almost-unconscious owner and forcing her to leave their house, which had filled with carbon monoxide (Los Alamos, N.M.) There’s the story about two dogs that were rafting with their family on the Colorado River. When the raft flipped, Bo the Labrador was trapped under the raft with one of his owners. He emerged, but dove back under the raft and pulled her out by the hair. She then held his tail as he swam through the rough water to shore. There’s also the recent and horribly sad story of Target, a dog adopted by troops in Afghanistan. Target saved a group of 50 soldiers by attacking a suicide bomber with two other dogs. Featured on Oprah, among much other notoriety, Target came home to Florence, Ariz. with Sgt. Terry Young. She got out of her yard on a Friday, and was accidentally euthanized at an animal shelter the following Monday before her owners could claim her.

Deep, Dark and Weird

As we find ourselves once again in the shortest and darkest days of the year, we turn inward to reflect on the cold and weird that resides within us all. We consider the ramifications of blue-ice impacts, anaerobic digesters and plunging into icy surf, and wait for longer, brighter days, which, sometimes, it seems, can’t come soon enough for some of us.

1) $31 million or so

Most mountain dwellers have had the experience of sitting on a parked plane (well, those who survive the TSA groping process) while it gets showered with deicing chemicals. I don’t know about you, but my first thought, after pondering a TSA legal smackdown, is about the plane staying in the air. Thought No. 3 is about salmon slugging down the glycol that was used to melt the ice. A few years back, the Portland International Airport installed a $31 million system to collect the runoff from its deicing program, only to learn that the stuff was still getting into the Columbia River and messing with the fish. The system is in its final phases of getting fixed, and experts predict those costs — a few million more dollars — may be absorbed, oddly enough, in airline fees.

2) Blue-ice impact

While we’re on the topic of airplanes, you probably need to know that there were 27 documented incidents of blue-ice impacts in the United States between 1979 and 2003. For those not in the know, a BII is a big ball of frozen crap and “disinfectant” that dislodges from airline toilets and plunges to the earth, sometimes at terminal velocity. It happens when planes have been in very cold places (like 36,000 feet), and then travel into a space that is warm enough to accidentally shake loose the ball of crap that has accumulated from tank leaks. A homeowner in Chino, CA, learned this the hard way when a BII messed up his house.

3) Cold house? Seek methane

Another thing you probably need to know is that the oft-maligned methane gas could change your world in a good and big way. Problem is, you will need the manure from 4-6 cows and your own anaerobic digester in order to heat your home and produce enough electricity for a year. If this won’t work, consider moving to Idaho, where methane-capturing plants are sprouting up at a rapid pace, and where crap, ostensibly, is king. As the nation’s third-leading milk producer and home to 550,000 cows, Idaho has several dairies already converting manure to energy. FYI, 6,000 cows can churn out enough waste to create about 1 million kilowatt hours a month. And if you don’t have cow manure, rotten garbage works nicely too. In Burley, ID, for example, there’s sufficient landfill gas to build a 400-acre methane production plant.

4) SAD in the winter?

If you’re prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder, a malady that links a dearth of sun exposure to

depression (and also sells a lot of expensive lights), you’re best to stay out of Oregon, where Astoria ranks as the place in the western U.S. (aside from Alaska with the fewest sunny days per year (a paltry 50). That’s followed by Olympia, Washington, at 52, and Seattle at 58. If you really want to get down and out in the wintertime, head up to Cold Bay, Alaska, which boasts a whopping 10 days of sunshine annually — in addition to the typical Alaskan shortage of daylight in the winter. On the upside, you won’t have to worry so much about wrinkles. (And there are only 76 people living in Cold Bay to see them anyway.)

