Thursday, October 6, 2011

Bees and Yellowjackets and Turkey Vultures, Oh My!

Last weekend's trip to Joshua Tree could easily have been my 100th time camping in the desert, but that did not mean I did not have any first-time experiences or ponder something new.

My first experience with Africanized, or "Aggressive Bees" as the National Park staff call them, happened last week in Joshua Tree. As we entered the park, Nature called and I chose to put it on hold for about 30 minutes. After I could not take it any more I stopped at a lovely pit toilet. As I walked up to the toilet I noticed a large number of bees crawling around the bottom of the bathroom door and several flying around. Hmmm? I thought to myself, "That is unusual", and opened the door to take a peek inside. I think I looked for no more than a half a second and started running back to the van. I saw at least 50 bees flying around inside the bathroom, and my brain translated their flight patterns as aggressive. I made it back to the van and closed the door. As I described the bees to my family I saw about four or five flying around my van in that aggressive pattern I saw in the bathroom. OK, let's drive to the next bathroom, which was about a mile or two away (the Hall of Horrors). I approached this bathroom with a sense of humor since my kids were watching. I boxed at the air as if I were fighting bees. Well, when I opened the door there were more bees! I retreated to the van, and came up with plan "C", which was a nice juniper bush a short walk away. My best understanding of the bee problem is: the bees are attracted to water and the National Park staff wash out the bathrooms with a hose. The bees are drinking the water on the floor of the bathroom. We noticed this same kind of behavior when we washed dishes in our camp.

The bees are not the only thirsty insects in the park. They just happened to have the benefit of an advertising campaign on the park bulletin boards. The yellowjackets, which are a wasp, happened to be quite busy around the campground too. I think this is the first time I have experienced yellowjackets in the desert. I flicked them off of the kid's sippy cups. Off of dinner plates. The water jug. The wet dishes. I failed to keep them off of my body when I was packing the car (I was a walking beverage stand to them). As I placed some gear in the van I squished one between my upper arm and chest. OUCH! I looked and he was hanging on to my arm by his stinger. The good news is the kids did not get stung the whole weekend. One solution I might consider in the future is to go to a more remote camping spot in the desert. With fewer man-made amenities, there should be fewer bees and wasps.

Lastly, Lukas and I were hanging out in the heat of the day, in the shade of a pinon pine. I pointed out some turkey vultures flying over-head, which led to a discussion of what they eat. Lukas then had the idea of lying on the ground and pretend that he was dead. I told him that was a good idea, but he would probably need to smell dead too. We did not test either theory.

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