The term cryptid refers to an animal or a plant that has not been acknowledged by the scientific community, but whose existence is suggested by reports or circumstantial evidence.
An inexplicably shaped animal track, an odd noise in the woods or a disquieting shape barely glimpsed through the underbrush.
Sightings of cryptids are common in wilderness areas such as parts of California, but conclusive proof is vanishingly rare. By their very nature, cryptids are not documented by clear photography or scientific evidence.
Much of the information we have about cryptids, especially in California, dates back to old stories and folk tales. Gold rush miners, lumberjacks, missionaries, and native peoples all have their legends.
Some of them have very noticeable common threads, elements that ring true even today. And as a wise man once said,
“After all, I believe that legends and myths are largely made of 'truth', and indeed present aspects of it that can only be received in this mode; and long ago certain truths and modes of this kind were discovered and must always reappear.” - J.R.R. Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
The Ten Most Mysterious Cryptids of California
Table of Contents
#10 – Lone Pine Mountain Devil
Most commonly spotted near the small town whose name it bears, the Lone Pine Mountain Devil is described as a furry, bat-like creature.
It is reportedly slightly larger than a human, with sharp claws and teeth. The Mountain Devil is thought to generally keep to itself, but to be fiercely territorial.
Unfortunately, it seems that humans have been encroaching on its territory for over 150 years now.
Settlers in the Great Gold Rush of 1849 first coined the name after finding a large number of coyote and bobcat carcasses strewn through the desert.
In 1878, a missionary named Father Justus Martinez wrote of a pack of the creatures wiping out a wagon train.
Sightings continue to this day, as recently as 2010.
#9 – Ghost Deer
The Ghost Deer is a true mystery.
It appears to be a large bull elk with huge antlers, and has been occasionally been spotted by hunters and backpackers in the woods near Mount Eddy, CA.
The strange thing is, elk are not native to Mount Eddy. In fact, it’s extremely rare to see any there.
The Ghost Deer gets its name from its uncanny ability to evade gunshots and to disappear without a trace.
Many hunters have reported shooting at the paranormal creature, sure their aim was true, only for the Deer to simply keep running.
It seems unlikely that there is a scientific explanation for a deer immune to bullets.
Is it a paranormal entity? Is it just very lucky? It’s difficult to say.
#8 – Cadborosaurus
The Loch Ness Monster has an American cousin.
By compiling data from multiple sightings, cryptozoologists have determined that the creature is from 5-15 meters long.
It can swim up to 40 knots at surface depth, with a serpentine body and a very long neck.
In other words, it’s a sea serpent.
“Caddy”, as it’s been nicknamed, is most commonly seen in the colder months of October-April.
It tends to keep away from boats and ships, and does not seem to be dangerous.
#7 – Tahoe Tessie
Another water-dwelling cryptid, “Tahoe Tessie” is thought to live in Lake Tahoe, and is absolutely enormous.
Said to be over 80 feet long and covered in jet black scales, the creature could be very frightening, indeed.
Stories don’t generally have Tessie being very mean to her human neighbors, though.
She’s well-loved by the locals, and has become a mascot of sorts for the town.
Tessie is on the logo of many Tahoe local businesses, and has even been a cartoon character.
Sightings are quite common, and she is still seen multiple times every year.
Theories that Tessie is a dinosaur have been discredited by cryptozoological experts.
Today, most people agree Tessie a gigantic sturgeon, or possibly a freshwater eel.
#6 – The Fresno Alien
The Fresno Alien, also called the Nightcrawler, is only seen infrequently.
It is a short, humanoid creature, about 4 feet tall, and appears to have no arms.
Some say it is in fact wearing a robe or other clothing, which might point towards it not being a cryptid at all, but an extraterrestrial or paranormal entity.
Both sightings of the Nightcrawler were on video, including security camera footage of the creature walking through a yard.
The owner of the house was woken up by the frantic barking of his dogs. He went outside to investigate, and found nothing.
In the morning, he reviewed the recorded footage, and the legend of the Fresno Alien was born.
#5 – Cactus Cat
A cowboy legend, but perhaps with a grain of truth, the Cactus Cat is said to resemble a common house cat with a few differences.
It’s a little bit bigger than the typical cat, standing about two feet tall at the shoulder.
It survives off cactus sap, slicing the plants open with its sharp claws.
And it’s covered in spikes. Like a porcupine.
The tales go into amusing detail about the Cactus Cat becoming drunk off fermented cactus juice, staggering around in an alcoholic stupor.
The creature has not been spotted in years, and it’s unclear if it was ever real in the first place.
Just watch yourself if you come across any stray cats in the desert. Maybe wear gloves.
#4 – Hyampom Hog Bear
Described in the classic cryptozoological text “Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods”, the Hyampom Hog Bear is thought to reside in northern California.
The bear takes its name from the Native American word for its home, and for its preferred diet.
The Hyampom Hog Bear just loves pork!
According to lumberjack tales, the beast would creep around pig farms, keeping out of sight most of the year.
Around Christmastime, when the pigs are at their fattest, the bear would strike.
Finding prey so plentiful and easy, the creature took just one bite from each hog, enraging the pig farms to no end.
A surveyor captured a bear cub in the 1800s and actually presented it to the National Zoo, claiming it was a member of this new species.
The story was discredited, and it appears that the cub was an ordinary black bear.
#3 – The Dark Watchers of California
In the remote, unspoiled region of Big Sur, strange beings stand guard.
Over the years, many people have reported seeing impossibly tall, humanoid shapes standing along the ridges and peaks of the mountains.
They have been spoken of by Chumash Indians, and have been the subject of much poetry, art, and writing.
John Steinbeck actually wrote about the Dark Watchers in one of his later works, the short story “Flight”.
In all the reports, they simply stand and stare off into the distance. If approached, they silently disappear.
No one has ever gotten close to one of these creatures to describe them in much more detail.
Maybe that’s why they capture our imagination so.
#2 – Central American Whintosser
First mentioned in a lumberjack tale recounted in “Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods”, the Central American Whintosser has been known to journey as far north as California.
The cryptid is thought to live in packs, and has a triangular body with a short tail.
The most notable feature of the beast is its ten legs.
Limbs sprout off of the creature’s body at every angle, allowing it to quickly run through any terrain.
It can even use its sharp claws to walk upside down or on walls.
The Whintosser is said to be very aggressive, and best avoided.
According to the lumberjacks, the best way to take down a Whintosser is by trapping it in a pipe or chimney.
The beast will try to walk in every direction at once, and tear itself apart.
#1 – Bigfoot
Of course, no article on cryptids is complete without mention of the big guy himself.
Bigfoot, also called the Sasquatch, has been seen hundreds of times over the years.
Most recently, the creature seems to make its home near Roseville, California.
Bigfoot hunters are adapting to the times and using drones to track the beast.
It seems like Bigfoot’s days of mystery and unconfirmed sightings may be coming to an end.
Many would say that Bigfoot is what kicked off the modern study of cryptozoology, and it would be wonderful to finally have the years of searching pay off.
As a large state with a great deal of history and wilderness, it’s only natural that cryptids would have a place in the lore of California.
Some of these creatures are undoubtedly pure fabrication, but equally sure is that some are real.
Keep an eye out in your wilderness adventures, and who knows?
You just might make a new friend, or at least come back with a story to tell.