Jan 09, 2022 I Brent Swancer

The Terrifying Tale of Penelope, the Monster of the Sierra Nevada

The Sierra Nevada mountains, which lie in the Western United States, between the Central Valley of California and the Great Basin, have long been known as a place of natural grandeur and beauty. It is a majestic realm full of natural history and imbued with biodiversity, a destination for people to engage in all manner of outdoor activities. Yet beneath this veneer of natural beauty and grandeur are some very sinister and strange stories of the supernatural, and one of these involves a shambling, hulking monster that has caused legends to reverberate around it to this day.

The Sierra Nevada have long had tales of a very strange entity lurking the woods here, described as a pale, very thin, almost skeletal woman standing 7 feet tall, wearing no clothes and with freakishly long arms a twisted deformed face, and a filthy, matted mane of light hair. The bestial wretch is usually said to look like a sort of feral and bestial witch, and her reputation is that of a fierce and aggressive presence that will attack people on sight with her sharp teeth and claws. The creature is known as "Penelope," and the legend has spawned several versions of where she came from and how she came to be this way. The main story goes that Penelope was once a normal human woman who was travelling through the Sierra Nevada with her husband when they were hit by a brutal, relentless snowstorm that caused their car to careen off the road. The husband was supposedly killed instantly in the crash, with some versions of the story offering the gruesome detail that he was decapitated and even that his head had ended up in her lap, and Penelope ran off into the raging storm in a panic, her husband’s blood all over her.

The main version of the story says that she wandered the wilderness for several days, delirious and half-mad with grief, living off berries and insects, and when another storm hit, she sought shelter in a large metal drum that had contained toxic waste that had seeped out to create a sludge around it. It was not the most ideal shelter, but she apparently was so cold and desperate for shelter that she crawled in to spend the night stuffed into the dark and sleeping on a sheen of toxic waste. Apparently this foul toxic sludge changed her and mutated her to become the beast she is known as today, bursting forth from the metal drum to terrorize the countryside and prowl about for prey to stave off her insatiable hunger, with hikers, campers, and rangers all fair game. Some versions of the story say that she was tracked down by a posse of law enforcement and proved to be impervious to their weapons as she lashed out to kill them all. There would be many tales of people coming back from the wilderness talking of having found the disemboweled bodies of these victims, as well as animals that had been torn apart by something very powerful, and although this seems as if it must surely be nothing but and urban legend and spooky campfire story, there have been quite a few actual accounts from witnesses who swear Penelope is real.

Some of the best accounts come from paranormal researcher Lon Strickler, of the site Phantoms and Monsters, who has been investigating the Penelope legend for years and has collected several firsthand accounts from people who claimed to have encountered the beast. One of these is an account from 2012, from a witness known only as “LR,” who claims that at the time he was camping in an RV with his teenaged son in the Sierra Nevada Mts. near Tioga Lake. On this evening at around 12:30 a.m., the witness claims that his son had gone to bed and he was going over some maps when the stillness of the night was pierced by an eerie high-pitched scream. The witness says of what happened next:

At first I thought it was a coyote but it was a single scream and sounded more human - like a woman's scream. I opened the RV door and stood silent in the doorway. Once again the high pitched scream started. This time, it woke my son. We both stood at the door as the screams continued from the direction of the mountain. After about 10 mins the screams stopped - we both went to bed. Something startled me while I was sleeping because I woke in a panic. I looked at my watch - it was 2:40 am. Then all of a sudden that same high-pitched scream erupted outside of the RV. As it started my son jumped out of his rack and fell to the floor. I grabbed my .44 just in case. As we looked out through the windshield the moonlight was bright enough to illuminate a tall thin creature with light colored skin. My son yelled 'zombie!' - it did look like a female human form but the face and the rest of the body looked horrible. It reminded me of an old witch - no clothes, deformed face, long light-colored hair, long arms and legs. I figured it stood almost 7 ft. It was walking away from the RV toward the lake.


I had seen enough. I made sure everything was ready to go and drove out of there ASAP. We ended up near Mono Lake. This is bear country and I know that there have been Bigfoot reports over the years. But what we saw was neither as far as we can tell. A few days later I was able to talk to a ranger as he walked through the camping area. He was an older guy and quite engaging. I described what we witnessed - my son also verified what we had seen. The ranger got a serious look on his face and said that over the years, something similar had been reported a few times. He said that they called it 'Penelope' but he didn't know why it had gotten that name. That's all he knew.

