Rae Ellen Bichell

If it weren’t for the snowy alpine peaks in the background, camels would look perfectly at home in the undulating yellow sand hills of Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

“It’s really a very special place. And it is very unusual. It’s almost like an alien landscape when you happen upon it,” says Vanessa Mazal, who has been visiting the national park since she was a kid and now works with the National Parks Conservation Association.

It began in 2014. Doctors noticed a cluster of mysterious cases in Colorado and Wyoming. Children were coming in with weak and paralyzed limbs. Eventually, 120 patients across the U.S. came in with similar symptoms.

A fierce debate is taking place across the country right now: What to do about immigrants who came here illegally as children. Up until recently, they qualified for a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which protects them from deportation. But the Trump administration rescinded that Obama-era rule and Congress is debating what will take its place.  

We talked to three people affected by that debate right here in the Mountain West.

Colorado Springs, Colorado

In the spring of 1942, official posters went up across the West Coast and Arizona. All people of Japanese ancestry had one week to report to assembly centers. Ultimately, more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans were forcibly imprisoned in internment camps, many of them located in the Mountain West. This week is when we remember those camps and the people who lived in them.

One of them was a 13-year-old boy named Minoru Tonai.

In the first century, a doctor called Aretaeus of Cappadocia described the rotting smell of "Egyptian ulcers." Ancient Chinese medical literature mentions a disease called "children-killing carbuncle." In 17th century Spain there were references to an illness known as "the strangler."

Fake birth control pills. Cough syrup for children that contained a powerful opioid. Antimalarial pills that were actually just made of potato and cornstarch.

These are, according to the World Health Organization, just a few examples of poor-quality or fake medicines identified in recent years.

In early autumn, it became clear that something was not right in Madagascar.

The country often sees small outbreaks of the bubonic plague, which comes from an infection spread by a flea bite. The disease is now easily treatable with antibiotics.

But this time, the number of cases was growing quickly, and the bacterial infection was spreading in a different, more serious form.

A 79-year-old man picked up an object with his left hand and suddenly felt a sharp pain in his shoulder. Something moved in his upper arm. And with that, he was Popeye.

His right arm looked the same as it always had: lean and sagging a little with age. But his left biceps now sported a baseball-size bulge that looked like it could land a powerful punch. The brand-new muscle mound looked even bigger when the man flexed his biceps. The only thing was, it hurt. A lot.

The day Dr. Roberto Montenegro finished his Ph.D. was memorable. But not for the right reasons.

"I still cringe when I think about it," says Montenegro.

It had started well. His colleagues at UCLA had taken him and his girlfriend (now wife) out to a fancy restaurant to celebrate.

An outbreak of the plague is growing in Madagascar.

Pages