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“What’s up with the red noses?” That’s a question I often ask myself while driving the section of Mission Gorge Road between Jackson Drive and West Hills Parkway, the part that runs adjacent to Mission Trials Regional Park (MTRP). I count 4 deer crossing signs, two on the north side and two on the south side of Mission Gorge Road. Each sign depicts a leaping deer with a large red dot, à la Rudolf, painted on the tip of their respective noses.

“Hmm, the work of vandals?,” I muse. But, the neatly drawn red circles seem too perfect to be the work of your ordinary tagger. Maybe a few of those whacky Caltrans folks, imbued with the Christmas spirit, took it upon themselves to add their own little embellishment, I speculate.

Retired now and with perhaps too much time on my hands, I resolve to find answers. After all this is my community. I live just a heart-thumping bike ride up Jackson Drive from MTRP in the neighborhood of San Carlos. The Park is in my “hood”.

My first move is to call Caltrans. I talk to Caltrans PR man, Ed Cartagena. Ed is unaware of the red noses along that stretch of Mission Gorge Road, but gamely offers to investigate. Several days later, he reports back that the the crimson snouts are definitely not the work of Caltrans. “Must be vandals”, he says. I’m a bit disappointed. The thought of a a free-spirited state worker adding his/her own special touch to standard-issue deer crossing signs somehow appealed to me. Then, Ed volunteers this intriguing bit of information: “Caltrans workers in Northern California report seeing wild boar crossing signs with red dots painted on the snouts.” Whoa! I didn’t even know there were wild boar plying the highways and byways of California. It’s a cross-species mystery that we’re talking about now! Could it be that there’s some tormented individual out there with a compulsion to leave his/her “cardinal mark” on animal crossing signs throughout the state? A google search reveals that, in fact, cherry-colored orbs added to the noses on deer signs have been reported throughout the U.S. It appears, however, that the red snouts on wild boar signs are an anomaly as I could find no other mention of this phenomenon. Deer signs are clearly the favored target.

With deer on my mind, another question presents itself. During the 19 years I’ve lived in San Carlos, I’ve visited MTRP more times than I can remember. I’ve walked every trail in the Park, most of them numerous times, yet I’ve never spotted a deer. I asked Ed if there were any data about deer vs. car encounters along the aforementioned section of Mission Gorge Road. “In the last five years, there have been 3 reports of property damage caused by deer/car collisions,” he offers. I think to myself, “That doesn’t seem like very many.” I bet those red noses induce motorists to slow down and drive more cautiously, fearful of reducing Santa’s favorite ungulate to road kill. I like to imagine that those carefully drawn red dots serve some greater purpose.

Unless someone out there in “READERland” fesses up, I ’ll probably never know how those red dots came to adorn the proboscis of our “neighborhood deer”. I guess I’ll just have to live with that.

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