There can be no doubt that the state of Utah, in the United States, has its fair share of natural wonders. Nestled up against the majestic Rocky Mountains and home of the Great Salt Lake, this is a land of sprawling natural vistas and natural splendor. While these vistas are a popular destination for people from all over the world, one feature of this landscape has been the surprising number of reports of strange creatures roaming its domain, which have defied attempts to answer in any reasonable way.
One of the more well known strange beasts of Utah is what has come to be called the Bear Lake Monster. Bear Lake itself is located on the Utah-Idaho border just northeast of Salt Lake City, and is a popular destination for people looking to enjoy the lake’s many outdoor activities such as boating, fishing, and the taking in the rather breathtaking azure, turquoise coloration of its waters, which have earned it the nickname “The Caribbean of the Rockies.” It is a locale of stunning natural vistas to be sure, but it is also purportedly the home of a large, mysterious water monster.
Tales of a monster in Bear Lake go back to at least the early 1800s, and the creature was apparently often seen by early Mormon colonists cavorting about in the water near shore, which has most commonly been reported as being a cream-colored serpentine creature around 30 feet in length, with a wide, alligator-like head, short, squat legs, and a powerful tail. At times the creature was said to come ashore for brief periods to roam about, and it was also occasionally reported as spewing water as if through an air hole. The creature was also known to the Native Shoshone people of the region, who called it the “water devil” and regarded it as a malicious, evil entity to be avoided at all costs. The monster was said to not be shy about dining on unwary animals or even humans that came to close to the shore or went swimming in the lake’s inviting waters, and was mostly reported as quite aggressive indeed. The Shoshone often claimed that the beast’s favorite thing to eat was the various bison of the area at the time.
Sightings were supposedly made of the creature well into the late 1800s, with some notable reports by early pioneers to the region. The creature was seen in 1860 by the sons of a Marion Thomas and Phineas Cook, as they were out on their boat fishing. The massive creature in this case came dangerously close to the small boat and the two witnesses were terrified that it might actually capsize them. In 1871, two men named Milando Pratt and Thomas Rich saw the bizarre creature and claimed to have hit it with shots fired from their rifles, but that the bullets had had no noticeable effect. A few years later, in 1874, a wagon train captain named William Budge saw the monster around 20 yards from shore and would describe the encounter thus:
Its face and part of its head were distinctly seen, covered with fur, or short hair of a light snuff color. It was flat-faced, with very full large eyes, prominent ears, and a neck of about four to five feet in length.
This particular sighting gained a lot of publicity at the time, as it had been related personally to none other than Brigham Young himself, who many may know as one of the early Mormon pioneers and leaders of the Latter Day Saint Movement, as well as the 2nd President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Indeed, after the sighting Young himself supposedly made arrangements to catch the creature by linking a 300 foot long length of rope to the shore and topping it with thick cable and a massive barbed hook baited with mutton, which was then suspended in the water with a buoy. Although on every attempt the bait was stripped away by something, the creature was not caught. Around this time, a local rancher claimed that something had taken 20 of his sheep from their grazing grounds near the shore of the lake.
The creature would become a sensation in the media, appearing in a variety of newspapers such as the Deseret News and The Salt Lake Tribune, among others, but the furor faded somewhat when one of the first journalists to report on the creature, a Joseph C. Rich, claimed that his original story in an 1868 article had been an elaborate hoax. Nevertheless, sightings continued on into the 1900s. In 1907, two men rather dramatically claimed to have seen the monster come crashing into their camp to kill and drag away one of their horses, and there were other sightings as well this year. It was seen again in 1946 by a Boy Scout Scoutmaster and was seen as recently as 2002 by local business owner Bear Lake Brian Hirschi. Whether it ever really existed or not, The Bear Lake Monster has certainly become part of the area’s lore and legend, and has interestingly become a sort of tourist attraction.
