As our team of poster artists, illustrators, and writers have worked together to celebrate the 63 American National Parks, we've also spent countless hours learning about these natural wonders. We've explored them, rendered posters of them, written books about them, taken thousands of reference photos, and composed dozens of essays and articles about America's most cherished public lands.
Over the course of our research, creative endeavors, and our adventures in the parks, we've also run across some pretty crazy legends about the mythical and sometimes mysterious nature of the parks. Sometimes, when we went to create a new poster design of a park or write an article about one of our favorite nature preserves, we'd hear a story about some strange creature sighted in that park, or some unexplainable event that occurred there.
These experiences inspired us to create the Legends Of The National Parks series, which is currently housed in our 63 Illustrated American National Parks Collection.
Many of these legends are based in Native American folklore and religion. To the best of our abilities, we have attempted to indicate which tribe/tribes were associated with that particular myth. We hope you will be interested in learning more about the fascinating cultures of these Indigenous tribes who lived in and around America's National Parks.
Read on for a sneak peak at the monsters, myths, legends, ghosts, and eerie mysteries of some of America's most popular National Parks!
Yosemite National Park: The Home of Bigfoot
Bigfoot, also known as Sasquatch, is America's most famous mythical creature. He is a symbol for the eerie and mysterious nature of the forest, a reminder to us that not all wild things are yet fully understood by man.
Bigfoot is said to be an ape-like creature, standing anywhere from 6ft to 9ft tall, covered in black, dark brown, or dark reddish hair. Bigfoot has a face resembling that of a primitive man, but with more ape-like features. Bigfoot footprints are approximately 24in long and 8in wide. Some reports have stated that Bigfoot can put forth a terrifying roar, much louder than other wild animals of a similar size.
Though the creature is particularly elusive, Bigfoot sightings have been prevalent throughout American history. Sightings recorded by Americans of European descent date back to the early-1800s. Indigenous tales of the Bigfoot creature go back several centuries, with California petroglyphs on a site called Painted Rock depicting a family of Bigfoot-like creatures. More recent sightings, like those shown in the famous 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film, carry speculation and interest about the Bigfoot legend into the present day.
Just about every state in the western U.S. claims to be the home of Bigfoot, but we thought we'd celebrate Bigfoot's connection to Yosemite National Park, as many visitors to the park claim to have seen this mysterious creature there.
Crater Lake National Park's Creature of the Deep
There have been very few eyewitness accounts of this creature, but those who saw it were certain of it: Crater Lake National Park is home to a creature from the deep, a mysterious dragon-like animal that lives in America's deepest lake!
And it's not just tourists and visitors to the National Park who've insisted there is a massive beast swimming in the depths of Crater Lake. Indigenous stories of dragons living in Crater Lake go back centuries, indicating a cultural tradition of belief that creatures prone to volcanic environments lived in the lake, likely warming themselves at the hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the lake.
At 1,943 feet deep, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States, making it the perfect home for a creature that wants to stay hidden. Also, there are two types of fish in the lake: Rainbow Trout and Kokanee Salmon. Is it possible a dragon-like, potentially prehistoric creature could live in the lake, feed on the fish, and remain (almost) undiscovered by the lake's many visitors due to the lake's immense depth? Possibly!
Beware the Wendigo in Voyageurs National Park
The Wendigo beast, brought to life by Indigenous Algonquin and Ojibwa folklore, is a skinny, fearsome, emaciated, part-man, part-deer creature. The Wendigo is a creature of the night, both haunting and terrifying. It lives in the forests of the North and preys on men, women, and children. The creature used to be a man, but due to the man's evil deeds of cannibalism and murder, the man was turned into an ever-hungry beast, cursed to wander the woods at night, looking for victims.
The word "Wendigo," also spelled "Windigo," has a few meanings. One translation is "Spirit of lonely places." Another is "the evil spirit that devours mankind." Some legends say the Wendigo can curse humans and lead them to their deaths by possessing them with its eery, human-like voice. The Wendigo is also said to have the ability to possess men's minds and turn them into Wendigos. Indigenous legend has it that the Wendigo symbolizes insatiable greed, selfishness, and violence. As the story goes, men who display these traits may risk becoming a Wendigo.
