The State of California holds many Mysteries.
Cryptozoology is the search for unknown or legendary animals. The word was first coined by paranormal investigator Ivan T. Sanderson in 1940 and made popular with the publication of On the Track of Unknown Animals By Dr. Bernard Heuvelmans in 1955 ( Dr. Heuvelmans is considered the father of Cryptozoology). The study has fascinated me from an early age and I decided to investigate reports of unknown animals in California. How many could there be? I was surprised at the number of remarkable sighting I collected!
From the earliest historical records we have mysterious sighting of strange beasts and supernatural entities in what is now the state of California. They make a fascinating bevy of tales and bizarre encounters. How many are fictional stories told by story tellers and how many are real encounters with the unknown is impossible to know but, I feel it is important that these creatures be documented and listed least they be lost and forgotten. Though some are simply the product of imagination, some may well be real criptids as yet unclassified by zoology. I came across many in my research for my book Ghost Dogs of California, from dogs with human faces to things that have the bodies of dogs with the heads of snakes. Then there are the large red eyed Hell-hounds or Devil Dogs that are sometimes linked with Bigfoot. Has the elusive hairy man of the forests somehow domesticated these wild canines? I hope you will enjoy my journey into the fascinating world of California's unknown beasts as much as I did researching this work.
Richard Senate, Ventura, CA
The Dark Watchers
Perhaps the oldest of our bizarre collection may well extent beyond the recorded history of our state. Strange dark cave painting produced by the First Nation Chumash People on the central coast seem to show them, tall, featureless beings that watch. Perhaps demonic creatures from the Chumash underworld called “Nunasis.” Chumash legends do not mention these beings, but much of the Chumash Culture was lost when Spanish Padres attempted to acculturate them into the larger Hispanic World. The first records of these odd creatures were by Spanish settlers who dubbed them “Los Vigilantes Oscuros,” The Dark Watchers. They are seen along the Central Coast, near the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Big Sur. Once Americans started to settle in the area they too reported the mysterious observers. What can we deduce from these sightings?
1) They are seen at twilight and dusk. 2) they are tall, perhaps ten feet in height (three Meters). 3) They seem to be wearing hats, sometimes pointed at the top, and capes or robes. They sometimes have staffs or walking sticks. 4) They are featureless, more silhouettes that forms. 5) They do not seem to move. 6) they vanish when they are approached. They were featured by John Steinbeck in a short story called Flight in his collection of stories titled The Long Valley. His son, Thomas Steinbeck, reported seeing one of the specters while hiking. They have found their way into the poetry of Robinson Jeffers. They represent a mystery and they have been reported as far south as Avila Beach in San Luis Obispo County. But what are these odd watchers? Are they some sort of Shadow People? Perhaps the answer can be found in the fact they only appear at dawn or dusk? This seems to indicate they are some form of natural event rather than supernatural. They are not unique. Similar mountain specters have been seen in others parts of the world. Perhaps the best know occur in the Harz Mountains of Germany. The “Brockengespenst,” or the Brocken Specter, has been reported since 1780 and has been debunked as an optical illusion caused by fogs and mists on the mountain peaks when the sun causes shadows to appear. The shadows appear larger because, like any projection, they appear larger the farther they are away. But is that a proper explanation? The dark watchers do appear when the sun is low, the coastal mountains do have mists and fog but might their be another explanation? Some skeptics think it might well be a simple hallucination caused by a psychological condition called “Pareidolia” that causes the mind to seek patterns in shadows and random forms. A brush or tree, stone or even shadow can be formed into a human figure. If the mind is conditioned to expect something like this an subjective hallucination might be projected.
Dark Watchers are in all likelihood a natural event that stimulated a set of folkloric beliefs unique to the place where they are encountered. The human mind hates a vacuum. It wants logical explanations and when a rational one isn't apparent, it turns to the supranational. Some skeptics discount the encounters to the use of psychedelic drugs used by some of the Big Sur witnesses, not at all an illogical explanation.
It is also possible, even if unlikely, that their are some paranormal explanations, such as extraterrestrial observers, who's cloaking elements fail at times when the sun is low, or spirit forms who watch over mankind, angels or spiritual beings who share our world on some unknown level. No one knows for sure. But if you should be hiking and observe one, do not approach them, let them be, they are just here for a look.
The Pacific Ocean is vast and much of it unexplored and as such plenty of room for speculation and monsters. Many are reported by watchers and fishermen off the coast and inlets of California as well as her many lakes and rivers. They are perhaps the most compelling stories of unknown creatures in the Golden West. It seems as if every lake has its own version of the Loch Ness Monster—real or imagined!