Nearby Salt Lake itself is also said to be home to its fair share of strange creatures, which is rather odd considering how inhospitable it is to life. The enormous 1,700 square mile (4,400 km2) Great Salt Lake is in general around 5 to 6 times saltier than sea water, which has made it mostly devoid of life, with the only organisms able to deal with this intense salinity being brine shrimp, which are tiny crustaceans barely half an inch long with transparent bodies, as well as brine flies and a few species of bacteria and algae. There are no fish in the lake, and it is the last place anyone would expect to find any sort of large water monster, yet they have been reported from here from time to time, as well as from its bleak, salt encrusted shores. As I wrote in my previous article on mysteries of the Great Salt Lake:
In Linda Dunning’s book, Lost Landscapes: Utah’s Ghosts, Mysterious Creatures, and Aliens, it is mentioned that in the late 1800s, a whale farmer by the name of James Wickham had the somewhat far-out notion of populating Great Salt Lake with whales, which he was confident could survive in the lake’s salty water. Wickham allegedly spent a year in Australia capturing whales in a ship specially built to hold enough seawater to haul the whales back to the States without injuring them. In 1873, two 35 foot long Australian whales were caught and brought to Great Salt Lake, where they were kept in a custom built pen at the mouth of the Bear River. Unfortunately, it was not long before the two whales made a break for freedom, smashing out of their enclosure and disappearing into the lake. The whales could not be found and were presumed to have died until 6 months later, when the animals, now 60 feet long, were spotted cavorting about out on the lake with an entourage of smaller whales ranging from 3 to 15 feet in length, presumably their offspring. According to the account, the whales thrived in the lake until they were eventually hunted to extinction by whalers, although there have been sporadic reports of whales in the lake since then. Whales are not the only unusual out of place animals reported from the lake. The areas surrounding Great Salt Lake have produced reports of camels roaming around, probably the descendants of escaped animals used by the military for use in the harsh desert conditions in the early 1800s.
For a place that is known as being so inhospitable to aquatic life, there are certainly a lot of alleged mystery creatures that have long been said to to dwell here as well. Native tribes of the area used to tell early explorers of a fierce monster with a huge head that prowled the waters near shore and was known to snatch birds and even horses or cattle from the shallows. This monster was often blamed for the many cattle that often mysteriously disappeared in the area. Another mysterious lake monster was reported in the 1840s, when a man known only as Brother Bainbridge reported seeing a creature that looked like a dolphin swimming out in the lake near Antelope Island, the largest of the lake’s 11 known islands. Yet another mysterious water creature is an alligator-like monster that reportedly lurks within the lake’s depths. In 1871, a J.H. McNeil and several other employees of the Barnes and Co. Salt Works Company reported seeing a huge creature that looked like an alligator with the head of a horse off Monument Point on the northern shores of the Great Salt Lake. The creature reportedly let out a deep bellowing noise and chased the men up a hill, where they remained hidden until daylight. Upon returning to where they had seen the monster the day before, they discovered overturned boulders, tracks, and ground torn up by the thrashing creature. Alligator-like creatures have been spotted from time to time in the lake since then, ranging in size from between a modest 5 feet all the way up to a truly monstrous 75 feet long.
In addition to strange water beasts and flying prehistoric creatures, Great Salt Lake is also allegedly home to tiny horses the size of dogs said to roam the shores and some of the islands, a mysterious tribe of Natives that reportedly ride around on elephants, a lost tribe of “white Indians” that lives on the lake’s islands, and bizarre white bears that stalk the salt flats. These so-called “Salt Bears” are said to so completely blend into their surroundings that only their black eyes are visible. The mystery bears are said to terrorize drivers along lonely stretches of road and have even been blamed for damage to roads that cross their domain. There are also strange creatures that Native people of the area referred to as “Water Babies.” These creatures were said to be the size of a human being and their appearance was like a classic mermaid, with long black hair and a fish’s tail. The most unusual feature was their undulating vocalizations, which were said to sound like a baby’s crying, hence their name. Water Babies were seen as dangerous creatures that supposedly seduced victims into the water where they were dragged down to a watery death.
There have been a veritable menagerie of other bizarre beasts reported from throughout the state. In the 1950s, Utah, as well as Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico, was plagued by a series of sightings of what were mostly described as basically “screaming kangaroos.” These enigmatic entities were commonly described as being around 4 feet high, about 150 pounds, and having powerful hind legs, stubby arms, and sharp teeth. More bizarre descriptions said that they had reptilian features and even wings. In all cases, the creatures were reported as capable of letting out a bloodcurdling, unearthly scream. The most rational explanation is that these were some large species of kangaroo, possibly from the Macropus genus, which includes the Eastern grey kangaroo and red kangaroo, but if that is the case, how did they get there?
