A few years ago, I went to Mt Charleston to photograph a summer season super moon event at night. This mountain rises high above the Las Vegas city smog level and the stars do shine bright in the high elevation. This is an ideal location for photographing a super moon event, but there are risks involved with driving on this mountain, especially at night. Mt Charleston is the home of wild horses, wild burros and there are large Mule Deer on this mountain too. These big animals can be dangerous road hazards at night, especially when doing the steep downhill run!
The roads on Mt Charleston have very steep grades and even when applying engine breaking, it is easy to hit excessive speeds. For the most part, there are no guard rails on these steep winding mountain roads and there are few curbside reflectors. There are no road shoulders in some stretches and the view from edge of the road is like looking down from a tall cliff. At night on the Mt Charleston roads, there are only steep grades, pitch black darkness and sheer drop offs that end a thousand feet down below. Needless to say, it is best to drive cautiously when coming down this mountain at night!
Driving downhill on Mt Charleston is actually a fun thing to do in a muscle car that is built for one purpose, which is performance. I was driving a Dodge Hemi Challenger during my night time steep downhill run at Mt Charleston, so at least the car had great stoppies, but even after downshifting it was difficult to keep the car under 45 mph without burning up the brakes.
As I approached the deep ravine section of the road in pitch black darkness, all of a sudden with no warning, a wild burro decided to leisurely mosey across the road right in the path of my car! I am good in freaked out conditions and I was able to slow down quick, but maneuvering the car safely past the donkey was a bit trickier to do, because there was only about one foot of dirt shoulder on this section of road and it was a long way down to the bottom of the canyon over the edge.
While gearing down and hitting the brakes to make the possible impact bearable, I tried to skirt through the narrow gap between the burro and the edge of the canyon rim. The passenger side tires were doing a balancing act on the edge of the cliff when the wild burro was close enough to look larger than life and I just held my breath as the driver side mirror lightly grazed the wild burro’s big butt as I passed by!
The memory of that burro butt flashing by the driver side window likely could have been the very last memory I ever had, but I was lucky to get through without a scratch. I was still holding my breath as the adrenaline rush subsided after I stopped the car ro look at the burro to see if it was okay. The wild burro was standing on the other side of the road comically raising its head up and down just as if it was laughing about freaking me out! I just had to laugh a little bit too while using the phone camera to capture the moment. Being one of two jackasses laughing it up on the side of the mountain at night was too much to bear, so I headed on home from there!
I was just lucky that I was capable of keeping a cool head during the wild burro road hazard incident, because going into a state of panic would have led to a disastrous result. Even with all the down shifting and braking in the world, it can be difficult to slow a car down when doing the downhill trip on Mt Charleston. Being aware of the large animal road hazards on this dangerous road is a good thing for visitors to know, especially when driving at night!
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