Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lions and Tigers and Bears (and Spiders and Scorpions and Snakes)

I don't consider myself the particularly outdoorsy type.  You see, where I live, there's humidity.  And cornfields.  And mosquitos. Why would I want to go outside, when I have perfectly good air conditioning and a good book to read in here?  However, when I go on vacation it's a different story.  Get me somewhere that I can go hiking and I'm out there.  I'll camp (more on that later), but only because it's the best way to get on the trail early.  I'll complain about the bugs, but I'll live.  Speaking of bugs, check out these guys that kept buzzing us while we were in the Grand Canyon:

They were huge!  When I was going through pictures, I found five or six where they decided to make a guest appearance.  In Arches, I will remember the gnats.  They were crazy out there. (Sorry, no gnat pictures.)  At least there were no mosquitos in the high desert.  We didn't have to deal with those until we got back to Colorado at Hanging Lake. Of course, they're the size of sparrows there.

Still, we are not here to talk about the annoying creatures.  Let's talk about the dangerous animals.  When you get out to nature, you are on the animals' turf.  Normally that doesn't bother me too much.  In Rocky Mountain National Park, we were told that a bear was visiting the campground.  Ho, hum.  I mean, be careful, but bears there are more nuisances than anything.  Keep your food and all smelly items (lotion, perfume, toothpaste) in the car, and if you see a bear stay back.  

In Grand Canyon National Park, we saw this sign:

I'm not going to lie, mountain lions concern me more than bears do.  Still, I didn't think too much about them when planning the trip.  Again, you know what to do if you see one (make yourself look as big as possible, speak with authority, don't run, don't hike alone) and I've spent a lot of time hiking without seeing one of them.

What did concern me about the desert were the snakes, especially rattlers, scorpions, and poisonous spiders.  Also, really big, creepy spiders. I don't care if they're harmless.  

 On our night of camping in Arches, I was too restless to crawl in a hot tent and lay on the hot ground to try to sleep, so I went to the ranger presentation instead.  He was cute enough that I didn't even mind that he was going to spend the whole time talking about the things I was trying to forget: snakes (particularly the Midget Faded rattlesnake), scorpions (Giant Desert Hairy scorpion) and black widow spiders.  You know, all the friends that were in the park with me that night.

Actually, his presentation was quite good, and he made one point that really helped me out a lot.  He noted that these venomous creatures use their venom primarily for hunting prey, and they're not too interested in going after humans.  They would much rather go unnoticed by the humans that are much larger than they are.  He said they want to bite us about as bad as we want to walk up to a grizzly and punch it in the nose.  (He also told some funny stories about how the most likely person to get a rattlesnake bite was a drunk 18-26 year old male, and they usually get bit in the hand as they are reaching for it.)

Did you know that the venom of most of these creatures is not likely to kill most humans?  It isn't a pleasant experience for sure, but you're not likely to die unless you're a small child, an elderly adult or are very sick to begin with.  Huh.  Makes those dramatic rattlesnake encounters on TV seem a little less exciting:  "Thanks, Lassie, for fending off the rattlesnake that was trying to avoid me as much as I wanted to avoid it. Also, I would have lived no matter what, but really, what a heroic dog you are!"

However, those are not the only dangerous animal in those habitats.  There is one in particular that is left.  This may be the scariest animal of all, and I saw a LOT of them.  And they're not particularly afraid of humans.  Are you ready?  Here he is:

Can you see the little guy at the bottom?  Yes, a chipmunk.  You think I'm joking about how scary he is, don't you?  I'm not, and here's why:

Did you catch that last part? Look again:

The plague!?! As in bubonic plague?! As in Black Death?  As in what killed Europe in the Middle Ages??  Are you kidding me right now?  I didn't even know it still existed! I did NOT sign up for chipmunks of death! Give me a bear any day, and I can go down fighting at least.  Or a rattler, because I probably won't die.  I may get a horrible, disgusting wound, but I should live to take pictures of it and tell about it in all it's gory detail.  Not the plague!

I read up on it, and the incubation period is 2-6 days.  I should be in the clear by tomorrow.  I'm not too worried about having it though, because I avoided chipmunks and all other flea bearing rodents like... oh.

Well, like the plague.

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