Another possible sighting of what might be some sort of out of place, exotic animal happened in 1987, when one eyewitness was allegedly driving a semi-truck full of potatoes east along a stretch of I-80 in Utah headed toward Wyoming. As he drove along with his heavy payload, the witness claims to have seen what appeared to be a large tan-colored big cat of some kind stalking about on the side of the road. The witness slowed his truck down to get a better look, and could see that this animal was no mountain lion. It was described as being larger than a mountain lion, bulging with muscle, and with a very short, snubbed tail. The witness would say of the experience:
This big tan looking cat was very muscular and I mean very muscular more so then a puma or mountain lion would be. You could see all of the muscles bulging out everywhere on its body and face when it walked and ran. And this cat had a very short, stubby tail. To me this cat resembled the large cat family that you would see normally in a museum or history books, as a Saber-Tooth Tiger or Lion. Except that it did not have any large teeth or fangs coming out from its upper jaw as the Saber-Tooth Tiger or lion would have. But anyway, when I seen this big or large cat I am sure glad I was not hiking out there at the time, like so many people I have seen do along the sides of these Highway’s through many of these States. I hope this true sighting of mine will help somebody out there in your State of Utah to be more cautious of there own surroundings they happen to be in. I know that I would be watching my back if I would walking around in your State of Utah, especially in these Rocky Mountain States.
Even stranger than screaming kangaroos or bizarre big cats is an eyewitness sighting of a what seems to be a winged snake of some sort, made near Salt Lake City in May of 2005. The unidentified witness claims that it was seen by him and 2 friends at around noon in some tall grass feeding on the carcass of a dead deer. The beast itself was described as being around 9 feet in length, maybe 245 pounds, and looking like a dark-brown snake with purple stripes, glowing eyes, and tiny wings on its back. Between its eyes was said to be a noticeable scar, and it allegedly had a rancid stench like that of “dead skunk and sewer.” The witness said he observed the snake feeding for several minutes from about 4 yards away before it noticed his presence, after which it hissed and raced away into the grass at great speed.
Also in June of 2005 was a sighting of a creature that really defies easy categorization in an old cemetery near Huntsville, Utah. The witness claims that he was walking through the area with some others when they were startled by a short, squat humanoid creature about 3’6” tall, with a hairy body, reptilian facial features, and, oddly, “noticeable protruding nipples.” Also rather strange was that it supposedly smelled exactly like bleach. Upon seeing the approaching group, the baffling creature made a loud gagging sound and bounded away into some woodland at speeds of up to 30 mph. The main witness would say of the encounter:
When we first saw it, it was walking upright however appeared to be hunchbacked, when it noticed us it froze and stared at us before dropping to all fours and scampering off, it’s movements much similar to a fleeing deer.
There are also plenty of very weird accounts concerning winged creatures of some kind from the state of Utah. The skies of Utah are also said to be prowled by a strange creature the Native people of the area refer to as “The Great Mosquito” or “The Giant Mosquito Monster,” a winged abomination said to suck the blood from its victims and blamed for the death of many tribesmen. Giant winged creatures had long been occasionally reported around Great Salt Lake, but the most well publicized came in 1903, when a story concerning the sighting of an enormous winged monstrosity reminiscent of a flying prehistoric creature such as a pterosaur was widely circulated in several newspapers, including the Denver News, the Logansport Pharos, and the Pittsburgh Press, among others.
The reports stated that two hunters by the names of Martin Gilbert and John Barry allegedly spotted what they referred to as a “prehistoric monster” at a place called Stansbury Island. The bizarre beast was described as a combination of fish, alligator and bat, and as being equally at home in the air or in the water. It was reported as being 65 feet long, and covered horny scales, with a head like an alligator, a gaping maw filled with saw-like teeth, and piercing, glowing eyes. The wings were described as bat-like and stretching around 100 feet from tip to tip, and it was also mentioned as having a tail similar to that of a fish. The men allegedly saw the creature fly off at dusk and return some time later with a whole, badly mangled horse in its jaws. The hunters then described how the monster disappeared into a cave with its grisly catch and that they could hear the sickening crunching of bone for around an hour before they carefully made their way back to their camp on the other side of the island.
