Lions and hikers and bears, oh my!

CALIFORNIA

Robert Biggs, 69, encountered both an unfriendly lion and an unexpectedly altruistic bear in the mountains above Whiskey Flats, in northeastern California. Biggs had been quietly observing the bear and her cubs, when suddenly the lion sprang at him, crunching his backpack and shredding the skin on his left arm. Much to his amazement, the bear ran up and pulled the lion off Biggs “during a wild 15-second scuffle,” reports the Paradise Post. Then “the mountain lion bolted and the bear returned to her cubs before they moved on.”

COLORADO

Time has run out for the frozen cows of Conundrum Hot Springs, the immensely popular, 11,200-foot-high stopover for hikers in western Colorado’s White River National Forest. According to the Aspen Daily News, the cattle jammed themselves into a Forest Service cabin this winter, apparently to get warm, though unfortunately they were unable to figure out how to build a fire. After a while, they died inside, “piled up,” and eventually, they all froze solid. The cows apparently belong to a Gunnison area rancher with grazing permits on the other side of the Elk Mountains, who reported 29 cows missing last fall. With spring thaw, the ice-cows began, and the hot springs were at risk of contamination.

At first, Forest Service officials said they’d blow up the cows with explosives, then they considered burning them, but both operations would require lengthy analysis and would have impacts of their own. Meanwhile, snow on the 8.5-mile trail ruled out using horses to haul the corpses away, and a helicopter was said to be too pricey. So the rancher sent up three workers with handsaws to help the local wilderness ranger divide them into “appropriate-sized” pieces to be dispersed around the area.

“Nature will take it from there,” the News reports, “between decomposition and hungry wildlife.” Since the latter includes bears, the agency is asking hikers to stay away for at least a month.

NEVADA

A 30-foot-tall neon martini glass welcomes visitors to what some Las Vegas residents call the city’s “real” downtown. This seedy and neglected area lies some six miles off the glittering Strip, whose casino-hotels are visited by an astounding 40 million visitors each year. In contrast, the city’s quiet downtown has stubbornly resisted redevelopment for decades, specializing in dollar stores, pawnshops, vacant lots and low-rise condos.

But now, a financial angel named Tony Hsieh, CEO of the shoe-mecca Zappos.com, has moved into the neighborhood with big plans. Using his own millions, he intends to transform the area into the kind of yeasty urban zone that appeals to both new businesses and budding artists, reports Bloomberg Businessweek’s Brad Stone. He’s already spent $100 million to buy land, invested another $100 million to develop apartment buildings, and is offering $5 million to back startup businesses. Hsieh says his for-profit company, The Downtown Project, will acquire equity in each business it funds, but won’t take a penny until the business earns a profit.

“We are not doing it to make money,” he says. “We want owner-operators who care about this community.”

Hsieh says he could have created a cloistered set of buildings for his 1,400 suburban employees — “our own little Paradise” — but instead decided to relocate his entire staff to the downtown’s former City Hall.

As for this being a risky move, Hsieh, who wrote a best-selling memoir, Delivering Happiness, in 2010, says he’s not worried: “I don’t see my lifestyle changing. In some ways, you could argue I’m not actually risking anything.” In his downtown apartment, Hsieh plots his revitalization effort with the help of yellow Post-it notes that detail the kind of businesses he wants to lure, “including a doggie day care and a barbecue joint.”

ARIZONA

Phoenix broke a record on April 22, though we can’t imagine anyone celebrated the event. The temperature climbed up to 105 degrees — six degrees hotter than the previous record for that day.

COLORADO

A recent paid obituary in the Denver Post for a man named Michael “Flathead” Blanchard made for some delightful reading. “Weary of reading obituaries noting someone’s courageous battle with death, Mike wanted it known that he died as a result of being stubborn, refusing to follow doctors’ orders, and raising hell for six decades. … He enjoyed booze, guns, cars and younger women until the day he died.” He also said that “so many of his childhood friends that weren’t killed in Vietnam went on to become criminals, prostitutes and/or Democrats.

He asks that you stop by and re-tell the stories he can no longer tell.” But it’s probably best to leave all children under 18 at home, the obituary advised, because of the “adult material” they might hear.

Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, an op ed syndicate of High Country News (hcn.org). Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in this column. Write betsym@hcn.org.

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