Road Hazards of Unusual Size

The headlights illuminated the animal almost too late. Fortunately, the brakes were good and my reactions quick enough. A lucky coyote vanished into the darkness of the desert it might never have seen again. The coyote in the Desert Southwest of the U.S. wasn’t the first road hazard avoided and certainly not the last.


Driving has its challenges and driving long distances tends to increase the odds. If you travel by car, you might have a tale of your own. Having driven in 46 states and 4 countries has introduced me to quite a few of the bizarre things that can happen.

Far north, in the Yukon, the ground remains frozen year-round, long after the air has warmed. Laying black asphalt on top of that permafrost causes a very specific problem. The sun heats the asphalt and the ground underneath thaws out. The foundation the road was built upon caves in and you get pot holes. Traveling at 65 miles an hour, we encountered such a pot hole that was nearly a foot deep. Not such an uncommon depth, perhaps, but when compounded by its eight-foot width, it presented an unavoidable obstacle. Our vehicles slammed through the pit and came out the others side, surprisingly, in one piece, although the sounds they made when striking the pothole suggested a lower resale value might have been in order.

Driving in Mexico is a severe reality adjustment for many people from the U.S. On those roads, the other drivers present some surprises. On two-lane roads, a line of four to six cars will pass a slower car as a team, never mind that one at a time stuff. In urban settings, the lines painted on the road seem to serve as suggestions rather than actual lane boundaries. While in the U.S. you might see a deer on the side of the road as your largest victim, Mexico included cows and horses too. We had to brake for some unexpected creatures in the dark too, which included coyotes, deer, and one time a herd of goats. We tried to avoid nighttime driving though, as the travel guides wisely suggested. Tumbleweeds surprised us on a nighttime exodus of Baja California one night. They were by far the most entertaining road obstacle ever. They rolled off a hill and into the road, carried by strong winds. When the car hit them, they disintegrated into tiny bits of weightless twigs. It was a bit like playing a video game where opponents vanish into nothing.

Dall Sheep in road

You will find road hazards in Canada too. In a land of majestic mountains and sweeping vistas that has a relatively low population you might not expect to be impeded. The open wild spaces, however, have a thriving animal population. Animals have discovered that those little cracks in the mountain roads are very good at collecting salt. That makes them as attractive as salt licks. More than once on Canadian adventures we ran into traffic jams created by mountains goats and Dall sheep gathered in the road to lick up the salt.

Traffic jams created by wildlife viewing are a common problem. Anywhere a unique animal lives has the potential to slow down a line of cars. Bears, moose, alligators, reindeer, and even whales and dolphins are among the culprits for traffic jams caused by people slowing or stopping to stare.

I would imagine there are worse things that can get into a road than what I’ve listed above. The good news is that no animals were harmed in those travels.

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