Glad you found that natural history of big sur book, it's good, you can, by the way, buy it at the Henry Miller library, which is a bit south down highway 1, a good way to contribute to that library project too.
I've been hearing rumors that bear were coming back into big sur, they certainly were not there for a long time. I'm also glad it's you reporting that, that way I don't have to wonder if it's just a weird rumor.
Unfortunately, given the horrible practices most visitors there have re food storage, particularly in barlow, sykes, and the closer camps on the pine ridge trail, I can see bear canisters in our future there. I always have tied up my food, but more for the raccoons than anything else (and yes, raccoons, if bored, do consider it great fun to unroll your toilet paper roll just for the sheer joy of it).
Don't read too much into your recent trips there re animal life, I've noticed a huge drop in the visible animals there, ie, the ones that let you see them, could be increase in hunting around the area, could be ecosystem failure, I can't say, but as ecological preserves get squeezed in by development around their peripheries the damage to the wildlife is pretty extreme, and very visible. I have heard/seen almost no life there at all in the last years, a huge drop in what used to be the case there in previous decades.
I've seen deer there running at full speed on hillsides, and leap over tall bushes without missing a step, so I'd say they don't have much trouble finding their way around the terrain, which is as you note, very steep and extreme, but that's for clutzy ignorant humans, not for other creatures that are a bit more coordinated than we are. They also, remember, know the land much better than you, and have networks of deer trails all over the place to follow, something if you keep going and exploring you'll discover, getting lost as a faint trail turns into a deer trail there will make the point register a bit more strongly, heh.
Glad you're taking the time to really get into big sur by the way justin, good to see, not many do in their haste to go to the vile sykes, which is so overcrowded and impacted it bears little resemblance to the actual wilderness anymore. Here's a hint if you haven't done it yet, up or downstream from any primary big camp the creek hits a canyon that is only passable by swimming, and if you float your gear through that, you are alone, and will remain alone for as long as you want. And you'll be in totally raw untouched wilderness. Well not totally, there's cool hippy kids etc that discover that type of thing while exploring too.
If you want to see animals, particularly big ones, hike off trail until you are at a safe (for deer) distance, stop, and sit. Do not move, do not do anything. If you're at all synced in to your environment, you will at some point see a deer come by. I've done that and had the deer come within about 20 feet or so, but at that point, they sense that something is up and get nervous. They are wary however, and probably are more wary today than in the past due to increasing encroachment and hunting. You strike me as a guy who can get into that space though, unlike many who are in too much of a hurry...