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The Borrego Sandman and Other Desert Dwelling Bigfoot of California

Tales of large, hairy wild men have come from all parts of the globe, and come in many forms and flavors, with accounts originating from all manner of locales. Despite the prevalence of such reports and the mind-boggling array of their locations, one thing that remains mostly constant is that they are spotted in forests and jungles, and a place one might not expect to find such a big monster is in the windswept wastes of the desert. It seems at first that here is a lonely, perilous expanse that the legendary Bigfoot-like creatures would not dare to tread, and yet there have been many reports of desert-dwelling Sasquatch over the years, in particular the vast, arid wastelands of Southern California.

One story of such a desert Sasquatch comes to us from San Diego County, California, at what is called the Borrego Badlands or the Borrego Sink, a vast sprawl of uninhabitable desert, dry canyons, arroyos, perilous crevasses, and underground caves within the unwelcoming Colorado Desert of Southern California. The area is home to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, which is the largest state park in California, and its arid moonscape of desolate desert is also apparently home to some sort of large, hairy monster. Tales of some type of humanoid, Bigfoot-like creature have apparently been prevalent in the area for centuries, and when Spanish missionaries first came to San Diego in 1769 they heard numerous stories from the Natives of the region of what were roughly translated as “Hairy Devils,” which were foul-smelling man-like beasts that were avoided at all costs and which lived along the Santa Ana River. The Natives referred to the home of the creatures as towis puki, or “The Camp of the Devil,” and warned the outsiders to stay well away from the creatures.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Apparently there was something to all of this, and as European settlers came pouring in there would be a series of rather frightening encounters with these so-called Hairy Devils. In the mid-1800s, an area just west of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park called “Deadman’s Hole” became an important stop off point for various stagecoach lines crisscrossing the harsh, unrelenting desert landscape. In around 1876, sightings began to come in of a hairy, man-like beast stalking the area, with the first such account being from a stagecoach passenger who claimed to have seen one of the creatures staring at him from behind some brush. Not long after this there was a series of strange deaths in the vicinity, the victims typically looking as if they had been ravaged by a wild animal, and these deaths were blamed on the creature that had been sighted skulking about.

In April of 1876 a report was published in the San Diego Union of a prospector named Turner Helm, who was out in the desert near Deadman’s Hole, in a place called Warner’s Ranch, and came across a beastly man-like monster described as the “missing link.” According to Turner, it had a body covered in dark fur like a bear, but possessed a startling human-like face. Turner and his unidentified companion at the time claimed that they had come across the creature as it sat upon a boulder, and that as they approached it had stood up. Turner would describe it thus:

It was covered all over with coarse black hair, seemingly two or three inches long, like the hair of a bear; his beard and the hair of his head were long and thick; he was a man of medium size, and had rather fine features—not at all like those of an Indian, but more like an American or Spaniard.

The two men had then tried to talk to it in English, Spanish, and even the language of the Natives, but the thing had just stared at them and then begun to walk towards them, only backing off when the two frightened prospectors pulled out their rifles to aim at it with shaking hands. A year later, in March of 1888, the San Diego Transcript told of two local hunters named Charles Cox and Edward Dean, who actually ventured out into the wilderness in order to hunt the beast down in the wake of the tales of brutal unsolved murders near Deadman’s Hole. As they made their way through the forbidding, uninviting wasteland they apparently came across what from the rear looked like a bear, but which would prove to be more mysterious when it turned to face them. It was described thus:

Its legs were long, and they were used with such ease and facility in climbing over the rocks and logs, that, on second thought, the animal appeared more like an immense gorilla. Its hair was dark brown, and it was at least six feet in height. The front legs, from their use, resembled arms, and the beast moved almost uprightly, like a man or monkey. Its body was quite round and covered with extremely long hair and entirely devoid of a tail. The arms and hands of the beast greatly resemble those of a human being and the facial features unmistakably Indian in character, but the teeth were plainly those of a carnivorous animal.

Cox and Dean allegedly did what they had come to do, and opened fire on the monstrous creature, reportedly killing it. The carcass was estimated as weighing around 400 pounds, and the two men quickly decided that it was most likely the perpetrator of the grisly attacks that had plagued the region. They apparently went about tying to have it shipped off to San Diego to be examined and put on display, but the corpse would go missing, leaving the veracity of the tale unknown.

In later years what has come to be known as the “Borrego Sandman” would continue to be occasionally sighted. In 1939, a shop owner claimed that he had been out camping in the Borrego Sink when he had been surrounded by a pack of large, ape-like creatures with silver hair all over their bodies and large, glowing red eyes. The menacing beasts reportedly circled the camp for some time, but were frightened of the campfire and eventually slinked off back into the desert night.