5) Vostok on the Platte

Compared to Vostok, a place on the East Antarctic Polar Plateau that has a mean (very mean) annual temperature of minus-67 degrees Fahrenheit, and which has earned bragging rights as the coldest damned place on earth, Denver is a damned sauna. But according to the Current Results website, Denver ranks as the coldest large American city, right above Chicago. Never mind that there are lots of winter days that exceed 50 degrees in Denver; there are also roughly 156 days a year when the mercury plunges below 32. And because it has a recorded low of minus-30 degrees, that makes it the coldest American City. Chicago’s low is -27. FYI: We checked out Minneapolis, which has a recorded low of minus-34 degrees, but apparently it does not fit the category of a “large” American city.

6) Out in the cold

While it’s nearly impossible to get an accurate count on the numbers of people who lack a regular and adequate nighttime residence (one of a zillion definitions of homelessness), the American West has the highest number of people without homes. Nevada leads the pack at 49 homeless people per 10,000, followed by Oregon, 47; California, 44; Washington, 36; and Colorado, 29. A study by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty estimated between 2.3 and 3.5 million people experiencing homelessness, while a study by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development counted 671,888 on a given night. Los Angeles leads the nation at 68,608 counted individuals, while Las Vegas comes in fourth at 11,417, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Denver, Phoenix and Seattle also made the top-ten list.

7) Plungers, all

The Plungapalooza is the largest polar bear plunge in the U.S., attracting more than 12,000 idiots into the Chesapeake Bay surf in late January. If you don’t want to make the trip but just have to rip off most of your clothes and drop into water the consistency of a frozen daiquiri, you’ll probably want to join the Libby, Montana, Polar Bear Club, which doesn’t just plunge once a year, but meets Sunday afternoons from October into April. Water temperatures drop into the mid to upper 30s, and about a half dozen folks are regulars. They claim that (aptly named) plunging assists blood circulation, the immune system and that all-important and sought-after vigor.

Madness all Over Again

Seems we were just sighing the relief that came with hurling last year’s Christmas tree onto the environmentally responsible municipal compost pile, and here we are, a year wiser, but not necessarily less neurotic. May we all excel at Feats of Strength and be kind with the Airing of Grievances.

1) Trees of great importance

While the vast majority of White House Christmas trees (or holiday/seasonal/nondenominational/ attempted apolitical trees) hail from the eastern end of the United States, a tree farm in Elma, Washington, has the distinction of being the only place in the western U.S. to send trees to the White House in recent history. The Hedlund Christmas tree farm sent big-ass (meaning 18 feet or so) Noble fi rs to Washington in 1999 and 2002 after surviving the cutthroat competition that’s pretty much the Miss USA pageant among foliage. Judges look for a healthy appearance and the all-important shape, but skip the interview unless it’s a tiebreaker.

2) Harsh words for The Almighty

As part of the trend away from outwardly religious themes in public places, Gov. Chris Gregoire banned nongovernment displays inside the Capitol building last year — a roundabout way of getting rid of menorahs and Nativity crèches, but still allowing for a state-sponsored holiday tree in the rotunda. The rules took effect after repeated protests by the atheist Freedom From Religion Foundation, which had erected a somewhat provocative sign on Capitol grounds. “There is no God and religion enslaves minds and hardens hearts,” it said. Yes indeed, some people were pissed off.

3) Gravity is bad

While people tend to make a big deal about the fire hazards of Christmas trees (250 U.S. home fi res can be blamed on them between 2003-2007, causing an average of 14 deaths and nearly $14 million in damage per year), nobody talks about the hazards of holiday decorating. If you plan to get up on a ladder to install a bunch of reindeer, for example, bear in mind that you could be among the 5,800 folks who end up in emergency rooms as a result of an unplanned descent. Forty-three percent of the injuries were due to falls from ladders, while falls from furniture comprised 11 percent (no data on alcohol consumption). And (again, no data on alcohol consumption) “Some falls occurred when people tripped on tree skirts or other decorations,” according to the National Fire Protection Association, whose regional headquarters are in Bend.

4) What about the Rest of Us?

