There’s nothing like a scary story that sends shivers down your spine, and California and Arizona are brimming with them. Curious about the folklore, spooky stories, and urban legends that have come out of your home state?
Keep scrolling for eerie, unexplainable, hair-raising urban legends. You’ll want to read these with the lights on.
1. The Dark Watchers
This spooky urban legend takes us to the Santa Lucia Mountains of California’s rugged Central Coast. These mountains were once home to the Chumash indigenous tribe, whose cave paintings depict dark figures looking down from the mountains. The shadowy figures have even been referenced in writer John Steinbeck’s short story “Flight,” and in the titular poem of Robinson Jeffers’ collection “Such Counsels You Gave to Me & Other Poems.”
The Dark Watchers, or Los Vigilantes Oscuros, are large, seven-foot-tall, phantom-like human figures that stand motionless atop the mountains, watching travelers below pass by. They’re described as wearing wide-brimmed hats, capes, and walking sticks, and are only visible at twilight or dawn. No one has ever seen a Dark Watcher up close, and legend has it if you try to approach them, they disappear.
2. The Fresno Nightcrawler
In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, reports of a strange cryptid walking around Fresno, CA, at night began popping up. Evidence was patchy at best. However, in 2007, surveillance footage revealed a biped with two long legs and a small head walking through a Fresno resident’s front yard. The Syfy network show “Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files” even included the Fresno Nightcrawler in one of their episodes, and the footage was deemed “unexplainable.”
3. Slaughterhouse Canyon
Everyone wanted a piece of the Gold Rush. One family who headed west built a cabin at the base of Luana’s Canyon outside of Kingman, AZ. Times were tough, and the father would leave for weeks at a time to search for food and gold, until one time he didn’t come back.
His wife, Luana, and children were left to starve. As the story goes, the mother couldn’t bear to hear her children’s cries. Instead of watching them die, she killed them before taking her own life. You can allegedly hear the mother’s screams at night in the haunted canyon.
4. The Lady in White
Bakersfield Central Park in Bakersfield, CA, has been the site of many paranormal sightings since it was established in 1921. Eyewitnesses have reported a ghostly figure of a woman in a white dress walking through the park, weeping softly before disappearing. She has also been spotted floating over the Kern Island Canal. “The Lady in White” is a perennial ghost story, but visit the park at dawn, and you just might see for yourself.
5. The Monster of Elizabeth Lake
According to this urban legend, the Devil himself created Elizabeth Lake near Palmdale in Los Angeles County and put one of his pets inside it. If you swim deep enough, you’ll find a secret passageway to the underworld. Spanish missionaries named the lake Laguna del Diablo, or Devil’s Lagoon, and indigenous lore also supports claims that the Devil created the lake. As if that isn’t spooky enough, the lake lies directly on the San Andreas fault line.
Spanish settler Don Pedro Carillo was the first to spot the monster. He built a ranch by the lake in the 1830s, and a fire (the origin of which was never determined) burnt every single structure to the ground in a single night. Other settlers arrived in the 1850s, but strange screams at night, unnatural noises, and apparitions spooked them out. The beast is even said to have appeared to later settlers, who said bullets bounced off its back.
The Monster of Elizabeth Lake is described as over 50 feet long with bat wings, the head of a bulldog, the neck of a giraffe, six legs, and a nauseating stench. The beast has also been linked to the Thunderbird photograph, an 1890s-era photo that shows several cowboys posing with what appears to be a pterodactyl-like creature. The credibility of the picture has long been disputed, but it sounds familiar. Could it be the Monster of Elizabeth Lake?
This legend is so deeply embedded in the Navajo culture that even talking about these sinister entities is taboo. It’s said speaking about skinwalkers will draw attention to you and make you a target of their vicious attacks.
The roots of the skinwalker legend can be traced back to Navajo folklore. Skinwalkers are medicine men who have been lured to the dark side. They use their shapeshifting spiritual powers for evil and embody the complete opposite of Navajo cultural values. Skinwalkers are said even to have the ability to steal the faces of people and absorb into a person’s body, taking control of their actions.
They’re also reported to run profoundly long distances—as many as 200 miles in one night. In the Navajo language, skinwalker translates to yee naagloshii, which means “he who walks on all fours.” Many eyewitness accounts describe the skinwalker as a large, dog-like creature.
There is very little evidence of skinwalkers and the murders they may have committed, except for one case from 1987. When a Navajo woman was found brutally murdered in Flagstaff, AZ, the accused killer’s defense in court was that only a Skinwalker could be responsible for such an act. The accused killer was later acquitted and cleared of all charges, and the case remains unsolved to this day.
7. The Billiwhack Monster
Rumors of an alleged beast have been swirling since the 1940s at the site of the former Billiwhack Dairy in Ventura County. August Rubel, a German national living in the United States during World War II, owned the dairy.
It was rumored that Rubel had a secret underground lab beneath the dairy where he was working with the U.S. government to build a super soldier for warfare. He returned to his native Germany in 1943, a dangerous journey, as he was supposedly working for the allies. During the trip, Rubel was allegedly killed by a German landmine.
Years later, reports of a strange creature roaming the area where the now-abandoned dairy stood started to surface. Many of these reports came from local high school students who told police that a large humanoid with goat-like horns and sharp claws was hurling rocks at their car. In 1964, hikers reported that they were terrorized by a creature fitting the description of the Billiwhack Monster.
8. The Mogollon Monster
According to some accounts, Arizona has its own Bigfoot! The Mogollon Monster, named for the Mogollon Rim it reportedly inhabits, is said to tower over seven feet tall and possess beaming red eyes, a terrible stench, and incredible strength.
The Mogollon Monster has been spotted all over the state, although descriptions vary. Reports trace as far back as 1908 when someone spotted the creature near the Grand Canyon. The witness said the beast had long white hair and two-inch-long, razor-sharp claws. A 1940 sighting describes the creature’s deep-set, emotionless eyes.
Sightings have also occurred as recently as 2006 when a member of the White Mountain Apache Nation said there were several sightings of an all-black monster roaming the area.
9. Char Man
Several spirits are said to haunt the bridge that crosses San Antonio Creek in Ojai, CA, but the Char Man is the most famous. In fact, the bridge has been dubbed “Char Man Bridge.” The Char Man is a spirit that appears burnt beyond recognition and is said to emerge from the forests to attack motorists—especially those who stop on the bridge, get out of their cars, and yell, “Help me!”
There are a few different theories that posit how the Char Man came to be, two of which trace the Char Man’s origins to a 1948 brush fire in the Ojai Valley. In one, a father and son were caught in the fire. The father perished before help could arrive, and his son fled to the woods and went insane from his injuries, becoming the Char Man.
In another, a husband and wife were trapped in the fire, and the wife couldn’t escape. The husband heard her yelling, “Help me,” but couldn’t come to her rescue in time. He became the Char Man.
Another story describes a car fire on what is now the Char Man Bridge. The driver was severely burned and barely survived, and fled into the woods where he became the Char Man.
10. El Chupacabra
The story of the chupacabra is perhaps the most widely known urban legend on this list. Chupacabra sightings were first reported in the mid-1990s in Puerto Rico. Since then, there have been numerous accounts of the mysterious monster in the Southwest, Mexico, and even China.
Chupacabra literally translates to “goatsucker,” stemming from reports that the creature sucks the blood of livestock. Physical descriptions vary, but it’s said to be a dog-like creature with gray, leathery, almost reptilian skin and spines running down its back. However, scientists believe chupacabras are actually coyotes with severe cases of mange.
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