Crater Lake Crayfish Crisis

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Nov 272014

Crayfish final

By Jack Edwards

Loyal readers know that I nearly lost my life at Crater Lake National Park last summer hanging on by my butt cheeks as I traversed Rim Drive to brave my way to the Rim Village Gift Shop (AKA Future Garage Sale Item Warehouse). I have not been eager to return, but my help may now be needed to address the rapidly emerging Crayfish Crisis recently reported by journalist Lee Juillerat of the Klamath Fall’s Herald and News. It appears that a Rumble Down Under is in full swing. The lake’s crayfish are locked in an epic battle with the lake’s newts. So far, it’s a bit lopsided. It looks like a battle between Seal Team Six and the Cloistered Sisters of Perpetual Peace.

Crater Lake newts aren’t just any pedestrian newt. They are special Mazama Newts, only found in Crater Lake. They are darker than the common newt and “less toxic” (just ask any Crater Lake crayfish). No one knows how these newts got into the lake, but scientists believe they may have been there for thousands of years. The crayfish on the other hand are nothing but a bunch of crustacean carpetbaggers. They arrived in 1915 and have been swaggering around acting like they own the place ever since. “[Y]ou can hardly pick up a rock without finding one,” the article quotes Mark Buktenica, who worked as Crater Lake National Park’s aquatic biologist for 30 years. These crayfish are the pit bull of crustaceans. Juillerat’s article references a YouTube video that depicts crayfish as, “voracious, efficient killers” presenting a scene “reminiscent of a horror movie.”

Proof, the scientists say, that the crayfish are driving out the Mazama newt, is that the newts used to hang out near the lake shore sipping tiny umbrella drinks and mugging for park visitors, but now the only places you can find newts are the few places where the crayfish thugs have not yet arrived. While I am not a fully licensed crustacean biologist, I have my own theory. It’s called “Mazama newt flight.” I think the Mazama newts, with all their old money and traditional ways, are simply stuck-up and think they’re too good to live near the crayfish. The newts are packing up their tiny station wagons and moving deeper into the lake. Scientists have spotted them living 820 feet beneath the surface living in miniature three bedroom, two bath subdivisions.  (Okay, the article only mentions the newts found at 820 feet.  Mr. Juillerat was vague on their accommodations, leaving me draw logical inferences).

Park aquatic biologist, Scott Girdner is quoted in Juillerat’s article pondering the effectiveness of possible solutions, “We don’t know if anything would be successful. Will newts exist or be driven to extinction.” I think I speak for everyone who never heard of a Mazama newt before reading this article – I don’t want to even THINK of living in a world without Mazama newts.

Lucky for everybody, I visited New Orleans last year. The New Orleans City Code requires every resident to consume twice their body weight in crayfish each year. Crayfish are in every dish that comes out of the kitchen except chocolate cake – and I think I even had a piece of that with a crayfish that tripped and fell headlong into the batter. So here’s my plan. We import a team of crack, yet rotund, Cajun chefs from New Orleans and turn them loose in Crater Lake National Park. Trust me on this folks, crayfish are De-Lish. Within a month, the only surviving crayfish left in Crater Lake will be wearing Mazama newt disguises and tiptoeing lightly near the nether reaches of Wizard Island. I’m already suggesting they rename the place Gumbo Crater Lake National Park. Visitor numbers will shoot through the roof. And they can use the extra money to finally fix that deathtrap they call Rim Drive.

Jul 172014

Crater Lake Final

By Jack Edwards

My family recently hosted a visit from one of my daughter’s college friends. I’ll refer to her as “Whitney” because her name happens to be Whitney. My daughter wanted to take her friend to visit Crater Lake National Park, but this posed a problem – Crater Lake is about three hours from our home, and it is difficult to drive and sleep at the same time. In order to obtain proper rest prior to her arrival at the lake, my daughter ingeniously invited the rest of our family along. This allowed me to enjoy driving the 145 miles over winding mountainous roads while she fell into a coma in the back seat.

Crater Lake is to Oregon as the Statue of Liberty is to New York. State law strictly forbids any local resident to visit these attractions unaccompanied by an out-of-state visitor. Whitney is from Tulsa.  When we arrived at the entrance, we announced that we had an out-of-state visitor, and after the park ranger inspected her identification, he let us enter.

The most important thing to remember about any national park is that it is a safe haven for wildlife. Even for ferocious species such as mountain lions, black bears, wolverines and, of course, bees. I know this because at our first stop when we got out of the car to gaze across the serene vista of crystal blue water, all of a sudden, and completely without notice, Whitney began waving her arms in a helicopter fashion and running off in a zigzag pattern, which, of course, is the international signal for Bee Attack. It turned out that it wasn’t so much of an actual Bee Attack as it was an actual bee sighting. You nature lovers will be relieved to learn that this wild and majestic bee was not harmed in any way, and in fact, had only gotten within about 75 feet of Whitney when she sprung into the required defensive action.

It was following this first stop that we made a critical mistake. One that almost cost us our lives – we failed to turn around and leave immediately. Due to this err, we naively continued on. Not because we wanted to, but because eons of genetic human evolution required us to venture forward to the nucleus of this natural wonder. The technical term for this “nucleus” is The Gift Shop.

The problem with our not turning around and retreating from the lake, and following our gravitational instinct was that to get there, we had to travel along “Rim Drive.” Rim Drive leads to (and this is its real name) “Rim Village.”

Rim Drive consists of almost a full 1 ¾ traffic lanes. At numerous points, it’s difficult to ignore the fact that not only does the road lack any shoulder, it also lacks a guardrail to prevent your vehicle from plunging over a 1000 feet sheer vertical drop-off. And not only does the road lack a shoulder, at places, there is actually a “negative shoulder” (i.e. it lacks even a full fog line to mark the beginning of your final decent to certain death). I would prefer to run in a zigzag pattern from a mountain lion than face this ribbon of asphalt ever again.

But it was all worth it, because we arrived safely at Rim Village, where we immediately visited the Rim Gift Shop. While the vista across the lake was awe inspiring, it did not compare to the panorama inside the gift shop: Garage sale items as far as the eye could see.

Our next stop was Cheetwood Trail. This is a 1.1 mile hiking trail down to the edge of the lake. It contains approximately one million switch backs punctuated with signs that on first glance appeared to read: “Do not throw rocks onto hikers below.” I imagined that visitors, driven insane by navigating Rim Drive, lost their minds by the time they reached Cheetwood Trail and became homicidal. I don’t know. But the federal government took the time and my money to put these signs up, so the problem had to be real. Several times, when there were other hikers near me, I couldn’t resisted looking up and yelling out randomly, “Hey, stop throwing rocks down on me!” Here is the actual sign:

Crater Lake Sign

Luckily, our entire hiking party survived the harrowing vertical trek without ever being struck by a rock thrown from above, or giving in to our more base instincts and throwing one ourselves. Most importantly, my daughter arrived home from the trip satisfied of accomplishing her goal of showing Whitney Crater Lake, and most importantly, refreshed from her final three hour nap.


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