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“Take only pictures, leave only footprints,” the old saw goes. But one Colorado hiker brought something much bigger, and furrier, home from a day on the trails last month.
Cole Wilson was on his way to a friend’s house after a hike at La Plata Canyon on May 26 when he noticed the check engine light of his truck had switched on. After a 40-mile drive, he arrived at his destination and popped the hood of his trunk to discover that a pair of marmots had made themselves comfortable. Unfortunately, as he told Denver’s 9News, the curious creatures had also chewed on some wiring under the hood.
Summer is around the corner, and around the high country of the U.S., marmots have emerged from their winter sleep and are out and about. And every year, a handful of the rodents get into hikers’ cars, attracted by the scent of coolant or wire insulation, leaving cars damaged or even disabled at the trailhead.
In California’s Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, marmot encounters are frequent enough that the National Park Service maintains a page warning drivers on how they can keep the curious critters out of their rides. The animals are especially common in the park’s Mineral King zone, where from spring to mid-summer they regularly feast on radiator hoses and car wiring. The park suggests that visitors drive over a tarp and tie it up so it covers their wheel wells, blocking the animals’ entryway into the vehicle.
In some cases, like Wilson’s, the marmots don’t vacate their new hideaway quickly enough, and end up trapped when hikers head home. That’s what happened to one unlucky groundhog in 2020, when it inadvertently caught a lift from Winter Park, Colorado, to the Denver suburb of Parker, a nearly 90-mile trip. After officers from Colorado Parks and Wildlife picked it up from the driver’s garage, they relocated it to its new home at Staunton State Park.
Some marmots end up taking even bigger trips: After a Glendale, Arizona, resident snapped a picture of an unfamiliar animal in her neighborhood, wildlife officials discovered that a Colorado marmot had somehow hitched a ride all the way from the mountains to the desert. When Arizona Game and Fish officers captured the animal, they discovered an ear tag from a study indicating that it had begun its journey in Crested Butte, Colorado, more than 600 miles away.
As cute of a traveling companion as a marmot may be, hikers should resist the temptation to give them a lift. (Trust us: Besides the whole “eating your car” thing, they never chip in for gas.) Besides wrapping your car in particularly marmot-heavy areas, the National Park Service shares the following advice:
- Wash your car thoroughly—top and bottom.
- Check under your hood and below your car for marmots or marmot-related damage before you leave. Turn the battery on and make sure all your indicator lights come on; missing lights may indicate wiring damage.
- After you start your engine, listen for unusual sounds.