Not only is the Wendigo thought by some to be a real creature that roams the forests of northern Minnesota, but Indigenous Americans only began talking about the Wendigo after their contact with European settlers. Some historians believe that the Wendigo was an Indigenous folklore symbol for Euro-American greed, land theft, and violence against Indigenous peoples. Indigenous elders began telling the tale of the Wendigo to their children to discourage them from pursuing a life of greed and unrelenting self-interest.
Grand Teton National Park and the Jackalope Creature
A horned rabbit thought by some to have been hunted to extinction, the Jackalope still lives on in the minds and memories of those fascinated by these creatures. The Jackalope has the body of a large rabbit but with antlers protruding from its head. The legend of this animal came from the American West in the late-1700s and early-1800s. The creature appeared in stories told by trappers, cowboys, and the first Euro-American settlers who came to the region.
While there is little hard evidence to support the existence of most mythical creatures, there just might be some evidence of the Jackalope! Over the decades, there have been reports of large rabbits infested with “Shope papillomavirus,” a virus that causes the growth of hardened, tumor-like skin, usually from the skull. Such a virus would create growths that, from a distance, could easily resemble horns.
There are also stories that the Jackalope is intelligent and that the creature likes to sing. According to cowboy folklore, Jackalopes have been known to join cowboys at night and sing along with their favorite campfire songs.
Is the creature real? Or just an inside joke for Wyoming residents and visitors to Grand Teton National Park? We'll let you decide, but Wyoming does sell Jackalope Hunting Licenses!
New River Gorge National Park and the Legend of Mothman
A local legend for West Virginia residents, Mothman is a strange creature, part man, part moth-like animal. Reported sightings of Mothman first occurred in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, in November 1966. After those initial sightings, residents of the Point Pleasant community and many other communities throughout West Virginia began reporting sightings of the creature.
While Mothman never appeared particularly aggressive to eyewitnesses, some said the creature had something to do with the collapse of the Point Pleasant Silver Bridge in December 1967. Oddly, sightings of Mothman abruptly stopped shortly after the bridge collapsed, and some locals said the creature fled into hiding in what is now New River Gorge National Park.
Mothman is the size of a large human, very tall, and with huge, bird-like wings and a moth-like head with red eyes. The creature is said to only come out at night and has been seen flying through the sky and walking upright (somewhat clumsily). Eye witness reports indicate that the creature tries to avoid bright light and can fly at speeds up to 100 mph.
Rocky Mountain National Park and the Elusive Slide Rock Bolter
Visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park beware! The Slide Rock Bolter resembles a whale or large worm-like animal, but this creature is far more vicious. It is a carnivorous predator that hides at the tops of mountains, waiting for unsuspecting prey to pass below so it can slide down the mountainside to gobble them up. The creature has a large head, small eyes, and a huge mouth that opens wide to consume everything in its path. The beast's tail is similar to a dolphin's, but with barbed hooks on it to hook onto the edge of a mountain peak.
Stories of the Slide Rock Bolter indicate that the creature is an apex predator known to prey on lumberjacks, prospectors, and other wilderness explorers. As the legend goes, the creature's tail would clamp down on the rocks, with the head of the creature facing downwards. Then, the creature would let go of the mountainside by releasing its tail, now suddenly bolting out of its hiding place and rapidly sliding down the steep mountainside, swallowing everything in its path. The Slide Rock Bolter is said to have rock-like skin, a perfect camouflage that would make the creature look just like the craggy rocks and boulders of the mountains.
While there have been no eyewitness accounts of the creature in many years, the Slide Rock Bolter was never captured or chased out of the Rockies, so it could very well still be there, hiding alongside a Rocky Mountain peak, waiting for the right moment to strike!
Exciting and Mysterious Poster Art to Celebrate the National Parks
We're just getting started with the Legends of the National Parks Collection. We plan to release new original designs of mythical creatures, monsters, ghost stories, UFOs, and mysteries connected to the National Parks throughout the year. Be sure to check back in here at the blog and at our National Park Collection for more updates and new art releases!
And who knows... the next time you're at one of the National Parks, maybe you'll spot one of these elusive and mysterious creatures? Have your camera ready just in case!
Anderson Design Group Staff Writer