Very strange indeed, and apparently the rangers actually are familiar with such tales. Another account from Phantoms and Monsters that Strickler also surmises seems as if it might be connected to the mysterious Penelope comes from a “Steve M,” and supposedly happened just after Labor Day weekend of 2014. At the time, the witness was camping in the Mono Lake area and at about 5:30 p.m. they were loading up their gear into the car and preparing to head out to a nearby creek to do some fishing. As he drove along the dark road along with his wife and stepson, the witness claims that he saw something thin and pale crawling along low to the ground, and it was so odd-looking that he slowed down to get a better look. It was a decision he would soon come to regret, as what he and his wife saw in those headlights was definitely no normal animal, and more like something out of a nightmare. The witness explains of what happened next:

Now the first odd thing that I couldn't understand, besides the way it was crawling so low to the ground. Unlike a hunting cat, the legs were all wrong. Its knees seemed to be backwards but it was running on them. My thought was that it was an escaped sheep or goat that had broken knees and it was running for its life because it was moving fast. As it came closer and closer towards us I could hardly take my eyes off its freaky legs. I still lay awake at night puzzled by how they were working. I've not seen any mammal move this way. The closest thing would be a crab or insect, the front and back legs moved together in unison. There was no bouncing, swaying, galloping or jumping like that of a mammal. This creature's torso, which was about 4 feet long stayed straight, low to the ground as its legs/arms did all the work. To me it looked like a puppet with a marionette moving it along. So unreal, like one of H.R. Gigers 'Alien' creatures is shown climbing around super fast with only it's arms/legs moving.


By this time my wife could only get out "what the hell..." as we saw it from maybe 50 yards away to about 20 yards. You could see that it had no fur at all -just pale, sinewy stretched skin over long, skinny well-defined limbs. Its "broken" knees were long skinny fingers or claws, a foot long or more. The torso was maybe the size of a large goat, but it also had broad shoulders - very human. Possibly like this thing normally walks upright. This is what my wife kept pointing out. The shoulders made it look human. All this was freaky but we both stared intensely, as to figure out what it was. When as we got closer the face became more and more defined. The first second we laid eyes on it, the face and head did not make sense. But I put my mind at ease saying to myself "well it looks strange now but when you get face to face you will see a familiar goat snout, or cat/canine nose or jack rabbit face" No. This thing looked like it came out of a horror movie - like a space alien creature or humanoid monster. The nose I was looking for was not there - just a flat opening with two nose holes high up on the face. No ears! Just small holes on the side of its head - but whatever they were they were smaller than a human's for sure!?? It had high brow ridge bones, but the skull did not have a huge human cranium, more like the size of a chimps. It had a large chin that protruded, maybe strong jawbones. But this part I totally don't get at all. The eyes. I saw these large eye sockets off in the distance, but they never reflected in the light. As it came nearer and nearer I saw the color red, not like a light that was glowing but maybe many veins. The blood within was giving it the darkest color on this pale beast. As we were within 10-15 yards away I only saw sockets and no eyeball, like that of a blind cave fish??? Now this blew me away. I thought how is this thing turning its head to glare at me with no eyes? Was it a ghost? But as it passed us and I came to a complete stop I saw it zip into the chaparral and kick up dust.


This thing had been flesh and blood at least for the 15 to 20 seconds that we observed it. I might add there was no smell or anything else odd that we noticed. I should have taken pictures of the tracks but did not think to do it because I was very puzzled and thought maybe we had witnessed a ghost because of how unreal it appeared. I was also with my family, which I am very protective of. Normally if I had been alone I would be on the trail. What this thing was doing so close to a campground puzzles me. My wife said, even though I was only thinking it, this thing seemed intelligent and was creeping in the dark - mad at us for discovering it. The mouth was closed but it had tight closed lips that almost seemed to grin. I did not see any teeth, large canine or flat herbivores. Its skull was that of a predator - not prey - with eye sockets positioned on the front, not the sides. I have seen a great many extraordinary things in my life so I have learned to be a great eyewitness and not jumped to conclusions - only observe, make note and evaluate later. My wife is the biggest skeptic I have ever met, not fully believing the many extraordinary stories I have told. She comes from a lifetime of cold, hard harsh reality - no room for any stretch of the imagination. Well now she is a believer and is afraid to this day of what is walking around those Sierra Nevada mountains.

