Beavers Rule the Roost at Crater Lake
Whether we are talking about bears, bison or beavers, the best safety rule with wild animals is this: “Do not invade their space.” It is amazing how often the rule is violated.
Inquiries about the ball-biting beaver seem to come up with regularity at Crater Lake on Old Pass Road.
Personally, after heaving myself up Old Pass Road at a pace you thought might be humanly impossible, I like to sit on the bench along Crater Lake and think pleasant thoughts.
A good hike always does me a world of good. For a Jackson Hole senior during the age of COVID-19 a good uphill hike does more than just clear my head. Acute respiratory distress syndrome, one of the most deadly complications from the coronavirus, can be reduced by at least 30 minutes or more a day of moderate-intensity exercise. One more valid reason to climb those stinking hills.
After my most recent hike, just before I gobbled up half of a fried chicken sandwich at Rations in Wilson, I spoke to a very nice woman who informed me, after her brisk and speedy walk up the entire length of Teton Pass at age 72, that exercise releases an increasing amount of extracellular superoxide dismutase into the muscles, which can help prevent ARDS.
Then she added, “This is the most delicious chicken sandwich I have ever eaten in my life.”
“See you on the pass tomorrow,” I replied.
I have done a lot of bench sitting at Crater Lake this summer. Visitors always ask how deep the lake is, how cold the lake is, and invariably they want to know, “Are there really killer beavers in this lake? I read about it online.”
“Oh, I suppose,” I reply, immediately trying to change the subject.
“You know, this road was once a highway,” I say. “In 1970 the Crater Lake Bridge was constructed by the Wyoming Highway Department right over there in that area,” I inform while pointing. “The bridge was destroyed before it was completed by a large avalanche released from Glory Bowl.”
“Hmm,” they mutter, unimpressed. “But what about those beavers?”
“Oh, it’s a sorry tale involving fear, violence and retribution,” I tell them.
“Three years ago there was a very territorial beaver swimming amongst the logs in Crater Lake. All summer long signs were posted warning dog owners that there was an aggressive beaver, nicknamed Nettles, causing havoc. Veterinarians had been stitching up dogs, often with damage to their private parts after altercations with Nettles.
In early autumn word spread that another local dog named Teddy had his penis compromised by the beaver. It was the talk of the town, but then things got worse. A local man who had a personal history with the Crater Lake beaver had reached the breaking point. Armed and ready, the local man climbed Old Pass Road to Crater Lake to seek retribution for Teddy getting neutered by the penis-eating beaver. He succeeded.
“So some guy got mad at the beaver and gunned him down?” the visitors ask.
“Yes,” I always say. “We don’t like to talk about it, and there hasn’t been a problem here again. However, the following year in New Jersey there was a report about a 95-pound yellow Labrador attacked by a beaver that then dragged him into the water. The dog’s owner bashed the beaver repeatedly until it retreated. The Lab had a serious long gash on his leg. The local residents were warned by police to exercise caution when walking their dogs near waterways.”
Usually Old Pass Road visitors wander away making shivering motions with their shoulder blades after our little chat. I really don’t want to chat; I just want to sit quietly.
I encountered one visitor from Edmonton, Alberta, who knew several people who reported having their dogs attacked by beavers at an off-leash dog park there.
“They told everybody to keep their dogs out of the bushes,” the Edmonton hiker said.
“Really?” I asked. “Yes, beavers get spooked when they’re out of the water.”
I’m sick of the weird beaver stories. One morning shortly after the dark times following Nettles’ assassination, another fan of the sensational sat beside me at Crater Lake and said, “Some guy in Russia was bitten to death by a beaver.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Really,” he said. “The guy was out fishing. After he spotted the beaver he got in close to take a picture. The beaver bit him on the thigh, severed an artery, and that was that.”
All I could think about were all the sweet unassuming beavers I’ve seen swimming along minding their own business through the years. All the urban beavers I’ve watched munching trees along Flat Creek. I’ve even given a good talking to a beaver who developed a taste for Snow King Avenue aspens and cottonwoods.
“Knock it off,” I told him. “If the feds find you, you’re dead meat.”
The trees with the bite marks still stand.