Big Sur is a wilderness area and that's why we love it. It is home to many wild plants and animals. All deserve our respect. Please use extra caution on the trails and in the campgrounds when encountering the following plants and animals:
If it's green, it's very likely poison oak. It is found throughout our parks and can be very beautiful, ranging in color from red to green. Sometimes the leaves are shiny, sometimes not. Sometimes it grows as a bush, sometimes as a vine clinging to the side of a redwood, sometimes as ground cover. Once you know the leaf structure, it is unmistakable. Coming into contact with the oils from the plant may cause an itch that can last for weeks. If you think you may have been exposed to poison oak, wash with cold soapy water. Local stores also supply a medicated scrub.
Ticks often wait on the tip of a blade of grass for an unsuspecting host to brush by. They embed themselves in warm-blooded animals. Check yourself frequently when hiking and seek first aid and medical attention if you find an embedded tick on you.
Bobcats prefer not to be seen but occasionally they will make an appearance in a campground or meadow. Their stubby (bobbed) tail is what clearly identifies them as opposed to a mountain lion. It's coat is usually a spotted, variable tan to gray. They can range in size from 10-40 lbs. They prey on ground squirrels, birds and other small animals in our parks.
The most elusive cat of all, sightings are rare. Mountain lions are golden with long tails and range in size from 64 to 220 lbs. Be extra careful on trails at dawn and dusk and particularly around Andrew Molera, where the dense underbrush is a preferred habitat. If you hike with small children, keep them close. If you encounter a mountain lion, do not run. Stay back and make yourself appear as large as possible (stand close to each other, open your jacket, raise your arms). Make a lot of noise (yell, bang, speak firmly). Do not turn your back. Do not bend down. Be a large and formidable adversary. Back away slowly, giving the mountain lion a path to get away. Attacks are extremely rare, but if you are attacked, fight back.
Skunks are nocturnal scavengers who will spray an unpleasant odor on you or your dog if you get too close. When camping and picnicing, be especially careful to store food and dispose of trash in a secure location, as skunks will be attracted to the scent. Keep dogs on a short leash to avoid any unpleasant encounters.
Raccoons are nocturnal scavengers who can be very aggressive. When camping and picnicing, be especially careful to store food and dispose of trash in a secure location, as raccoons will be attracted to the scent. Keep dogs on a short leash to avoid any unpleasant encounters.
Illustrations courtesy of Laurel Mundy, 2016