Can this be related to the stories of Penelope? Yet another possible sighting of the creepy monster Penelope comes from a witness called “ZD,” who was staying with his wife at a remote fishing lodge called the Twin Lakes Resort, near Bridgeport, California at around the same time and had a sighting of something that seems very similar. The couple had been heading out in the very early morning hours for a day of fishing when they saw something pale and skeletal moving along low to the ground in the dim light of dawn and moving in a strange, disjointed fashion, its limbs not moving or bending in a natural way. They slowed down to get a better look, and ZD says of what they saw:

Now when my lights came across the creature it was crossing the road and we got the feeling we totally surprised it. As I turned on my high beams it seemed to get very irritated as it turned its long human-like neck towards us and almost shook its head as it gave us a glare and started to double time along the road now in our direction. We were getting closer but instead of being able to more positively I.D. the creature I was only more confused, mostly because this thing's legs weren't broken at all it was running on them like that! Long lean limbs but it was crawling! Creeping impossibly low to the ground. It's torso no more than 5 inches from the ground! Yet it was moving at a strangely incredible pace. I wondered first, with such long limbs, why it was so low? And not running on the bottom of hooves or paws. How could it run so fast? The order of the feet landing was completely wrong too, and if it was really trying to retreat quickly it was not bounding or bouncing or swaying side to side. Its limbs moved in unison like a crab or spider. It appeared to me to be a puppet being moved by a marionette,very bizarre. Maybe because I was so puzzled and troubled that I could not classify this animal it kept me from flipping out when we got close enough to see the facial features.


I should describe the features that I saw clearly and up close. As mentioned a human-like torso about 4 feet long, no tail, human-like haunches. As we passed it I saw it was not shaved at all, it was hairless and had pale skin. Its limbs were long. Thin very defined muscle and sinewy. Although it was crawling close to the ground it had large very human/ape shoulders. I've only seen such shoulders on upright walking animals. It seemed to be running on its front knuckles or claws. Imagine a sloth but foot long fingers or claws.The neck was thin and long holding a forward gazing predator head. The skull had features closer to a human/ape than any canine, cat, rodent or cervidae. The skull seemed have a heavy protruding eye ridge, with a flat curve leading to the nasal opening. Then even stranger the mouth. There was no long snout. This was a tight lipped 'human' mouth with a large chin, that almost seemed to grin. But somehow I knew that it was not a friendly grin, almost evil. But how would an animal have an evil grin right? If that wasn't enough to freak us out then came the eyes.


So at first sight my headlight lit this weird thing up and as with all nocturnal animals, the first noticeable thing is always the reflection of it eyes in the car lights. Like all the rest of the many animals I had seen on this tiny stretch of road, their cover was blown instantly. Well not the case this time, and of all the troubling things I had observed this probably is the most unexplainable. I was driving right into it and I could see the eye brow ridge. I saw deep eye sockets, but no shiny large or tiny eyes, just the sockets. As I was sure to peer deep into whatever animal it was eyes as we came within 15 feet of it. Well when the moment of truth came. My wife and I were horrified when all we saw were deep RED sockets! Like the thing had no eyes or there was a red membrane over them. Well I just about drove off the road and tried to track the thing, but something told me I was better off just watching it run in a cloud of dust into the chaparral. The frigging thing turned its head to look at us, was grinning all with just red eye sockets and it just zips away never breaking its creepy crawl. So that's my sighting. I never heard of or saw this thing again. And I have no idea what it could of been. Nothing adds up. I really feel I was not supposed to see this thing. People like to say maybe it was an experiment gone wrong or a mutated deformed animal but what I have to say to that is this thing wasn't sick or dying. It was strong, aware, fast and would kick the ass of whatever would mess with it.

Is here any relation between these sightings and the legend of Penelope? It is hard to say, but the stories of this entity have gone on into the present, permeating the Sierra Nevada. Is it a ghost, a demon, merely a spooky campfire story, or something else? It certainly is an eerie and sinister thought to think that this creature is out there prowling this otherwise pristine and beautiful landscape, and maybe if you are ever hiking through it might be best to keep an eye out. You never know.

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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