Mountain Musings

Oh the traffic! You’ve got to watch it when on backcountry roads

Special to The CambrianJune 13, 2013 

Most people who drive in California can claim that traffic made them late for one thing or another, especially work. This is not so true on the Central Coast, even on holiday weekends and in the summer, but I’ve still heard people make that claim — the traffic version of the-dog-ate-my-homework.

One of the things we love about living in the Santa Lucia Mountains in Cambria’s backcountry is that there’s very little vehicular traffic. However, we do have our own backcountry version of traffic — farm animals and wildlife.

As often as deer and other critters dart out in front of us while we’re on the way down our mountain road, it’s surprising that we don’t have to replace our brakes more often than we do. Since we love the farm animals and wildlife, we brake for every living thing that decides to stand in the road, slither across it, or zip out in front of us with no warning at all.

Our traffic jams started with cows. Cows are everywhere on our road and are not always fenced. During the early morning, they have a tendency to congregate on the road (I’m assuming to share the first bits of cow news of the day).

They see us; I know they do, but they just stand there, milling around. So, we inch up on them, hoping the close proximity of our vehicle will make them edgy enough to move. I’m not sure cows do “edgy,” but our moving up on them sure doesn’t work very well. Sadly, it’s the only vehicular cow-herding technique we know.

If you live where there are grey squirrels, you know why some people get labeled “squirrelly.” When you encounter these darling creatures on the road, you can see the little squirrel-brain wheels going around. “Which way should I go?” You never know what they’re going to decide until they make the wrong decision and dash across the road right in front of you, barely missing your wheels (if you and they are lucky).

Quail behave exactly the same way. I don’t know why squirrelly people aren’t also called “quailly.” At least the wild turkeys, who are almost always in the middle of our road, have the good sense to trot out of the way when they see us coming.

Less frequently, we run across (not literally) tarantulas and tortoises during their respective migration seasons; skunks (to whom we give a wide berth); peacocks; bobcats; bunnies (who are a little quailly); snakes (who never move out of the way); opossums; horses; and goats.

Over the years, I have hit and killed a precious bunny on our road, and my husband has hit and killed a deer on Highway 46. It’s so horribly upsetting that we never want to have that happen again.

So, we try to remember those awful experiences and keep a sharp eye out for all four-legged and winged species wherever we drive, but especially on our mountain road.

Marcia Rhoades’ column is special to The Cambrian. Email the resident of Cambria’s mountain community in the Santa Lucia range at

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