Backcasts archive: Through July 20, 2007

Blog calendar: July 19 | July 18 | July 17 | July 16

posted July 19, 2007

Head lice is one thing, but this is just buggy

Talk about having bugs on the brain.

Aaron Dallas knew the bleeding bumps that appeared on his head after his summer trip to Belize were strange. And they hurt, too.

"It was weird and traumatic," said the Carbondale, Colo., man, according to an Associated Press out of his hometown. "I would get this pain that would drop me to my knees."

At first doctors thought the unusual formations were from gnat bites or shingles. But get this: The bumps started moving.

A doctor found five active bot fly larvae living beneath the skin atop Dallas' head.

"I'd put my hand back there and feel them moving. I thought it was blood coursing through my head," Dallas told the (Glenwood Springs) Post Independent.

"I could hear them. I actually thought I was going crazy."

Indeed, that is just insane. Imagine returning from your summer vacation with a larval infestation in your head. But Dallas said that's likely just what happened. Bot fly infections are not uncommon in parts of Central and South America, the AP reports.

The larvae, which are about one-third the size of a penny, were recently removed from a pit about 3 millimeters wide in Dallas' scalp.

The best part is that his wife, Midge Dallas, teased him about it.

"I told him, "I will love you through your maggots,'" she said to the Post Independent.

Nice, Midge.

Not surprisingly, Midge's husband found little humor in the exchange.

"It's much funnier to everyone else," he said. "It makes my stomach turn over. It was cruel."

Hear, hear! Husbands with bugs in their heads unite; we have to stick up for our downtrodden brethren.

By the way, if you look in Webster's you'll note that a midge is a tiny, gnatlike insect with two wings. Who's laughing now?

Spiders to the rescue?

Speaking of creepy crawlers, an arachnophobe is hailing spiders as heroes for sparing her from a fire in her room.

Danielle Vigue, 18, says she awoke early Tuesday to find spiders in her room, and started killing them, the Associated Press reports from Hemlock, Mich.

"At first there were five; they were all around the light fixture," Vigue told The Saginaw News. "I hate spiders; they freak me out."

When other spiders began appearing, she fled to another room in her family's home to retire.

Hours later, Vigue's mother and 8-year-old sister smelled smoke. When the door to the room she had vacated earlier was opened, flames greeted the family, according to the AP.

"I will never kill another spider again," Vigue told WNEM-TV in Saginaw.

Richland Township Fire Chief Gary Wade, a 30-year veteran of the Saginaw County department, was surprised by the story.

"I've never heard of spiders saving someone from a fire before," he said.

Neither have we, chief, neither have we.


posted July 18, 2007

You never know just what you'll find in an old outhouse

If there's one constant about campgrounds, base camps and other backcountry jumping-off points, it's outhouses. For many they are viewed as necessary evils. But consider the alternative. Not a pretty sight, is it?

Now comes word that the fine art of outhouse archeology has been honed in downtown Ventura, Calif. – my old stomping grounds, though I'm fairly certain I didn't leave anything of historical or monetary value when I pulled up my pants and left town for the greener pastures of Seattle seven years ago.

Indeed, it turns out a spot where a pair of outhouses stood 130 years ago is proving to be a treasure trove for archaeologists who braved the lingering smell in the dirt to uncover some 19th century artifacts – and, aha, a mystery, according to the Associated Press.

My dear Watson, do we ever have a dirty job for you! And bring something to mask the odor. A cloth with a dash of sweet perfume held to your face will do. Elementary!

No doubt, it's nasty work.

"The further you go down, the stronger the smell," archaeologist Marisa Solorzano said.

The pay dirt, er, payoff, apparently makes it worthwhile, however.

"But it's not that bad. These privies are archaeological gold mines," Solorzano said.

The one-time site of privies for men and women has been built upon repeatedly. Recently, crews demolished a former school bus barn on the 3½-acre downtown site in order to build a condominium complex and a parking garage, the AP reports.

But first, archaeologists were called in. Beginning in late May, they started digging into the ground in a discovery effort that could last several more weeks.

They uncovered a pistol, a bowie knife, whiskey flasks, a set of false teeth, two dog skulls and a blade from a set of sheep shears, according to the AP.