The Gazette was shocked and rightly appalled to learn that Ouray’s third-annual Festivus celebration has been cancelled due to lack of help. Sources tell us the gathering had been “a very popular event” over the last two holiday seasons and that it included the mandatory Feats of Strength as well as the Airing of Grievances. But while strong and grievance-ridden participants were easy to find, o r g a – n i z e r s a nd gofer s were apparently less so. A call to the chamber o f commerce yielded information about a wine and chocolate event in place of Festivus. Seriously? That said, we’re holding out for a Festivus Miracle, in which the aluminum pole (high strength-toweight ratio) magically appears on Sixth Avenue to remind us that Festivus lives on in our hearts. Or in the words of Frank Costanza, “I gotta lotta problems with you people!” http://www.seinfeldscripts. com/TheStrike.htm

5) Gotta ski?

If you live in a ski town, you’ve got the quandary of skiing/riding between the Christmas/New Year’s holidays, to hunker down and wait or take up ice fi shing. For some arcane reason, locals get spastic about the privilege of unlimited skiing on extremely busy days, but when the time comes, they’d rather cash in on double shifts than share the holiday ski experience — which can include a 90-minute traffi c jam between your house and the liquor store. For those who require the security of unlimited skiing, Vail Resorts’ $629 Epic Pass is one of the best bangs for the buck on the planet (provided you took advantage of the sales dates). It gives you unlimited turns at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Heavenly, Arapahoe Basin and Northstar and Sierra at Tahoe. Most other places, you’re going to pay a tad more for the privilege of skiing or riding when you please. At Squaw Valley, California, an adult Platinum Pass cost $1,599 at early pricing. Pass-holders at Deer Valley, Utah, paid $1,630 for the season, while Jackson Hole commanded $1,570, Telluride, $1,298, and Aspen, $1,499.

6) Down and out with the Fear and Loathing

While the stresses of Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, Festivus and New Year’s Eve provide plenty of reason to drive people to the edge of madness, statisticians are quick to point out that actual suicides are more frequent in April, June and July. That said, Las Vegas is the U.S. suicide kingpin (statisticians are also quick to point out that a signifi cant number of those deaths are out-of-towners). Colorado Springs and Tucson take second and third place, with the mountain West consistently taking honors as the nation’s suicide belt. Depending on the year, Montana, New Mexico, Wyoming, Nevada and Colorado occupy the top rungs, with Alaska usually in the mix.

7) Give these kids a break

If you want some higher learning but require a lot of down time to air out your brain, the University of Montana has one of the sweetest holiday breaks you’ll fi nd. With this semester’s finals running Dec. 14-18 and the spring semester gearing up on Jan. 24, you’ve got five weeks to play “Call of Duty: Black Ops” non-stop in your parents’ basement. Sick, bro.

Talking Turkey

In many ways, the Thanksgiving turkey has become a metaphor for the downfall of our bloated and broken American civilization. Once the sacrificial bird that united the Pilgrims and Indians (that’s the version that is completely devoid of revisionist history), it’s now a word used to describe idiots, has become a common incendiary device with the advent of deep-fat turkey fryers, and helps make Thanksgiving the leading day in the U.S. for house fires. If you have any doubt: watch?v=3vZnuYK2Wfg

1) Hunting for advice?

Turkey hunting is the second-leading cause of hunting accidents, yet it remains a relatively safe sport, with 100 out of 3 million turkey hunters in the U.S. getting hurt in the pursuit of the almighty bird. To add to your own safety, here’s a bit of advice from the Colorado Division of Wildlife: “Don’t wear turkey colors. Red, white and blue are colors found on a turkey’s head.” Anyway.

2) Turkeys talking

Dan Maes, Republican candidate for Colorado governor, said that, although he had initially supported environmentally friendly programs such as Denver’s bike-sharing project, he had to reconsider his position. He said such programs are in fact a veil for much more complex schemes. “If you do your homework and research,” he said, “you realize that (encouraging people to park their cars and ride bikes in the city) is part of a greater strategy to rein in American cities under a United Nations treaty.” At press time, Maes was trailing Big Time in the polls.

