John Bartus

Most of us who live here in the Keys have stories of some favorite questions our beloved visitors ask. I’ve written several columns in the past on this topic; they are among my most popular.

But it’s not just here — every geographical area with a tourism component has their own particular visitor questions. I’d love to tell you that I’ve never asked a stupid visitor question… 

Sarah and I were on a mountain cabin getaway in Blue Ridge, Georgia, when we discovered that three kitchen drawers were blocked by the large gas stove. I wasn’t eager to move anything large and connected to explosive gases. We called the cabin rental company; they had a real nice Georgia lady at our cabin in minutes. She assessed the situation, and with a quick hip check, that stove was back in place and all the drawers were accessible. I am not going to tell you just how inept I felt at that moment. But there I was, far away from home, embarrassed by my need to bother someone who likely had far better things to do.

They say that there’s no such thing as a stupid question. “They” are wrong (as evidenced by the above). Here are some stupid visitor questions that I compiled by research as well as ones I’ve encountered in my own travels and personal experience. Let’s go!

Many areas of our great nation have road signs that say “Deer Crossing.” This leads some to ask the inevitable question: “How do the deer know where to cross?” This implies that the deer know how to read signs as opposed to someone placing the signs where deer are known to cross.

The Grand Canyon is a result of millions of years of water eroding rock to create a natural wonder. Yet park rangers are asked — hundreds of times in any given week — if the Grand Canyon is manmade. Really. People also ask if the Canyon is lit up at night. 

Wildlife abounds at many of our national parks. Winter also happens at many of them every year. I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that people actually ask, “What does the Park Service do with all the animals in the winter?” (Put them in cages and ship them back to the zoo?) “What time do you feed the bears?” And this nugget: “Are the bears friendly?”

From the Appalachians to the Rockies, America’s mountain ranges inspire awe among visitors. Sadly, not all visitors paid attention in science class when their teachers discussed how mountains were formed. (Here’s a hint: people didn’t build them.) Visitors ask where they can pick up the elevator that goes to the top (or to the bottom if they’re at the Grand Canyon). Visitors ask, “How much does that mountain weigh? With and without snow?” And those who choose to hike the trails have their own interesting observations: “Do you have trails that don’t go uphill?” “Are the trails paved?” “Are the areas that don’t have trails well-marked?” “Do they turn off the waterfalls at night?” “Is this park open to everyone, or just tourists?” In the Smoky Mountains, “What time do they turn the smoke on?”

Not only is there wildlife in many natural areas, some of the creatures that inhabit these natural areas aren’t exactly friendly to human visitors. A recent stay in a cabin in the mountains of North Georgia revealed this nugget of wisdom in the book that they left for renters: “Bears, deer, turkeys, ladybugs, carpenter bees, wasps, scorpions, ticks, ants, chiggers, etc., may be encountered in the mountains. There is no refund for the presence of typical mountain creatures.” One can only imagine the questions and conversations that necessitated placing this language in the visitor guidebook. 

Travelers in general can be amusing as well. More than a few visitors to places like Alaska and Hawaii say they had a great time, but they can’t wait to get back to the States. (Just think about that one for a bit.) 

Wherever you go, it’s not a bad idea to do a little research about the area you’ll be visiting. That, and don’t feed the bears.

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