North America Oldest Fossil Footprints

This undated photo made available by the National Park Service in September 2021 shows fossilized human fossilized footprints at the White Sands National Park in New Mexico. According to a report published in the journal Science on Sept. 23, 2021, the impressions indicate that early humans were walking across North America around 23,000 years ago, much earlier than scientists previously thought.

NEW MEXICO

Oldest human footprints in North America found

WASHINGTON — Fossilized footprints discovered in New Mexico indicate that early humans were walking across North America around 23,000 years ago, researchers reported Thursday.

The first footprints were found in a dry lake bed in White Sands National Park in 2009. Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey recently analyzed seeds stuck in the footprints to determine their approximate age, ranging from around 22,800 and 21,130 years ago.

The findings may shed light on a mystery that has long intrigued scientists: When did people first arrive in the Americas, after dispersing from Africa and Asia?

Most scientists believe ancient migration came by way of a now-submerged land bridge that connected Asia to Alaska. Based on various evidence — including stone tools, fossil bones and genetic analysis — other researchers have offered a range of possible dates for human arrival in the Americas, from 13,000 to 26,000 years ago or more.

The current study provides a more solid baseline for when humans definitely were in North America, although they could have arrived even earlier, the authors say. Fossil footprints are more indisputable and direct evidence than "cultural artifacts, modified bones, or other more conventional fossils," they wrote in the journal Science, which published the study Sept. 23.

Earlier excavations in White Sands National Park have uncovered fossilized tracks left by a saber-toothed cat, dire wolf, Columbian mammoth and other ice age animals.

Brief outage after balloons hit power lines

ALBUQUERQUE — Hundreds of hot air balloons filled the morning sky Oct. 2 over Albuquerque on the second day of the Balloon Fiesta, but two balloons hit power lines and caused a brief outage for some Public Service Company of New Mexico customers.

The company said 1,230 of its customers were without electricity for a couple hours after two hot air balloons hit power lines in the north valley.

No injuries were reported.

Viewer photos sent to Albuquerque TV station KOB showed one balloon's envelope draped over the power lines near Daniel Circle while another balloon hit power lines closer to 2nd Street and Ranchitos.

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta returned this year after a pandemic hiatus.

The nine-day event started Oct. 1 in the predawn twilight with about 540 balloons of every shape and size inflating and lifting off with people aboard.

Balloons of all types, including special shapes, took off from Balloon Fiesta Park.

ARIZONA

State can't use COVID money for anti-mask grants, feds say

The Biden administration on Oct. 5 ordered Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey to stop using the state's federal pandemic funding on a pair of new education grants that can only be directed to schools without mask mandates.

In a letter to Ducey, the Treasury Department said the grant programs are "not a permissible use" of the federal funding. It's the latest attempt by the Biden administration to push back against Republican governors who have opposed mask mandates and otherwise sought to use federal pandemic funding to advance their own agendas.

Ducey, a Republican, created the grant programs in August to put pressure on school districts that have defied the state's ban on mask mandates.

He launched a $163 million grant program using federal funding he controls, but he made it available only to schools without mask mandates. He also established a $10 million program that offers vouchers to families at public schools that require masks or that tell students to isolate or quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure.

In the letter, Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said the conditions "undermine evidence-based efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."

C.J. Karamargin, a spokesperson for Ducey, said it's "baffling" why anyone would oppose the grant programs.

Arizona is one of at least eight states that have laws or executive orders banning mask requirements in public schools.

The Education Department in August opened civil rights investigations into five Republican-led states that forbid mask mandates in schools, saying such actions may violate the rights of students with disabilities.

WYOMING

Librarians under fire for books about sex, LGBTQ

CHEYENNE — Books about sex, LGBTQ issues and how to have a baby have public library employees in a deeply conservative Wyoming city facing possible prosecution after angry local residents complained to police that the material is obscene and doesn't belong in sections for children and teenagers.

For weeks, Campbell County Public Library officials have been facing a local outcry over the books and for scheduling a transgender magician to perform for youngsters, an act canceled amid threats against the magician and library staff.

The books are "This Book is Gay" by Juno Dawson, "How Do You Make a Baby" by Anna Fiske, "Doing It" by Hannah Witton, "Sex is a Funny Word" by Corey Silverberg, and "Dating and Sex: A Guide for the 21st Century Teen Boy" by Andrew P. Smiler, according to Susan Sisti, pastor of Open Door Church in Gillette, who has been raising concerns about those and other books in the library.

After a complaint filed with the sheriff's office, prosecutors are reviewing the case. They will seek appointment of a special prosecutor to weigh in as well before deciding whether to pursue charges, County Attorney Mitchell Damsky announced Oct. 1.

The library's executive director, Terri Lesley, said library officials had reviewed a complaint about "This Book is Gay" and determined it belonged in the library's Teen Room. The decision was being appealed to the library board while library officials review pending complaints about the other four.

The LGBTQ advocacy group Wyoming Equality said it's up to parents to decide when their children should have access to such books.

The library already faced protests and threats last summer over plans for a performance by a transgender magician. The magician canceled the show due to the threats.

UTAH

Mormon president: Church leaders speak 'pure truth'

SALT LAKE CITY — The president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints urged members on Oct. 2 to listen to the faith's leaders when they seek "pure truth" and expressed gratitude for those who have followed church guidance during the pandemic, which has been to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

President Russell M. Nelson acknowledged at a church conference that the world is "still dealing with the ravages of COVID-19 and its variants." And while he didn't mention vaccines specifically, he thanked members for following the advice of church leaders, medical experts and government officials.

The Utah-based faith has repeatedly encouraged its 16 million members worldwide to limit the spread by getting vaccines and wearing masks.

Speaking from inside a mostly empty conference center in Salt Lake City,, Nelson said, ”One of the plagues of our day is that too few people know where to turn for truth. I can assure you that what you will hear today and tomorrow constitutes pure truth."

The conference took place again without full attendance due to the pandemic, but for the first time in two years leaders were back at the faith's 20,000-seat conference center with several hundred people watching in person.

The church's well-known Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square was also back in person. However, it had fewer members than normal to allow for social distancing, and all members had been vaccinated, the church said.

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