Wednesday, August 12, 2015

What's Going on in America's National Parks?

It has been an odd summer in America's national parks. It seems like every few days lately there is another story of something odd or tragic happening inside one of the parks, including lots of encounters with wildlife and other strange going-ons. Here's a rundown of just some of the things that have been taking place within the past few weeks.

Of course, one of the biggest stories of the summer has been the bison attacks in Yellowstone. Just a few weeks back a woman was charged by a bison while she was using a selfie stick to take a photo. She had of course wandered a bit too close to the animal, which was then annoyed at her presence and expressed it the only way he knew how. I can't say as I blame him, as selfie sticks really annoy me too.

But this wasn't the only incident involving visitors to Yellowstone and the bison that live there. Far from it in fact. There have been at least five other bison attacks in the park this summer, as visitors seem to not be heeding the warnings about wandering too close to the large, and sometimes very aggressive, animals.

The bison aren't the only creatures to be wary of in Yellowstone either. Last week, a grizzly bear attacked and killed a hiker there too. 63-year old Lance Crosby was described as a very experienced hiker who had been working at medical clinics within the park for the past five years. It is unclear exactly what happened, but it seems likely that Crosby came upon the bear while hiking alone, and was attacked as a result. The bear was later captured and euthanized.

Over in Yosemite, a child has been diagnosed with the plague. It seems the child picked up the disease – which is the same as the "Black Death" that ravaged Europe in the 14th century – in a campground within the park. Apparently it can be transmitted from flea bites and takes about 3-7 days to incubate within the human body. Fortunately, it was diagnosed and treated quickly, so this young person is going to be fine. But the mere thought of being exposed to such a disease in this day and age is a bit startling.

The campground in question is Crane Flat by the way. It has been closed this week while health officials apply flea treatment to the burros of rodents that live in the area. It is hoped that that will kill the fleas carrying the plague and make it safe to return again soon.

Finally, there is the sad story of the French couple who died while hiking in the White Sands National  Monument earlier this week. Apparently they ran low on water while trekking in temperatures the exceeded 100ºF/37ºC and eventually succumbed to dehydration and heat exhaustion. The two gave extra water rations to their nine-year old son however, who was found alive and extremely dehydrated, near his fallen parents. It is an incredibly sad story that underscores the dangers of being out in extremely warm weather.

Each of these stories also remind us that even though the national parks see millions of visitors on an annual basis, they remain wild and untamed in many ways. Nature is still an incredibly strong force capable of bringing great harm to us humans. It has been a strange summer in the parks for sure, but lets hope the remaining weeks of the travel season are calmer and safer all around.


Shawz said...

We were in glacier earlier this year and the ranger in charge of the East side said that park attendance was up 25% in June compared to the previous year. If that's the case, are other parks in the same situation?

Kraig Becker said...

Good question! Its too early to know what part attendance numbers are like. The NPS doesn't usually release those numbers until later in the year. But if there are more people going to the parks, it might be an indication of why there are more altercations with the animals there too.

On the bright side, it is good to hear that more people are visiting Glacier, despite the fire that shut down the Going to the Sun Road for a time. Such an awesome place.

bigger al said...

My family and I are leaving for Yellowstone on Friday, and I have no doubt that we'll see more than one tourist who's decided that bison are nothing more than big cows.

So often the prevailing reasoning is that people feel that animal attacks don't happen to them.
These are the same people who leave food in their cars in Yosemite and are surprised when a bear rips off a door to get at it. Regardless, we're very much looking forward to having a fantastic week in one of the most incredible places on Earth!!

Kraig Becker said...

I agree with you Al! I've been fortunate enough to visit some amazing places on our planet, but Yellowstone remains one of my favorites. Really a wonderful place. Have a great time!