"It might be an early crime scene," project archaeologist John Foster said. "It looks like the two dogs were decapitated. Then whoever did it dumped the skulls and the blade, thinking the women probably wouldn't be looking too hard into the bottom of the privy."

The site was known to be used historically by American Indians, Spanish missionaries, Mexican soldiers and American settlers. Once, there were brothels nearby.

The area, the size of two football fields, housed Ventura's first courthouse, jail and hospital during the late 1800s.

Artifacts found at the site, along with photographs and other documentation, eventually will go to the Museum of Ventura County.

I presume this story may yield a whole new interpretation of being interred.


posted July 17, 2007

Flowers deserve props on occasion, too

Some might call it a stretch – featuring flowers on a blog that appears on a hunting and fishing site.

But here at Backcasts, that's exactly what we like – bucking the trend.

Hey, we're not all about fauna. Stand up for flora, I say. But you be the judge. You love me? You love me not?

This recent deal with orchids – one an exceedingly rare find in Florida and another a new, distinct species in the Yosemite National Park – is too good to pass up.

First comes word that a scarce ghost orchid has been found growing high in an old cypress tree in a southwest Florida nature preserve.

You'll remember the endangered flower as a central character in the 2002 movie "Adaptation," the fictional spinoff from the nonfiction book "The Orchid Thief."

It's seems a real ghost orchid is taking up residence about 45 feet off the ground in a tree at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples, Fla., according to the Associated Press.

Two visitors looking for owls recently spotted it about 150 feet from the sanctuary's boardwalk. It can be seen only with binoculars and good lighting.

"They're very rare, and this one is unusual because it has so many flowers," said Naples photographer Ralph Arwood, who spent hours waiting to get a shot of the rare blooms.

The orchid, which blooms for about two weeks, has nine flowers, triple the usual number. It is not clear how long this ghost orchid has been blooming, the AP reports.

"They're pretty impressive flowers, too, as big as your hand. It's nice to have it at Corkscrew. If it's here, it's safe."

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary manager Ed Carlson said the orchid could have been in the tree for decades. It is the first ghost orchid discovered near the sanctuary boardwalk in 12 years.

Next we learn that an orchid more impressive for its putrid smell than its tiny, yellow flowers has been deemed a new species.

First collected in 1923 and found only in nine sites in California's Yosemite National Park, the Yosemite bog-orchid attracts pollinators by emitting an odor reminiscent of sweaty feet, the Associated Press reports out of San Francisco.

"I was out surveying clovers one afternoon, and I started smelling something. I was like, 'Eew, what's that?'" said botanist Alison Colwell, who works for the U.S. Geological Survey in El Portal, Calif. "It smelled like a horse corral on a hot afternoon."

Unlike other orchids, its flowers are almost an afterthought. Oh, did we also mention it has minute, yellow flowers.

But it is the only known orchid species endemic to California's Sierra Nevada range, growing in spring-fed areas between 6,000 feet and 9,000 feet in elevation, Colwell said.

After re-evaluating the flower scientists announced yesterday it is a distinct species, according to the AP. An article revealing the species' discovery was published in Madrono, a journal of the California Botanical Society.

The species isn't likely to have any commercial value since its flowers are less than a quarter of an inch wide. And its foul smell certainly won't keep orchid lovers away; some were so enthused by the news they began planning cross-country trips to see its delicate summer blooms, according to the AP.

"This orchid might not be showy enough to get the masses lined up all the way from San Francisco to see it, but I'm leaving Sunday to go out there to photograph it," said wild orchid expert Paul Martin Brown, who planned to leave Acton, Maine, this weekend to include the orchid in his latest book.

Colwell, one of three scientists credited with the discovery, said the bog-orchid – its new, official scientific name is Platanthera yosemitensis – is thought to have persisted in the upland meadows south of Yosemite Valley, which nourished unique plant species because the area never froze under glacial cover.

At least seven other rare plant species have been found there, including the Yosemite onion, Yosemite woolly sunflower and Bolander's clover.

Park officials said they would not release details about where the plant was found because they were concerned visitors might love it to death.

"There's concern that it will get trampled," said ranger Adrienne Freeman. "It's a rare and precious resource that we want to protect."

