Strange happenings in the West

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Jeremy Engdahl-Johnson writes, “There were lots of ways to lose money during the government shutdown that choked off Grand Canyon river trips for 11 days in early October.” There were also unusual trickle-down effects, so to speak. A Flagstaff-based company called River Cans Clean disposes of the human waste that comes out of river-trip “groovers,” those primitive outdoor toilets that river companies provide for their clients. Unfortunately, no rafters meant no poop, and the loss to the company amounted to thousands of dollars. But at Phantom Ranch, the Park Service’s way station for hikers and boaters on the Colorado River, the lack of human waste created a huge problem for the resort’s composting toilets, whose “hungry enzymes” need something to munch on. Engdahl-Johnson says one group of rafters who’d gotten on the river before the shutdown were startled by a federal employee who “begged them for (their) crapper cans.”

A tiny Wyoming town on the way to Yellowstone National Park has a new name after 147 years. Plain old Buford, with its famous sign boasting “POP 1, ELEV 8,000,” is now PhinDeli Town Buford, with the PhinDeli referring to a brand of Vietnamese coffee that the new owner, 38-year-old entrepreneur Pham Dinh Nguyen, plans to market to people worldwide. Nguyen’s winning bid of $900,000 for the town’s handful of buildings was made anonymously a year ago. This September, Don Sammons, the former owner who’d lived in Buford since 1980, announced he would continue to oversee the Buford Trading Post from his new home in Loveland, Colo., reports the Casper Star-Tribune. Sammons and Nguyen, who hails from Ho Chi Minh City, have a historic connection. As a young man, Sammons fought in the Vietnam War. “To know now that 45 years later we’re actually working together and calling each other friends, I just think that’s amazing,” he told the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle. As for Nguyen, who outbid competitors from 46 countries, he’s thrilled, calling his ownership of a remote town an “American dream!”

A tabby called Ted the Cat, who works security (mouse elimination department) at the Steamboat Springs airport, now sports a security chip so he can be identified wherever he travels. It was installed by airport officials after the cat snuck onto private planes four times, forcing one pilot to turn back a few minutes after takeoff and land just long enough to open the door and eject the unwanted copilot. Another time, reports Pilot, the magazine of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Ted walked forward to greet a pilot in the cockpit, too late for the plane to turn back. On that particular excursion, Ted “ran up an $80 bill at an animal care center with room service before he was shipped home.” Ted’s MO is simple: He nonchalantly walks near an airplane “he knows will soon depart. Then he disappears inside.”

Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, the op ed syndicate of High Country News ( Tips of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared,