Over the course of my life, I’ve lived in several places that were tourist destinations. One thing I’ve found from that is that people who are normally intelligent, functional human beings seem to leave their brains at home when they leave for vacation. It’s at times humorous, some times it’s exasperating, and others infuriating.
When I worked as a park ranger, I often experienced it. One that I still remember was funny. Our usual routine was to do a “sweep” of the park, prior to quiet hours. We’d each take a section of the park, and do a run-through to identify any “problem children” we might have to keep an eye on. Then we’d meet at the shower building to lock it up and compare notes. On my sweep, I passed a young couple out for a walk near one of the bathrooms. I continued my sweep, and passed them on the way back walking up the main road past another one. At the shower building, we compared notes, and were locking it up when they appeared. “It’s closed?” they asked. “Yes, we always close it at night.” I replied. “But where are we supposed to go to the bathroom?” the woman asked. “Uhhhhh….. you might try one of the three you passed on the way here.” I replied. It might have been understandable, except that it was hard to miss the only buildings that were lit, with signs saying “Toilet” on them.
That’s just one of many similar instances. I’ve wondered at times if I have an invisible sign that says “I’m a local.” When I lived in Washington, I’d have people stop me on the Mall and ask me where the Washington Monument was – and they were looking right at it. I’ve had others ask me directions, while looking at the nice, highly visible signs giving directions to their destination. One of my friends used to live in Cooperstown, and they told me of the couple who pulled over in their car, and asked him how they could get to Cooperstown. Not the Baseball Hall of Fame, mind you, the town. Which might have been understandable, except he was walking down Main Street inside the town. Having been there myself, it’s hard to miss the rather large signs that say “Welcome to Cooperstown” on every road as you enter, but they managed it.
Those are some of the funny stories. They’re amusing, exasperating when they happened, and generally harmless. Then there are the cases where it’s less amusing – even dangerous. People seem to forget that the same traffic rules apply in tourist areas as they do in town. It’s not a good idea to walk in the middle of the road or stroll out between two parked cars to cross a street, ignoring the convenient crosswalks. That more people aren’t killed each year doing that is more a tribute to the reflexes of the local drivers and luck than anything. The locals are also irritated by things that would irritate you – at home. The entrance to my driveway is not a conveniently empty parking spot, my front lawn is not a parking area, and no, it is not a convenient place for you to dispose of your garbage.
People also tend to assume that what holds true in their suburban or city environment holds true in a wilderness area, national or state park, or other rural areas. It doesn’t. The animals are not tame, and it is not a petting zoo. Similarly, the trails are not sidewalks, or particularly groomed. They go up and down hills or rocky areas, through swampy areas, there aren’t likely to be railings, and various plants along the way can cause bad reactions. Police, fire, and ambulance services are often a long ways away, and cell phones don’t always work. Every year, I see people heading out on a trail wearing clothing and shoes more suited to a quick trip to the mall than the trail they’re going on. Several times a year, I hear the scanner reporting the search for a missing hiker, and the calls for rescue crews to carry someone out of a remote area because they’re injured. I regularly see reports of people who are injured – even killed – doing something they shouldn’t have around a wild animal. When I was out west, a Park Service worker told me they called thngs like that “INS missions” – for Interfering with Natural Selection.
All of it is avoidable. The “locals” went to a great deal of effort to put up easily readable signs pointing out directions, services, and points of interest. You should read them. A little advance preparation is useful as well. The Internet has a lot of information about your chosen destination, as does your local library. Remember that wild animals are just that – wild. They may be very cute, but they’re not pettable. Rough country is often just that – rough. Enjoy your vacation, but when you pack, please remember to bring your mind with you.