1964 purportedly brought a flurry of activity from the mysterious creature. One father and son reported being pelted with rocks from a shaggy ape-like beast as they were hiking in the area of Escondido, and three cows were killed and mutilated at the MGM Ranch near Jamul, to the west of Anza-Borrego, this time with the thing leaving behind strange tracks. Most famously was the report of a U.S. Marine named Victor Stonayow, who while exploring the area came across a series of unusual three-toed tracks measuring 14 inches long and 9 inches wide. He claimed that he had returned to the area to take photographs and make plaster casts, but these pieces of evidence have yet to surface. Just a few years after this, in 1968 a man named Harold Lancaster was prospecting in the area when he saw one of the bizarre creatures, saying of his encounter:

I saw a man walking in the desert. The figure came closer. I thought it was another prospector. Then I picked up my binoculars and saw the strangest sight in my life: It was a real giant apeman. I had heard about the screaming giant apeman up in Tuolumne County that frightened people for a couple of years. Another person and I even went up there to look for the thing. I decided it was a hoax and never expected to actually see one. That thing was big. I was no match for it. I had a .22 pistol on my hip but it would have been like shooting at a gorilla with a pea shooter. I was afraid the beast might get too close. So, I fired a couple of rounds into the air. The sandman jumped a good three feet off the ground when the sounds of the shots reached him. He turned his head, looked toward me and then took off running in the other direction!

Even more recently than this was a set of tracks found in 1985 in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park of very large human-like footprints, and there have been some other sporadic sightings in the 80s and even 90s, but for the most part the Borrego Sandman seems to have gone quiet for now. It is hard to say just what these people may have seen, but the lifeless wasteland of the area is certainly one of the last places one may expect to encounter a Bigfoot or any other large creature of any kind.

One very weird series of reports of a desert Bigfoot occurred throughout the 1950s and 60s at the historic Mickey Thompson’s Fontana International Dragway, at Fontana, California. The city has a long tradition of auto racing, sporting several tracks including the famous Auto Club Speedway, but one of the best of the time was Mickey Thompson’s Dragway, which was in operation from the 50s up until 1972, when it was closed due to a cluster of fatal accidents. During the height of the dragway’s popularity in the 1960s, it seems to have attracted a very curious visitor indeed.

At the time, some spectators came forward with curious accounts of having seen a large, hairy bipedal creature prowling about right out in front of the gawking crowds. Some scattered reports were rather ominous in nature, as a young boy claimed to have been attacked by it as he walked home in 1965. The boy claimed that it had jumped out of the brush to grab him, and although he managed to escape he said his clothes had been torn. That very same year was another report from a young woman named Jerri Mendenhall, who said she had parked her car along a street in Fontana when a hulking beast covered in mud and smelling like “a dead animal” accosted her by grabbing her through her window, after which she floored it and managed to get away.

All things told, the creature was seen by hundreds of people at the raceway, to the point that it quickly gained the nickname of the “Speedway Monster,” and sightings continued on even after the race track closed its doors. In 1975, a group of Boy Scouts came face to face with the beast marauding through their campsite, and in 1976 it was seen near a cabin at Big Bear. Another witness claimed that the monster was stealing chickens from his property in 1991, and in 1992 several motorists on Foothill Blvd spotted it making its way along some railway tracks that passed right by a rather busy street in an area that was not particularly remote or isolated at the time. It is unknown just why this particular Sasquatch should be drawn to this one area or why it would approach the noisy speedway, and it remains a rather oddball case.

Such desert Sasquatch have been sighted in other areas of Southern California as well. Notably was a series of sightings made in the 1970s at the Edward’s Air Force Base, in the Palmdale-Lancaster area of the Mojave Desert. During this time, several personnel at the remote desert base came forward to anonymously report that large, Bigfoot-like creatures has been routinely spotted through night-vision equipment skirting the perimeter of the base, walking through it, or even venturing into the many underground tunnels in the area. The witnesses explained that the presence of the creatures was officially classified, and that they had been specifically told not to fire upon them. There had allegedly been several instances of catching the creatures on surveillance cameras at the base, but this footage was labeled as classified and never released to the public.

Mojave Desert

In 1977, a Douglas E. Trapp, of the Southwestern Bigfoot Research Team, and his friend Corey Rudolph had an encounter with such a beast in Corona, on the northeast slope of the Santa Ana Mountain Range, which had been the location of a good amount of Bigfoot sightings in the previous years. The pair had been driving along a remote road that came to a dead end. It was here that they would have a rather harrowing experience, of which Trapp would say:

We sat quietly in the Datsun Pickup Truck with windows rolled down, the dome light on, reading literature collected from Slate and Berry and old newspapers. Suddenly, the hair on our necks arose, and a loud crashing noise was heard coming from below us in the orchard. We were frozen with awe as this “thing” lumbered through the trees with great force, breaking and snapping limbs with its girth. As we listened we estimated that this animal was very large, and very fast. It could be a deer, we thought at first. Then came the loud grunt and low moan of something that could not be a deer. Corey looked at me, turned the ignition key, put it in 1st, and popped the clutch. We almost did a wheelie in the little truck, and neither of us looked back. The reports we had read indicated that this previously seen monster might be dangerous and aggressive. It had, on more than one occasion, approached necking teenagers and rocked their vehicles. Neither of us were willing to let this thing rock our truck. The fear was real, almost instinctive, like there was some sort of inherent warning. The reports we read had mentioned similar feelings by prior witnesses. We never returned to this site, but continued to engross ourselves with investigating Sasquatch reports throughout southern California.

Here have been just a selection of some of the more interesting desert Bigfoot reports that have cropped up over the years, and they really challenge the image of what the habitat of such creatures should be. Are these just hoaxes and tall tales? If they are real, then how could such large, massive creatures be out there in these dry, forbidding desert locales? Do they live there or are they just visitors or wanderers passing through just as we are? Whatever the answer is, it just adds another layer to the whole mystery of Bigfoot, and shows that it is a phenomenon with numerous facets, none of which we are really close to understanding.