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Nice kitty, good kitty, just stay where you are. . .

Mountain Tales: First-hand stories of life in Tehachapi

I was running on a dirt road in the mountains near Tehachapi Mountain Park early one morning, about 6:30 a.m. I ran down a sloping stretch of road and around a corner and didn't see any deer or other animals. I reached the halfway point of my run and had turned around and was headed back up when I saw an animal in the road ahead of me, about 20 feet away.

It was small and at first I thought it was a bobcat, but then I saw a long tail and realized it was a mountain lion, but it was just a baby, or at least a juvenile. I was thinking, "I'm glad it's a small one," when I heard a strange sound coming from the slope above the road. It took me a second to process the sound, and then realized that it was growling, and I looked up and spotted the mother mountain lion, motionless and growling at me. The baby had seen me before she did, and it had run off the road and disappeared into some brush near the mother.

I didn't run, because I didn't want to trigger a "pounce response" or make her think that I was easy prey, but I did walk slowly away, down a slope, across a little gully and up the other side, keeping eye contact with her as much as I could. I kept watching her and preparing myself in case she made any kind of move towards me. She kept staring at me intently and continued growling. It was a quiet morning without much of a breeze, and I could hear her keep growling even as I moved away. Even when I was finally about a half a mile away across that little canyon, I could still hear her growling! Now I would recognize that sound immediately. It was unforgettable. I know she was just being protective of her young, and doing what a good mother should do, so of course I didn't feel any ill will or resentment towards her. I'm glad that mountain lions are still in California, and even seem to be thriving.

I lived at Mountain Park because my husband, Stu Etherton, was the caretaker there for 33 years, and I lived up there for close to 20 years. I hike and run a lot, and I'm quiet, so I have seen a lot of wildlife over the years, but that's the closest I've ever been to mountain lions.

– Allyson Gray

After many years at Tehachapi Mountain Park, Stu retired recently and he and Ally took a caretaking job at a ranch up in Humboldt County.