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Don’t check for monsters under your bed—when in California, mythical creatures roam in your backyard. So sleep with one eye open, because monsters are skulking all through the night. Beware: Bigfoot prowls the forests of California, chupacabras rush over the land in search of blood, the Dark Watchers haunt the Central Coast mountains, and lake serpents swim up from the depths of despair.
That’s right, not only is the Golden State home to strange laws and weird places, but also to peculiar, creepy creatures. From sinister monsters to ape-like beings, be on the lookout for these California monsters making their way through the state.
Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Yeti, Yeren, Yowie—this creature has many names and an elusive history. It all started in 1958 when The Humboldt Times journalist Andrew Genzoli received a letter from one of his readers, who described a being called “Bigfoot.” The letter stated that loggers, at the time, were coming across mysteriously humongous footprints—unman-like footprints—in Northern California. Although Genzoli never gave the letter much thought, he hoped it would be a fun anecdote for his readers; however, the response from readers was intense, and a legend was born.
Almost nine years after the first alleged sighting of Bigfoot in Willow Creek, footage was released that appeared to show a very tall, hairy creature roaming the same area. The footage was subject to various tests from many experts to determine its authenticity. To this day, there's no official decision whether the video is real or fake, leaving room for imagination. Nevertheless, a Bigfoot obsession grew amongst Californians, and many more sightings were reported. With 1,697 sightings recorded to date, California is the place to go to spot mythical animals like this one—the Golden State was even ranked second in Bigfoot sightings by The Travel Channel.
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The origins of the name are unclear to this day—Puerto Rican newspapers began officially using the term El Chupacabra in 1992—but the literal translation means “goat sucker,” and that sure is something to be scared of. Chupacabras have allegedly been sighted in South America and California. The mythical creatures are often described as lizard- or dog-like animals, about three to four feet in height, with a hairless body and ridged spine. Others have described the creature as kangaroo-like, due to its ability to hop. Some reports have identified the mythical animals as rather large rat-like beings or gargoyles with wings.
The descriptions are many, but one thing is agreed upon: This horrific creature terrorizes humans and animals alike. Tiny but mighty, chupacabras have supposedly been responsible for livestock mutilation and bloody corpses in many areas throughout Southern California. Reports even stated sightings all the way in NorCal. Legend has it that these creatures don't bleed when shot and have a condition known as the paralytic gaze, which is mainly attributed to vampires.
Who or what the Dark Watchers are, nobody really knows. Where they originated from or why they're here is a concept as lost as Alice or as mad as the Hatter. What the Dark Watchers are observing or looking for is beyond our knowledge. All that’s known is these bizarre beings live in the Santa Lucia Mountains, which stretch from Avila Beach to Monterey Bay—oh if only these mountains could speak.
The Dark Watchers are described as human-like figures only visible at twilight, standing high and mighty and staring into the night. Witnesses have claimed that the Dark Watchers appear to be staring at nothing visible and often vanish right before their eyes. The Chumash Indians first spoke of these tall beings in their legends and documented their existence in cave paintings. Since then, the Dark Watchers have made their way into many books, from John Steinbeck’s short story Flight to Robinson Jeffers’ poem Such Counsels You Gave To Me.
In the 1960s, a Monterey Peninsula resident claimed to see the mysterious figures on a hike. He then spent time studying the dark, tall phantoms lurking about in the majestic mountains; when he called out to his fellow hikers, they disappeared into thin air. Many other sightings have been reported, so the legend of the Dark Watchers continues to live on.
California monsters are not only found on land. Mythical creatures also creep in the water. The Golden State is known for fostering legendary sea monsters dating back to prehistoric times, such as the gigantic Megalodon shark. Lakes harbor their own mythical creatures, too, from Lake Tahoe’s Tessie to Lake Elsinore’s Elsie.
A creature compared to the likes of the Loch Ness Monster, Tahoe Tessie has the tendency to appear in public at least 12 times per year. Tessie’s claimed existence has led to the creation of a museum and local hotline (next time you're in Tahoe, call it if you witness a Tessie spotting). Theories state the sightings of this mythical monster are bountiful, with descriptions ranging from a 60-foot serpentine-like creature to a giant fish-like monster.
Tessie’s mythology is traced back to local Native Americans who mentioned this monster in their tales. The Washoe and Paiute Tribes were the first to talk about the creature, describing it as a sturgeon sheltered in the depths of Lake Tahoe’s waters (which reach down 1,645 feet). Tessie was later mentioned by French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, who claimed the world was not ready to face what was lurking in the water and refused to release his footage. Regardless of the countless urban legends and the reports of more than a dozen sightings each year, the jury’s still out on whether Tessie is real or fake. (But California still has plenty of strange facts.)
From Tessie to Elsie, California has its fair share of mythical monsters lurking in lakes. Lake Elsinore is no stranger to the creepy and gory—from ghosts and mysterious UFO sightings to vampire cults and other supernatural entities, this small town sure has a reputation for the unnatural. But in 1884, Lake Elsinore was harboring a particularly big, dark secret: Elsie, a combination of plesiosaur and sea serpent that emerged only once per decade, giving mystery to its history.
Elsie is the cornerstone of the town's culture; her mythology is even taught to children in school. Native Americans have claimed to see Elsie swimming in the waters; in 1934, a family also allegedly spotted a 100-foot-long creature with a 30-foot tail creating waves large enough to crash on the lakeshore. Claims were confirmed but never authenticated.
In 1954, the lake was completely dried out, and much to everyone’s shock, there were no sea serpents lying around. Many claimed that Elsie went on to hide in one of the nearby caves in the hillside. When the lake was refilled in the 1960s, Elsie went back to being the talk of the town.
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