Twilight. The sky has begun to softly bruise plum and lavender, with hints of rose. You are walking along the rock-encrusted rim of a gorge, peering down into the yawning abyss which speaks the vocabulary of prehistory. The weatherman talked about possible snow, and you can feel the teeth of winter on your skin as you turn up the collar of your coat.
You continue walking, feeling as if you are a million miles away from technology and life-as-you-know-it-as-a-modern-being, and a giddy sense of liberation courses through you. Suddenly, an enormous shadow passes over you, and when you look up, your sense of timelessness is overlaid with terror and awe. The winged creature soaring above you is the size of a cargo truck, and you realize that you have now become one of those people who has seen something—mysterious, inexplicable.
There are no perforated, age-yellowed maps of New Mexico marked in old cursive—”Here There Be Monsters”—yet the imprints exist in the stories and legends. Paranormal activity and the occult have often been at a premium in this region, while the mythology and folklore of the resident Native tribes and Hispanic population has colored and flavored the area with its own distinctive and palpable mystique. In the immortal words of the Bard as voiced by his haunted prince, Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Here, in northern New Mexico and the southern Rockies, there be monsters belonging to talespins, confessions, and the lore of attraction.
DOES THAT COME IN A SIZE 30?
Its colossal footprints are the most legendary in all of cryptozoology, while countless sightings of the hairy behemoth most commonly referred to as Bigfoot, Sasquatch, or Yeti (depending on who you’re talking to) have been fuel for an ever-expanding canon of films, books and studies. The southern San Juan and Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which encompass the San Luis Valley, have been prime spots in the Colorado/New Mexico region for Bigfoot sightings, according to the BFRO (Bigfoot Research Organization). The Cheyenne, a plains-dwelling tribe who visited the San Luis Valley during the warmer months, would speak of Maxemistas (“big monster” or “big spirit-being”), Bigfoot-esque in stature and hair growth, except they were said to possess bird-like feet. Other Pueblo tribes have similar stories concerning large, shaggy hominids, each with their own name for the creature. Interestingly, in having a little fun with number-play, there was a seven-day period from December of ’93 to January of ’94, when seven Bigfoot encounters were reported to a Costilla County sheriff, and the sightings all occurred within a seven-mile radius. 777? Coincidence, Bigfoot jackpot, the number of “the beast?” Cue Twilight Zone music.
SOMETHING WINGED THIS WAY COMES
Large-scale prehistoric cousins to the vulture, “teratorns,” were said to have gone extinct around 12,000 years ago. Fossilized remains of these winged wonders—whose wingspans were estimated at about twenty feet—have been found in New Mexico, yet their phenomena have extended from an earth-chambered plot of dust and bones to the open skies of “living” legend, with people having reported sightings of monstrously large birds soaring the New Mexican airways. Or, as stated by one man, whose hike in the mountains back in 2007 gave him an eyeful of the unexplainable: “These creatures were so huge they looked like the size of small planes. All of a sudden one of them…dropped off the top of the mountain, came down the front of the mountain and all of these huge wings just spread out…Not a normal bird. Definitely of a giant variety. It makes you feel like it could come over and carry you off if it wanted to.” Could prehistory be repeating itself? Or maybe, the stormy and iconic “Thunderbird,” which features prolifically in Southwestern indigenous lore, manifests in different winged forms to remind us “There are more things in heaven and earth…”
BLOODSUCKERS FROM MARS!
Okay, so there’s never been any reported connection to Mars, but the mythical blood-fiends known as Chupacabra (which translates to “goat-sucker”) have made appearances across many lands and cultures, and in varied forms. The most popular descriptions are that of a reptilian creature, three to four feet in height, with sharp quills running the length of its back and the bounce-ability of a kangaroo, or that of a hairless dog with a protrusive spinal ridge and vampiric fangs. Chupacabra sightings in northern New Mexico have turned these blood-draining predators of livestock into the stuff of high-desert local legend.
MOBY DICK IN THE MOUNTAINS
A landslide is a landslide is a landslide… except when it’s the dreaded Slide Rock Bolter. This lesser-known creature, torn from the story-mill of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was alleged to dwell in the mountains of Colorado. A popular yarn among lumberjacks and miners, one of the earliest records of the Bolter appeared in the 1910 book, Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods, by William T. Cox. A whale-like creature with small eyes and an enormous mouth, the Bolter’s trajectory of terror was a fascinating one: it was said to lie in wait at the tops of mountains, its hooked tail anchoring it to the mountainside; then, when it spotted its prey, usually a band of unsuspecting hikers or tourists, the Bolter unhooked its tail and slid down the mountain, avalanche-style, until it reached its “dinner,” which it swallowed whole in its cavernous mouth. There haven’t been any contemporary sightings of ol’ Bolty, but the mysterious “tracks” that turn up every now and again have kept this mountainside malevolent a speculative blip on peoples’ myth-minded radar.
HELL HATH NO FURY…
While technically not a “monster,” no round-up of Southwestern-flavored terror would be complete without a mention of the mournful ghost, La Llorona. Featured prominently in the spectral lore of New Mexican, Mexican, and Latin American cultures, La Llorona’s story has various permutations. In one version, she is a beautiful woman who is spurned by her wealthy lover, and in a fit of grief kills her children, then herself. In another version, she kills her children to be with her lover. No matter the slant of this tragic tale, it is La Llorona’s restless and inconsolable after-life, wandering rivers and arroyos, in search of her children—or replacement children (“Beware La Llorona” was many a parent’s warning to their children in trying to keep them away from acequias and waterways)—that continues to strike fear and intrigue into the hearts of children and adults. The Curse of La Lorona, a soon-to-be-released horror film, is cinematic proof that some legends may change mediums, but their spirit remains rooted in the timeless power of story.
— John Biscello
This article appears in the 2018-2019 issues of SkiCountry Magazine.