Black Mesa State Park

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When you think of the state of Oklahoma, you might envision one of a very short list of things:

(1) The strange political nature of some of the area’s politicians

(2) Wheat and cattle, flowing over a flatly monotonous expanse

Oklahoma may have both of these things in excess, but it is also a land of surprising diversity. In it is contained a part of the wet and scenic Ozark Plateau, the Arbuckle and Wichita Mountains, the expansive and refractile salt flats in the north, the wet and sticky southeastern swamps, the deciduous forests of the east, and, of course, the plains regions. In the panhandle are plains and desert leading to the highest point in the state: Black Mesa, which stands at almost 5,000 feet elevation on the Oklahoma-New Mexico-Colorado border.

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Yosemite National Park

Back in April, the Other Half was scheduled to take an additional licensing exam in California (which he passed!). He had his choice of several sites, but he chose to take his test in the community of Visalia, a quiet city whose morning scent of cattle reminds you of its agricultural origin.

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Oregon Coast Road Trip Part 3

The third day of our New Years road trip adventure, we begin in California. Humboldt bay shines on this winter morning, so white it shimmers like a mirage in the deeper areas. After breakfast, we decide to stick around the area and drive to the South Jetty, along the mudflats that comprise the driveable portions of the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

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Let’s talk about rabies

Hydrophobia. Fear of water. Thousands of years after the first cases of rabies were recognized as a disease and characterized by this one fatal symptom in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, we are still fighting to eradicate it. Just last December, the World Heath Organization (WHO) authored an initiative with its animal counterpart to end human rabies cases by 2030.

Yes, that’s right. Rabies is still around, even in the United States. In Texas alone last year, 949 animals tested positive for rabies, many of them pets. Around the world, 55,000 people die of rabies each year, almost half of them children. That is over 55,000 lives cut short because of a disease easily preventable by vaccination. Unfortunately, the amount of infrastructure and the availability of medical care, including those crucial vaccinations, is markedly different between developing countries and developed countries like the United States.

There is one other key difference: the type of rabies that dogs commonly carry has actually been eradicated here, though dogs remain the main reservoir in other countries, including China, India, Africa, and most of South America. Instead, dependent on where you live in the US, you may find cases carried in bats, foxes, skunks, raccoons, and coyotes. And if you or your dog gets bitten by one of these critters, both of you could become infected and potentially even transmit the fatal disease to others.

A few weeks ago, I visited central Texas for a family shindig, and we had the opportunity to visit one of the caves in the area. During our tour, we were able to see these little guys:

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Once known as the eastern pipistrelle, they are now more commonly known as the tri-colored bat. They are often solitary or in small groups at the edges of caves and agricultural areas of the eastern US, though much remains unknown about their daily habits.

During our tour of the caves, our guide informed the group that these bats are too small to bite and do not carry rabies. The key here is that these bats are the size of small mice. Would you believe someone if they told you that mice don’t bite? Of course not! Like mice, bats don’t often bite, but even the smallest of them will if threatened.

As to their ability to carry and transmit rabies, many ‘cryptic’ cases of human and pet rabies, where the original infected bite wasn’t identified, are not only attributable to bats, but to this species specifically. As a matter of fact, the tri-colored bat is one of the most common causes of human cases of cryptic rabies, and is a known vector, or carrier, of rabies in Texas specifically. In addition, Travis County in central Texas is one of the hot spots for positive rabies cases due to the density of bats living there. Though the risks of receiving an infected bat bite or scratch on a short cave tour are low, they do exist.

When I brought up my concerns after the tour, they were dismissed off-hand. There were kids in that tour and in other tours that will receive this information, and that is unacceptable. Even in the US, children are more likely than adults to receive exposures to rabid bats through touching them, picking them up, handling them bare-handed. And all it takes is one parent to believe this inaccurate information, to not get the treatment necessary after their child has been exposed, to have a child die because someone thought the bat was too small to bite them, and besides, they don’t carry rabies anyway. Right?

Wrong. Let’s talk about rabies. Let’s talk about the real risks, not downplay them so people aren’t cautious when they encounter wildlife or strange animals, or so they pay the ticket price for entrance into your attraction.

If you do encounter a strange animal, whether it’s wild or domestic, please don’t approach it. If it bites or scratches you, make sure to clean out any injuries, no matter how small, and get treatment from your doctor. Even when rabies isn’t a primary concern, other infections may be depending on the nature of the injury.

Yes, being outside with the diverse array of wildlife we have around us is wonderful, even beautiful at times. Please don’t forget, though, that nature’s beauty often comes with thorns.

Grand Teton National Park Day 2

Picture it: you pull into a rutted pullout at 5:30 in the morning. When you open the car door, all the warm air in the car exits with you, leaving you near-freezing in a darkened field. You hear a bison snort somewhere nearby, and your breath momentarily fogs your glasses as you exhale. You fasten on your headlamp, and your feet crunch into the packed gravel as you begin the half-mile walk to your destination. The half-light of dawn begins creeping slowly around you, allowing you to pick out sagebrush from grasses. Dark buildings loom before you. Ahead, it starts to sound like someone is playing foursquare with a rubber bouncy-ball.

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Grand Teton National Park Day 1

After our adventure at Yellowstone, we trekked down to our cabin in Jackson, Wyoming. The scenery through Idaho was beautiful, filled with farmland, and we luckily hit the Teton Pass just before sunset. Not only did we get to see the valley bathed in the golden afterglow of a spring rainstorm, but we also didn’t have to take the curvy, snow-covered road after dark.

The next morning, we were up at sunrise and ready to see what could be better than Yellowstone National Park. If it tells you anything, the Other Half and I discussed the minute differences between ‘awesome’ and ‘majestic’ in describing the two parks for at least 30 minutes. We may also have had way too much coffee that morning…

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Yellowstone in a day

We weren’t entirely sure whether we’d like to spend one or two days at Yellowstone, but we finally decided that due to the driving distance we would have to cover from our hotel to the park, as well as the presence of the dog, we’d stick around the Jackson and Grand Tetons area for an extra day instead. Because of all the awesome things we saw in this short period, I’ll share with you a 5-step guide to seeing as much of Yellowstone as possible in a day. No, it is not possible to see the whole thing (or even 1/2 or 1/3) in one day, but you can prioritize what you want to see and plan from there.

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