Holiday Review: An Open Letter to Yosemite National Park

Dear Yosemite:

I am a long-time user of your fantastic park, stunning natural resources, and free public bathrooms. As a recreational rock climber, I have frequented your grounds (and used your clean and welcoming bathrooms) many times over the past 20 years, often dodging payment by coming in late at night and sleeping in odd places.

I am not a bad guy and frankly feel terrible about what I have done in my younger days as a dirtbag climber living on Butterfingers and Trader Joes “no cook” curry packets. So as recompense for all my using your bathrooms without paying entrance fees, I now offer my services in this, your current moment of crisis.

As many outlets have reported, Yosemite is in the middle of an outbreak of the fearsome, sometimes-deadly hantavirus – spread by filthy rodent poop laid down by creatures not civilized enough to use your fine water closet facilities. Obviously, you have a problem – how do you remove the vermin without poisoning (which might kill pets and children) or traps (which in my house never freaking work anyway)? The answer – get ready for it – is the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America. Yes, the obnoxious yappy creature in the movie “The Mask” who wasn’t Jim Carey and the only actor in Frasier who didn’t annoy us.

How can a yappy little dog help us eradicate this plague, you say? Tell me, have you ever played fetch with a Jack Russell? I have no idea what the all-time world record is for fetching, but I am willing to bet it’s a Jack Russell for more than a week without stopping for food or water. They are like pathological fetching machines. It’s like when you throw that stupid ball, for the first time in their little high-strung lives, they actually understand their purpose. Like they want nothing in the world but to chase it and bring it back so you can do it again.

In fact this is kind of true. Jack Russells were bred to catch foxes and dig for badgers in the late 1800s. They are like nuclear-powered hyperactive killing machines who, lacking badgers, will destroy anything that runs from them. My wife’s aunt trains these amped-up little critters and always struggles to exercise them enough. A couple times a year she takes them to a friend’s barn in the countryside and just opens the doors.

The result is freaking D-Day for mice. Like coked-up furry missiles, these little psychopaths zip from one rodent to the next, leaving a wake of carnage. You know how cats like to kill mice? Jack Russells need to kill them, like meth addicts need a fix. They try to stop but just go for that one last hit. So here is my solution. Before winter, invite the JRTCA for a free week in the Valley to see the fall colors. Have them stay in Curry Village, where most of the hantavirus cases happened. And tell them to bring their best dogs.


Erik Vance

PS: A couple notes of warning. This is not a perfect plan. You will lose some chipmunks and squirrels, no question. But those little bastards have been getting cheeky for years, stealing Corn Nuts and boosting cars. You will also surely lose one or two terriers to coyotes and bears who don’t like yappy little dogs. But with war comes casualties. Lastly, as mentioned, Jack Russells are nuclear powered and have no need to eat what they kill. So you will need to keep the mouse corpses from spreading other disease. For that, I have this great idea involving trained vultures…


Erik Vance is a science writer based in Mexico City. He is currently on assignment in Baja California researching a story for Harpers Magazine. Keep up with his adventures at

Photos: Yosemite with Erik for scale – Erik Vance jumping Jack Russell – Emery_Way;  deer mouse on the run – Dolor Ipsum

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8 thoughts on “Holiday Review: An Open Letter to Yosemite National Park

  1. That so made me laugh this morning! Best thing I ever got for my Jack Russell was a swimming pool. Okay, I didn’t get it for her, but it turns out that when the pump is on, she can drop a ball in the water, wait for the current to float it away, then leap in and retrieve it. It’s an automated throwing machine that merges with her own crazy fetching machine nature. It turns out that they do get tired eventually!

  2. By amazing coincidence, a time portal opened over my desk this morning, and the following letter dropped in from the future. I KNOW, right?

    Anyway, it said (and I’m paraphrasing because it was stained with blood):

    “An open letter to Mr Vance,

    We hope you’re happy now. We of Yosemite National Park understand that you have fled to Canada, but we have no such luxury, barricaded as we are in a small cabin, surrounded by slavering terriers and slowly running out of supplies. As you are undoubtedly aware, your brilliant “plan”, and we use the term lightly, has catastrophically backfired. The terriers exterminated not only the mice, but all the local rodents, passerines, and – in a surprising display of cooperative hunting – bears. The entire Yosemite ecosystem has collapsed, leaving only behind a few weedy species and, of course, the terriers. Ah, the terriers, which only became stronger and more intelligent after contracting the hantavirus infection. They are working at the window latches as we speak. No one foresaw that – not the virologists, and certainly not you in your apparently infinite wisdom.

    So thank you, Mr Vance. We have mere hours left to repay you, which we’re doing by stapling photos of you to all remaining meat products, throwing them to the congregating terriers, and letting Pavlovian conditioning do its thing.


    The good people of Yosemite National Park”

  3. Hey Ed. Can you do me a big favor? I don’t know how you got that letter but can you shred it and then burn its confetti and bury the ashes? And then forget you ever read it? Understand, you do not want to cross the JRTCA. Ever.

  4. I have a Cairn Terrier who has killed as many as six rats in a 10-minute period, mercilessly dug gophers out of their holes (while on a leash in one incident) and climbed a tree to snap off the head of a squirrel (I would have stopped that if I could have, believe me). I also have an American Staffordshire Terrier who learned from observation and now flushes what the Cairn kills, and kills what he can’t catch. I’m telling you, the two of them could take on a dozen cabins in an afternoon. Where do we sign up?

  5. I will be the official artist to capture this brilliance on canvas. I am SO proud to know you. In fact my next painting is titled: “Nuclear-powered hyperactive killing machines who, lacking badgers, will destroy anything that runs from them.” Thank you as always for the inspiration. You rock (and rock climb.)

  6. My father ran a displaced persons camp for the US Army in Italy after the Second World War. He often told the story of trying to get rid of the rats in the vaulted sewers under the camp. He bought a couple of cats and put them down there one night. The next day, nothing was left but their bones. So he bought a terrier bitch and her two nearly-grown puppies. The next day, there were, he said, hundreds of dead rats lying in the sewer.

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