Mar 03, 2015 I Brent Swancer

Strange Tales of Horror in the Desert

Deserts are stark, barren places that seem to be natural habitats for the spooky and supernatural. With their vast expanses of sand, scrub, and unchanging, desolate surroundings, deserts seem to lie somewhere in another realm beyond time and reality. They are scary places, remote, deadly, and remorseless, posing challenges for life that has evolved there and to anyone foolhardy to enter this domain unprepared. It is perhaps no wonder that it is the deserts of the world that have become the settings for numerous tales of horror, sinister mysteries, and unfathomable supernatural dread. From spectral evil to ferocious mystery beasts, here we take a journey through these lonely, sandy expanses, to pry at some of the weird, spine-tingling, and terrifying enigmas that permeate them.

One of the unseen dangers lurking within the desert are the mysterious creatures, sometimes malicious and malignant, that stalk through land. In the sun scorched, burning wilderness of a place called Borrego Sink, 45 mi SE of Borrego Springs, California, there have been reported terrifying encounters between man and mystery beast. The desert may seem to be a strange place to find Bigfoot, but not only have they been reported in this savage wasteland, but they seem to be of a rather aggressive variety, especially the ones that have come to be known as the Borrego Sasquatch. One such incident occurred in 1939, when a man was camping alone in one of the many dry gulches of the area. The man was awoken in the middle of the night by a band of two-legged hairy creatures stalking about his camp on the fringes of the campfire’s light. The beats were described as having white or silver fur and possessed piercing red eyes that glowed in the dark. The pack of creatures circled the camp menacingly for some time but seemed to be somewhat afraid of the fire and kept their distance until they finally slunk off back into the desert.

30 years later in the same region, a man by the name of Harold Lancaster had his own frightening encounter as he was camping in the Sink. Lancaster described how an enormous, hair covered, bipedal creature stalked out of the wilderness and lumbered straight towards him in an intimidating manner. The man, fearing that he was about to be attacked, fired his revolver into the air in an effort to scare the monster away. Whatever the creature was, the gunshots did the trick and the thing reportedly jumped around 3 feet into the air before glaring at Lancaster and running off into the brush.

Borrego Sink is not the only place in the desert with its share of ominous man-beasts. In a place called Deadman’s Hole, located 7 miles from Warner Springs on Hwy 79, a string of vicious, unsolved murders occurred back in the 19th century that have long been blamed on a malicious, marauding Sasquatch. In 1858 the first victim was killed under mysterious circumstances, followed by more slayings over the years; a Frenchman who was slaughtered in his cabin, a prospector named David Blair who was killed by what looked like a knife attack, and a woman named Belinda who was strangled and mutilated. The story may have just been chalked up to an insane killer on the rampage had it not been for a curious story that surfaced in 1888. Two hunters were out hunting in an area known as Dark Canyon when they came across a cave full of the scattered remains of various mutilated animals. As they investigated the cave, the hunters reported being attacked by a huge, man-like beast covered in matted black hair and with huge hands and feet. According to the hunters, they opened fire on the beast and killed it, after which its body was apparently moved to San Diego and shown to police. At the time, a paper called the San Diego Union ran the story and claimed that the rampaging mystery creature had been the one responsible for the murders, causing quite a public stir in the process. Oddly, the paper ran a story the following day dismissing the article as a mere April Fool’s joke. It is unknown if there was ever really a body or if the creature really existed, but what is known is that the mysterious murders remain unsolved.

Another strange case involving some sort of humanoid creature comes from the deserts of the Mexican State of Chihuahua. At the end of 1989 and the beginning of 1990, a group of teenagers were on a mission to explore the caves of a place called Cerro Pajarito when they came across something that would haunt them for the rest of their lives. As the group was exploring one of the caves, they came upon the discovery of a dead deer and a doe that were freshly killed and exhibited three odd perforations on their necks that formed a triangular pattern. In the surrounding area, there were footprints that looked like those of a puma, but it soon became apparent that no puma had done this. The group suddenly heard blood curdling squealing sounds and the air became pervaded by a stench described as smelling like burning wood. The terrified group of teenagers looked and saw a hunched over, humanoid figure crouched upon a rock outcropping about 15 meters away from them. The creature apparently started bounding towards them and one of the groups emptied his pistol at it, although the bullets seemed to have no effect. As the panicked group turned tail and ran for dear life, they reported passing yet another humanoid creature that was described as being metallic green in color and standing only 80 cm high.