Now isn't that a beautiful statement and what Backcasts is proud to support: a rare and precious resource that we want to protect.

One other note: Platanthera yosemitensis is but the newest entry in the largest plant family in nature. Indeed, there are some 30,000 orchid species worldwide.


posted July 16, 2007

Mush, dog, mush … in southern California? Without snow?

No, you're not seeing things. The headline is correct.

"Urban mushing" has taken hold of dog owners southeast of Los Angeles, where there is no snow, no sleds and no Alaskan wilderness anywhere outside the vivid imaginations of 240 members of the Southern California Working Snow Dogs, about 50 of whom show up most weekends to traverse Fairview Park in Costa Mesa, the Associated Press reports.

The group's "snow dogs" include huskies, malamutes, dobermans and a dalmatian – many of which had never put paw to snow. And instead of sleds, the dogs pull fancy, two-wheeled scooters, which at prices of $200 to $700 come complete with brakes and knobby tires to navigate the rocks and potholes on the park's winding dirt trails.

Leave it to California to lead the way in the new world of urban mushing, a k a dog scootering.

"I know plenty of Californians and nothing surprises me anymore," said Greg Sellentin, publisher of Alaska-based Mushing, the magazine of dog-powered adventure.

For the dogs' owners, scootering is a chance to bond with their pets and tap into the spirit of America's final frontier on urban trails in the Lower 48, according to the AP.

And the activity isn't just becoming more popular in the Golden State. Members of Dogs Across America, a national scootering group launched in 2005, say their membership rolls have shot up particularly in Texas, Washington and California.

Much has been altered in its warm-weather translation, but urban mushing offers a call to the wild for canines, in contrast to an explosion of dog bakeries, day-care centers and strollers that increasingly pamper pups, the AP reports.

"They're basically in the den waiting to go hunt. They want to start running and hunting," said urban musher Rob Fuechtenicht. "When you hook them to the scooter, you're riding behind them and they're in this doggy nirvana kind of stage."

We like that. We like that a lot.

Yelping, restless dogs strapped into harnesses and leashes are tethered to a non-motorized scooter just below the handlebars. The owner stands on a platform and (unlike in the Land of the Midnight Sun) often in shorts and a T-shirt. There's no need to bundle up here.

For some of the dogs, however, getting in touch with their primal side after years of dozing on the couch can be an adjustment.

Barbara Yates had to give her dog Luke an anti-inflammatory after his initial run.

"I took him to the doctor, who said, 'Oh my God, you've overworked him,'" she recalled.

It takes about one outing for a dog paired with an experienced musher to get the hang of pulling, but staying on course can take a little longer. Some pairs will go in opposite directions, chase after rabbits or stop altogether to sniff the air. Then there's the occasional collision.

"It does happen," said Rancy Reyes, whose dogs Niko and Lyka have been known to start wrestling in the middle of a run. "They're like the comic relief of the group. I should instill more discipline."

Reyes, who started the Costa Mesa group, has been teaching his huskies the official mushing commands: "gee" for right and "haw" for left, "easy" to slow down and "on-by" to pass.

One musher was stopped recently in a public park by a ranger, who told her that scooters, like skateboards, were banned. Others say they endure quips about practicing for the Iditarod, missing the snow or even abusing their dogs. The most common taunt: "Mush!"

"Nobody ever uses the word 'mush,'" said Reyes. "Nobody uses it, not even the actual mushers."

Well, we've learned two things from that last comment. The SoCal group of "snow dog" owners thankfully don't consider themselves real mushers, and bona fide mushers should consider a new moniker if "mush" isn't part of their lexicon.

Maybe "hawers" would be more appropriate. "Gee'ers" doesn't sound great. Ah, got it: "Easy riders." Perfect.

  • Got a similar take or differing view? Post on our Message Board or our Mailbag. And if you have a news tip, send it our way.

    About the author: Brett Pauly spent nearly six years editing and publishing ESPNOutdoors.com before moving on to produce the ESPN.com Sports Travel site.

    He is a national award-winning writer and editor with 14 years of experience in the newspaper trade. The Evergreen State of Washington is where he makes his home. Click here to email him.

  • Check the Backcasts archives for previous blogs.