The Rock Squirrel – the WMD of the Grand Canyon!
Squirrels are cute and they are everywhere at Grand Canyon National Park. However, they are a real nuisance, especially at the Indian Garden overnight and day use areas. Due to the number of hikers feeding the squirrels by hand or just leaving crumbs or dropping pieces of food along the trail, they have become fearless of humans and have lost the need to fend for themselves. They have become destructive to packs, fingers and toes. They do not scare easily and have been known to come back to bite you after being shooed away.
There are a few things you can do to help the squirrels (and the other animals) and yourself on your next Grand Canyon hiking trip. There are daily reports of squirrel bites, not to mention how unhealthy these furry little dudes have gotten. They are overweight; probably have high cholesterol and cankles. They also need to learn to fend for themselves or they could starve to death during the off-season for tourism.
- The obvious - don't feed them! In fact, help your pocket book as well. If the Park Rangers catch you feeding the squirrels, you will be fined $125 and $75 for leaving any food or edibles unattended. Just pretend you are at the airport - you wouldn't leave a bag unattended there would you?
- Do not leave your pack or food items unattended! See above.
- If you drop some crumbs or spill your trail mix, pick it up. Yes it is time consuming and you have to touch the dirt, but it is for the good of humanity! Besides, if you spill something at your house, you would clean that up, right? So, think of it as your home for the next few hours or days.
- Leave No Trace. This means leave no trash. Wrappers are fair game for the squirrels. Don't forget the apple cores, orange peels, banana peels, cherry pits, etc. These are also trash. Even if the animals don't get them, they still take 6 months to biodegrade in our arid environment.
- If you are staying overnight, make sure your pack is cleared of all trash, food, crumbs, toiletries and anything else that may have an edible scent. Check all pockets and crevices. If it is there, they will find it! There are ammo cans at each campground in the corridor area for food storage. If you are camping outside the corridor areas, check out the Outsack. This is a wire mesh sack that keeps the small critters out. Oh - be sure to actually close the cans or bag - tight!
- Once you have cleared your packs, hang them up on the provided poles. The squirrels now seem to go after anything that may have food in it, regardless, just in hopes of finding something tasty. Even a quick trip to the bathroom may be enough time to come back to a holey pack - and I don't mean one blessed by the Pope! We just returned from a trip to Indian Garden and left a pack on the picnic table (with all food items removed) for about 5 minutes and a squirrel chewed a nice sized hole in the pack. Aside from the damage done to your $200 pack, remember that you do still need that pack to carry your items out of the canyon as well.
- Put away all dishes or anything that had food in it. Squirrels will chew, or worse, steal, your dishes left out on the picnic table unattended. Put them in the ammo cans with your food or put them away in your pack and hang them. A mesh bag works well to hang things that may still be a little wet or for easier access. Even if they don't get chewed, do you want to eat out of something a rodent may have been licking, walking on or dragging across the dirt?
So many Grand Canyon hikers have had run ins with these pesky critters and likely have other tips to share, but this should get you in and out of the canyon unscathed by the squirrels! But as a precautionary measure, make sure you bring the duct tape for pack repair.