Other reports of strange creatures in Utah have a rather surreal vibe to them that suggests something almost out of this world. In 2003, a witness known only as “Gus B.” claims that he had a very strange encounter indeed. Gus and his younger brother were headed towards a wedding reception for a good friend of theirs in Maine Park, a rural area in Dry Fork Canyon, which is a fifteen-minute drive outside Vernal, Utah. At the reception, a few friends of Gus suggested that they go out exploring in the wilderness nearby, and at around 5 PM they went out on their little adventure.
After around 15 minutes, they came to a clearing, where the temperature had reportedly dramatically dropped and where there was reportedly a deep, thick sense of dread permeating the air. As they walked on it was also noticed that there were various bones from cattle scattered about the ground. After around another 10 minutes of walking, the group came across something very odd indeed, of which the witness recounts thus:
We came to an area in the woods that was thick and a little too dark for the day. My brother tapped me on the shoulder and quietly said to me, “Do you see that?” About fifteen yards away in the thick woods was a distinguishable dark shape that was huge. It looked like a gorilla sitting on its knuckles, but it was completely black, and far too tall to be a bear, as it was about seven feet tall in this crouching position!
At about this time, everyone else in the group took notice to the huge, dark shape. With some quiet caution and a leery eye, we continued our trek into the woods – in a different direction, I might add. The trees were rustling and swaying, but there was no wind; the air was at a dead standstill. This spooked Tony, so my brother decided he had seen enough, and my friend Cassidy agreed to take him back to the park. That left Brian, David and I behind to wait for him.
By this time, nightfall had already descended upon us. This disturbed me considerably, as we had left at 5 and weren’t even an hour into our “journey”.
Suddenly, we began to hear odd hooting sounds coming from the trees. Brian called them “Indian hoots,” but I suggested that it was an owl. My suggestion proved incorrect, as the hooting sounds intensified and came from places where I knew there was no source, like a spot a few feet away from my head in the air, and the ground next to my feet. At this point, things were definitely getting weird, but it was about to get worse.
As we continued to wait for Cassidy to return, David seemed to be having an odd sort of panic attack. He could barely speak, almost as if some entity was trying to keep him from speaking, and he seemed genuinely terrified by something. Brian held his hand and tried to talk him down, without much success. While this was happening, their backs faced the woods, with me facing into it. Out of nowhere, red eyes flashed out of the darkness at me. It was gone before I could ask if anyone else had seen it. Brian was still trying to help David, when a few minutes later eyes flashed at me from the darkness again, only the eyes were ten more yards or so to the right than last time. I asked Brian if he saw the eyes, and indeed he had caught it out of the corner of his eye.
David seemed to be calming down just a bit, when both Brian and I saw the eyes for the third time, another good distance more to the right in the woods. Somehow, we were behind enemy lines, and I had a feeling that if we didn’t leave soon, something really bad might happen. The fact that David’s fragmented tirade centered around demons didn’t help at all.
Finally, Cassidy returned, and I noticed that things were a little brighter. As fate would have it, there was a full moon shining down on us, and I was once again flabbergasted that the moon was out, when we had only been in the woods a little over an hour. Cassidy then asked us if we wanted to continue deeper into the woods. Brian, David and I all agreed that it was best we return to the park.
As incredible strange as this all is, things would only graduate into further realms of oddity. As they made their retreat from the area, the trees then began to sway again as if blown by a strong wind, even though there was no wind that evening. At this point, the witness claims to have turned around to see a number of “grayish-white humanoid figures” running along a a good clip. As they ran like their life depended on it, which it very well might have, the witness observed that there was the distinct feeling that the woods were closing in on them. After running for about 15 minutes, they managed to reach the point from which they had left, and the strange creatures seemed to be nowhere in sight. Strangely, when they saw some people that had been looking for them, 6 hours had passed, yet for the witnesses it had felt like about an hour. This is a weird account that is very hard to categorize, and one wonders what really happened out there in that wilderness.
Utah certainly is a place of natural magnificence and wonder. There are more than enough natural phenomena here to keep one busy for a lifetime, yet there also seem to be those phenomena that have slipped under the radar to fall into the realm of the unexplained. If these reports are anything to go by, then these wild badlands and lakes are perhaps inhabited by things from beyond our understanding. Are these hoaxes, misidentifications, or something truly mysterious? It is difficult to say for sure, but Utah seems to be a place full of mysteries both known and unknown.