Addicts are wreaking havoc in the Mineral King area of California's Sequoia National Park. For the last two decades, they've been congregating in the visitor parking lot during the summer months, hanging out for a day or two, getting their fix, then returning whence they came. In the process of feeding their habit, the addicts damage numerous automobiles, which they often camp underneath four or five at a time. Strangest of all is that more of them haven't died, considering that their fix is antifreeze.
The perpetrators are yellow-bellied marmots who chew through hoses on automobile engines. They then lap up the minerals that collect on the rubber and imbibe the antifreeze, which contains alcoholic ethylene glycol. According to Harold Werner, a Sequoia National Park ecologist, 20 to 40 cars are damaged each summer by an estimated 200 marmots. Werner says he's boggled by the marmots' ability to consume antifreeze, a substance that would kill humans and most other animals. (Condors, for instance, have died after drinking the spilled liquid.) All it does for marmots, apparently, is give them "a bit of a high."
Werner says that he has heard reports of such activity in Olympic National Park and the Rocky Mountains, but nothing like the level at Mineral King. It's almost as if, he says, "the marmots are waiting for the cars to show up when Mineral King opens" after the winter.
Because of this acquired taste, several marmots have become stowaways, remaining under car hoods sometimes for hundreds of miles. Some visitors have taken to wrapping chicken wire under their engines and laying out hoses around the car as sacrificial offerings, but Werner suggests hikers simply arrange to be dropped off at the trailhead.--Andrew Becker