I admit it. I kind of zoned out on our way home tonight. Screech! As Bryon threw on the brakes, I came out of my stupor. What happened?
A young male mule deer, resplendent with a growing set of velvety antlers stood in the middle the road. I hadn’t even seen him jump out of the forest, but there he stood.
Such are the perils of mountain driving, especially mid-summer when wildlife can be very active.
Working at Rocky Mountain National Park as a Park Ranger, I often got questioned about the various wildlife mounts we had on display at our Moraine Park Visitor Center. The mountain lion sparked the most curiosity for visitors. Where did he come from?
The truth is that most wildlife exhibits come from road kill. Cars zoom along mountain byways, and don’t see the blur of fur as it dashes across the pavement. A beautiful animal is dead.
Even worse can be an encounter with an elk or moose. Bull elk can weight up to 800 pounds and a male moose over 1000 pounds. An encounter with either will leave not just a dead or injured animal, but often an injured person and a totaled car.
While living in the Sierra one year, I traveled back and forth on a road that went through the heart a deer migration path. Terrified of hitting a deer, I mounted “deer sirens” on my front bumper. Supposedly they activated a high pitched siren sound when you drove over 35 miles per hour. A lot of people said they didn’t work at all. However, I saw deer noticeably fleeing the shoulder of the road several times and I never hit a deer all summer, so the twenty dollars I spent seemed well worth it to me.
The road near our home in Nederland that seems to wreak havoc for driver is Boulder Canyon. Hundreds of motorists head up and down the canyon each day, including daily commuters and tourists. For us Nederland residents, we know the road so well, we take liberties with driving a bit more aggressively than most.
But driving fast can create problems when a bear jumps out in front of your car. A few years ago, that exact thing happened, causing the car to come to an abrupt stop. The truck behind them was following a bit too closely and swerved to avoid the car, sending the truck in the creek. In a tragic turn of events, one of the children in the car was swept downstream and drowned.
I experienced a similar incident as I headed up canyon one night at dusk. As I started to accelerate, a large buck stepped out into the middle of the road. I spotted him in time to come to a stop, but I feared getting rear ended by someone tailing me too closely. Fortunately, as I glanced in my rear view mirror, I saw no one. Whew — rear end wreck averted.
Nighttime can be particularly fraught with danger, as a lot of our wildlife are most active at night. Think mountain lions, bobcats, raccoons, even elk. Coming home from Estes Park one autumn night at 9:30 p.m., I almost plowed into a herd of about 60 elk who were using St. Mary’s Road as their own personal byway.
Stay alert and cautious as you drive the mountain byways — you might just save your own life as well as a bear or deer.