This classic sea monster is rumored to live off San Francisco Bay and said to have the ability to swim as fast as forty knots. Nicknamed “Caddy,” it is mostly seen in the months of April and October. It was given its nickname by newspaperman Archie Wills to describe the creature seen first in Cadboro Bay, British Columbia. It has been seen and videotaped all along the Pacific Coast. It is believed to have appeared in San Francisco Bay as well as the Channel Islands near Santa Barbara. A classic sea serpent it is described as having a horses head on a long neck with three humps, flippers in both front and back with a powerful fan like tail. Described like a sea going dinosaur called a plesoesaure that went extinct millions of years ago . It is found in the folklore and art of the First Nation People in Alaska, Canada, and the West Coast. It was videotaped in 2009 by a fisherman named Kelly Nash in Nushagak Bay. Over the years some three hundred people have witnessed this creature.
Experts believe that people are seeing something, and most believe it to be a Conger eel, a Humpbacked Whale, a Basking shark, a group of seals, or an Oar fish, Most believe it is the mysterious Oar Fish (Regalecus glesne) that can grow to 56 feet (17 meters) and can weigh in at 660 pounds. Oar Fish have washed ashore on Santa Catalina Island. The fact that this elusive creature is seen in April and October, the migration times of the Grey Whale, might well indicate this is a misidentified known sea creature and not a new species.
The Cadboroausaus is most likely an Oar fish or whale, that or a large basking shark or eel, rather than a true sea serpent. One witness saw it from a distance and described it with horses head and humps only to have another, with binoculars, see it as a bull seal leading a flock of females who swam behind him in a row—giving the illusion of a large beast.
Still, it is also possible, if not improbable, that it is an unknown sea monster. The seas are large and filled with many unknown species, Cadboroaurus might be one of them.
Tessie, The Monster of Lake Tahao
Lake Tahoe, the deep lake between California and Nevada has a unique monster referred to simply as “Tessie.” Like many lake monsters she has become a sort of symbol of the lake and a cottage industry of sorts. She even had a small museum on the shores of the lake, an illustrated children's book and stuffed plush toys. The museum has unfortunately closed but the legend persists of a monster that dwells under the lake. Stories of the monster date back to the Paiute and Washoe Native Americans. It is described like the Loch Ness Monster, hence the name. It was first reported by a Mr. I.C. Coggin in 1897 who wrote of an encounter with the thing. Saying it was a 600 foot long ( 200 Meters) monster serpent seen in the woods around the lake. Then, so it seems it was amphibious. Two police officers saw it in the lake under their boat. They say it was brown in color. It was Bob McCormick who coined the name “Tessie” and was the author of the Children's book on the monster, giving it a cute, nonthreatening look. The Lake is large enough, the second largest fresh water lake in the nation at 1,644 feet deep! Plenty of room for any monster. Famed French underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau used a submarine to dive down in search of the elusive beast but failed to find the thing. He ominously stated that: “The world isn't ready for what I saw down there.” Could it have been signs of a large creature or a UFO? Some suggest that 'Tessie” is a Dolichorhynchops That survived from the age of the dinosaurs, others are convinced that if its anything, its a massive sturgeon or eel of some sort.
Sassie, The Monster of San Francisco Bay
San Francisco Bay also has a sea monster that might well be the Cadboroauaus. It is seen close to the entrance of the bay with a head that is said to resemble a lizard or bullfrog, deep black eyes as large as grapefruit. It is colored black and brown. It was seen many times over the years with its head about four feet out of the water. In 1885 passengers on a ferryboat witnessed the thing off Yerba Buena Island and one man reported it opened its large mouth to revel a mouth filled with sharp teeth. They described the thing as sixty feel long. The dragon like animal was seen some 150 feet off shore. There are recent sightings as well. Some believe the thing migrates with the gray whales up and down the Pacific Coast . Workers on the Golden Gate Bridge reported their sighting on October 31, 1983, At that same time five others witnessed it on Stinson's Beach. They said it was 100 feet long with the head of a horse. It was followed by flocks of seagulls and two dozen sea lions. They said its skin was black and was shiny with one saying it was a “plesiosaur” from the age of dinosaurs. The descriptions match those of the cadboroaurus. The thing was nicknamed by newspapermen “Sassie” in honor of the Loch Ness Monster, “Nessie.”