3) The lure of tryptophan

The Golden State has the glory of producing the most turkeys in the American West, growing roughly 15 million each year. (Minnesota leads the nation at a rather gross 48 million.) It’s no surprise that Butterball produces the most turkey meat — 1,330 million pounds a year. Americans devour 17 pounds of turkey apiece annually, while folks over in Israel set the world record at a stout 22 pounds. The largest dressed turkey on record was recorded in 1989 in London. The bird came in at a respectable 86 pounds. Animal rights groups are quick to point out that such weight gain isn’t healthy; if human babies gained at the same rate as farmed turkeys, they’d weigh 1,500 pounds at 18 weeks.

4) Turkeys join Nixon on pardon list

Last Thanksgiving, President Obama issued an official pardon to a 45-pound tom named Courage, meaning that, instead of gracing the table at the White House, the bird would instead travel — live! — to Disneyland to serve as grand marshal at the theme park’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The President described the bird as being saved from a “terrible and delicious fate” by “the interventions of Malia and Sasha — because I was planning to eat this sucker.” A second bird named Carolina also received a pardon and was sent along as a stand-in if Courage couldn’t stand up to the job. The birds were set to retire at a ranch after fulfilling their duties.

5) Turkey spending

If you’re still pissed at Arizona because of its tough stance on illegal immigration, know that someone there has a heart. Consider the case of the Mount Graham red squirrel, which recently won a $1.25 million federal grant. The money is going toward tracking collars, radio transmitters, cameras and canopy bridges for the endangered rodents, to be erected on State Route 366 near Pima as well as Forest Service Road 803. The idea is to keep the 250 existing squirrels (down 15 from last year) from becoming roadkill, and officials believe they will be able to save the lives of at least five squirrels this way. That’s $250,000 per squirrel and suggestive of the work of turkeys at the financial helm. Note, though, that the webbing used in the bridges is military-grade nylon with a minimum vertical clearance of 20 feet.

6) The burp of relief

If salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter or any other pathogens become your dinner guests this Thanksgiving (speaking from personal experience in which I and 16 others suffered Thanksgiving food poisoning at work, I implore you to follow the stuffing guidelines as if your last gasp depended on them, and indeed it does), rest assured you’ve got the legal guns on your side (assuming you didn’t poison yourself). The Seattle-based Marler Clark law firm specializes in big-time food poisoning and has represented clients in almost every big food-borne illness outbreak in recent U.S. history. The firm won $15.6 million for the most seriously injured survivor of the 1993 Jack in the Box E. coli debacle, was recently on the front lines of the Iowa egg recall and nationwide salmonella outbreak, and has been involved in most of the big cases in between. Known for a way with words, Bill Marler has issued such tomes as “Who Needs Al-Qaeda when you have got E. Coli?”

7) Turkeys take flight — sort of

According to FAA accident reports from a few years back, a pair of coyote hunters from Ft. Peck, MT, were chasing their prey from the air when the passenger accidentally shot the fuel tank and right wing of the aircraft, causing it to crash. The hunters survived, as did the coyote, and somewhere in all this is a karmic hint about fair chase.

8) Dead Turkey

A 20-year-old man was stopped near Lakeview, OR, for speeding and cops determined that he was driving a stolen car out of Idaho. With that, he was handcuffed and placed in the back of the cruiser, where, ostensibly, he would ride in safety to the nearest jail. However, while the officers were out of the car, he brought his hands to the front of his body, squirmed through the hole between the front and back seats, and set off driving the squad car. He hit speeds of 90 mph before hitting some tack mats. He then drove on flat tires awhile longer before a cop was able to ram him with his cruiser and send the stolen cop car into a spin. Unfortunately, the car rolled and the driver, whose hands were compromised by handcuffs, had been unable to fasten his seat belt.