Killer Sasquatch and weird humanoid entities running amok are not the only mystery animals said to terrorize the world’s deserts. Moving across the world to the Sahara Desert, we find bizarre stories of giant desert snakes prowling the wasteland in the desert’s northern reaches. Desert nomads of the area have long spoken of enormous, monstrous serpents up to 4 meters long, known to the locals as taguerga, which are said to be venomous and capable of devouring goats, sheep, and even camels. In the 1950s, nomads reported a large number of incidents involving the giant snakes and appealed to colonial authorities for help. A French army detachment was allegedly sent out into the desert sands near a place called Beni Ounif in an effort to track down the beasts. According to the reports, the French contingent came across a snake that was 20 meters long, so large that it required machine gun fire to kill. The skin was allegedly kept, but was later lost. This is not the only reported skin of the creatures to have been found. In the same area, a local man allegedly shot and killed a snake measuring around 15 feet long that had horns and a crest of hair on its head. The bizarre creature’s skin was apparently exhibited for while before it was purchased by a private collector for a reported 45,000 francs and has not been seen since.

The giant mystery snakes were seen again in 1967 when a bulldozer operator by the name of Hamza Rahmani was working on the construction of a dam in Morocco and spotted a 9 meter long snake with a mane of hair on its head that was rather oddly eating engine grease. The startled bulldozer driver alleged rammed the thing with the bulldozer blade and killed it. The construction site was apparently a popular haunt for the creatures because several more were subsequently seen in the vicinity; a 10 meter long snake with horns that was seen in 1968 and another 15 meter long one spotted in 1969. It is not known what happened to the body of the serpent allegedly killed by Rahmani.

The horrors of the desert come not only from the land of the flesh and blood, but also from beyond the realm of the living, and the desert harbors various seemingly paranormal horrors as well. One well know story is that of the the “Lady in White” of the mining town of Vallecito, in Calaveras County, California. The story goes that an ill young woman arrived here by stage in the late 1850s on her way to Sacramento to meet up with her lover. The ravages of travel, malnutrition, and lack of water had taken their toll on the woman and although townsfolk tried their best to save her, she soon perished. When the bag she had been carrying was examined, among the various belongings was found an immaculate, laced, brand new white dress that was speculated to have been her wedding dress. The dead woman was dressed in the dress and buried at Campo Santo nearby the stage station. Since that time, the ghostly woman has been often seen on moonless nights wandering around the town in her white dress. Although this ghost is not known to be malicious, she is reported to instill a distinct sense of unease and fear in those that see her.


Vallecito also has the distinction of being the lair of a spectral horse that holds the key to a long lost desert treasure. It all started with the botched hold up of a stagecoach on its way to Vallecito Station carrying an estimated 65,000 in cash. As the four would be robbers made their escape, the stagecoach driver fired at them and took one of the men down. Oddly, the driver found two bodies where he expected to find one, and surmised that one of the bandits had killed a member of his own party as well, possibly so that he could have a larger share of the loot. The two remaining thieves made their way into the desert wasteland and buried their loot before heading into town to have drinks. It is at this point that the two are said to have had a drunken argument and the bandit leader went to get his white horse after which he barged into the establishment atop the horse and maliciously shot his partner, who before dying managed to shoot back and kill the horse mounted leader of the gang. The horse, spooked by the loud gunfire, fled into the desert and was never seen again, at least alive. The story goes that if anyone approaches the secret stash of loot, the ghost of the white horse will come stampeding out of the desert to chase them away before vanishing into thin air.

Not far from the Vallecito stage station is another supposedly haunted locale, a place called Carrizo Wash. It is said that a ghostly stagecoach known as the Phantom Stage can be seen from time to time blazing across the desert, pulled by a team of four spectral mules and driven by a mysterious hunched over shadowy figure. The ghostly stagecoach is said to slow down by where Carrizo Station once stood, only to seemingly realize that is not there anymore and continue on into the desert badlands. A spooky element of the story is that the Phantom Stage is said to leave behind rut marks from its wheels, as well as the footprints of the mules.


The Phantom Stagecoach has been linked to another legend of the area, that of a lost treasure of gold coins that was carried within a stagecoach during the 1860s. Legend has it that a stagecoach was loaded with gold coins and headed out from El Paso on its way to San Diego when in the vicinity of the Fish and Coyote Mountains near Yuma, Arizona, it was held up by robbers. The robbers shot the driver dead, who slumped over in his seat. The stage then apparently continued on as the spooked horses dragged it on into the desert where it disappeared into the desolate badlands. There are those who believe that the Phantom Stagecoach is the ghostly incarnation of this stagecoach, eternally looping about its original route.

Perhaps an even more bizarre phantom vehicle is reported from the coastal desert region of Brazil’s northern region of Maranhao. Here there is said to be a spectral, phantom Jeep that the locals refer to as caburé, which tears through the harsh wasteland where there are no roads and brush strewn rocky gulches that even an off road vehicle would not be able to navigate. The phantom vehicle is said to drive about aimlessly and sometimes race around doing donuts out in the barren landscape. The ghostly Jeep is said to have headlights that can become dazzlingly bright, bright enough to blind eyewitnesses, and the blue tinted illumination is known to light up the desert as if it were broad daylight. The Jeep apparently has a mischievous streak, with the rather disconcerting habit of bearing down on witnesses as if to run them over only to vanish right before impact, leaving the terrified, baffled victim in a state of confusion. The Mangueiras River of the area also has stories of mysterious phantom boats that are said to similarly put themselves on collision courses with fishing boats only to disappear before colliding with them.


Other apparitions of the desert can supposedly be found at a place called the Yaqui Well, in the deserts of America’s southwest, where three ghostly entities are said to emerge and dance about on nights of the full moon. The story behind the dancing ghosts begins with three emigrants to the area who arrived at the well after almost dying of thirst on their journey to find a short route through the desert from Yuma to California. Upon reaching the well, one of the emigrants died soon after drinking from the well and his companions noticed some gold nuggets fall out of the dead man’s pocket. Unsure of where the gold had come from, the two remaining men soon became overcome with greed and a heated argument ensued, during which one of the men drowned his companion in the well. An Indian who had been watching the violent fiasco reported that the remaining man went into a delirious frenzy and ran off into the desert maniacally shouting “Gold! Gold!” before disappearing forever. It is said that on hot summer nights of a full moon, one of the dead men rises from the muddy waters of the well, another appears from the surrounding brush, and the other arrives on a cool breeze from the desert, after which they join hands and cavort around the well before disappearing, leaving the area much chillier than its surroundings.

One of the scarier phantoms of the desert is an apparition that takes on the appearance of an 8-foot-tall glowing skeleton with a lantern in its chest, which roams the badlands between Superstition Mountain and Seventeen Palms in the state of Arizona. This rather frightening and monstrous specter was reportedly first seen way back in the 1800s by a prospector rather appropriately named Charley Arizona. Arizona was settling down in his camp for the night when he heard his burros acting up on the edge of camp. When the prospector went to investigate, he reportedly saw a huge skeleton 8 feet tall with a lantern glowing through its ribcage shambling about the desert. The sinister apparition was described as seemingly looking for something out among the scrub brush, which it did for some time before wandering off over a ridge. The skeleton was then seen several more times by people camping out in the desert and two adventurous young men decided to actually go out in search of the thing. After spending three nights in the desert looking for it, the glowing ghost skeleton finally appeared out in the desert wandering around aimlessly, at first making itself known as merely a bobbing inexplicable light but clearly the specter on closer inspection. The adventurers fired at it with rifles but the wraith was impervious to their gunfire and continued on its way unfazed. The two men allegedly followed the skeleton for 3 miles through rugged terrain before they lost it in a canyon. Locals believed that the ghostly skeleton was the spirit of a miner looking for his lost secret mine. A potent local legend has long been that of Peg Leg Smith’s lost mine, a lost mine full of gold that has been the quarry of many ultimately failed expeditions to find it.

The desert is an eerie, scary place at times. For here among the eternal shifting sands and unchanging landscape lurk mysterious animals and spectral apparitions that roam the barren badlands, gullies, ridges, and scrubland of these forgotten places. Deserts are natural places for mysteries, and mysteries they have in spades. Here in the most unforgiving terrain on earth there lie enigmas and horrors that will perhaps forever remain ensconced in the dusty sands of this little understood realm.

Brent Swancer

Brent Swancer is an author and crypto expert living in Japan. Biology, nature, and cryptozoology still remain Brent Swancer’s first intellectual loves. He's written articles for MU and Daily Grail and has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM and Binnal of America.

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