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Top Ten: Scary Arizona

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.” ~Albert Einstein

Arizona is a wonderful place but it’s also full of many strange and mysterious things. The hours of midnight to 3:00 am seem to be the “witching” hours during which time most weird things happen and that’s when you are likely to run into those who are carrying out their nefarious purposes in the middle of the night. Below are top ten scary things to beware of around the state. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

1. El Chupacabra – Literally “goat sucker,” the name comes from the animal’s unusual habit of attacking and drinking the blood of livestock, especially goats. It seems to be some kind of hybrid mutant animal, and physical descriptions of the creature vary – from dog-like to bear-like and even reptilian. Its reported range has been spreading from Latin America to the Southwestern U.S.

2. The Mogollon Monster – This relative of Bigfoot has long black or dark brown hair, stands 6-8 feet tall, is known to emit an unusual whistle sound or unearthly screech, and has a strong odor like that of a decaying fish. The shy, nocturnal creature apparently likes exploring campsites after dark, and gets a kick out of hurling stones from hidden locations. Most sightings are centered on the Mogollon Rim above Payson although its territory stretches from Williams to Springerville, south to the Sierra Ancha wilderness, and as far north as the Grand Canyon. This type of monster has also been “seen” and “heard” in other scattered areas.

3. Skinwalkers – The Navajo Reservation is a beautiful place in the daytime, especially the area between Kayenta and the Utah border (site of the magnificent Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park) and over to the Arizona / New Mexico border. But it is also a desolate area with place names like Skeleton Mesa and Mystery Valley. Be careful when traveling through the reservation at night, because strange things have been known to happen out there. (Read Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee mysteries and you will know what I mean.) Not much is known about Navajo witchcraft, but anyone who has lived in Navajo country will tell you that it should be taken seriously. According to American Indian legend, Navajo Skinwalkers can turn themselves into any wild animal they choose – such as a coyote, a wolf, a dog, a cat, a bear, or other creature. By doing so, they gain the abilities of the animal while retaining their own intelligence and mental capacities. This can make for a very dangerous opponent.

4. Route 666 – “The Devil’s Highway” was renamed US 191 in 1992. However, strange things continue to happen along this remote and isolated highway, so beware of anything that seems peculiar. Animals have been known to jump in front of cars, causing them to swerve and crash. Watch out for crazy drivers coming up from behind and passing you. Don’t get out of your car along this highway at night, or risk being attacked by a pack of demon dogs. Never stop to pick up hitchhikers. Keep your windows and doors closed and locked, and don’t leave space for unwanted passengers in the back seat. Skinwalkers inhabit the area along the northern part of this desolate stretch of highway.

5. La Llorona – The story of “The Crying Woman” is popular among Spanish-speaking cultures in the Americas. According to legend, she regrets having drowned her children and is now doomed to search for them – or she will take any children for that matter. So parents warn their children that if they behave badly, wander off, or stay outside after dark, La Llorona will kidnap them. The phantom banshee – often appearing with her head covered, a horse’s head, or no face at all – is said to frequent many locations throughout the Southwest, but is most often encountered along the banks of the Gila and San Pedro Rivers, as well as a nameless canyon about 3 miles south of Kingman.

6. Ghosts – A ghost that has been dubbed “the Wandering Woman” is said to roam the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. She has been seen on the North Kaibab Trail, wearing a white robe with small flowers on it, and a scarf over her head. Apparitions dressed in old-fashioned period clothing have reportedly been seen strolling along the London Bridge. Other supposedly haunted places include the Oatman Hotel, the Jerome Grand Hotel, the Museum Club and Hotel Monte Vista in Flagstaff, the Navajo County Courthouse in Holbrook, the Hassayampa Inn in Prescott, the Vulture Mine in Wickenburg, the San Carlos Hotel in downtown Phoenix, the Birdcage Theatre in Tombstone, the Carleton House at Fort Huachuca, the Oliver House and the Clawson House in Bisbee, the Gadsden Hotel in Douglas, the old Pirtleville Cemetery near Douglas, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Nogales, and the Yuma Territorial Prison’s “Dark Cell” and Cell #14. But the most haunted place of all is the Brunckow Cabin, known as the bloodiest cabin in Arizona’s history. The ruins of this adobe cabin are located about 8 miles southwest of Tombstone, near the intersection of Charleston and Brunckow Road, just past the first set of mine ruins, down the trail toward the San Pedro River. The road to the cabin requires a 4WD or a truck with a high center. Frederick Brunckow, a German mining engineer, built the cabin in 1858. At least 20 murders took place there between 1860-1880, with all of the victims – including Brunckow himself – being buried on the site. Prospectors and miners came to avoid the spot as they would a plague. Many folks who have since camped near the cabin report seeing ghostly visions and hearing the sounds of long-gone mining equipment.

7. Aliens and UFO’s – People all over the state have reported seeing UFO’s and strange lights in the sky above Arizona, most notably being the “Phoenix Lights” on March 13, 1997. A famous case of alien abduction occurred on November 5, 1975. The incident took place on the Mogollon Rim road south of Heber, about a mile east of FR87 near Turkey Springs. At 6:30 pm, a group of loggers was leaving the forest when they noticed a bright glow behind some tall pines. Upon investigating, they came across a large silvery disc hovering over a clearing. Travis Walton stepped out of the truck to approach the object, and that’s when a beam of blue-green light struck him. The other men panicked and sped away. When they returned, Walton was missing. The incident was reported to the county sheriff, who organized a search party. Travis turned up five days later – dehydrated, disoriented, and delirious. He claimed to have been taken aboard the craft and examined by hairless, bug-eyed extraterrestrials wearing orange jumpsuits, while a few human-looking aliens dressed in blue were also on board. Even though all of the men involved in the incident passed lie detector tests, there was a great deal of controversy over what really happened that night. The 1993 movie “Fire in the Sky” was based on this story.

8. Wild Animals – Arizona has long been home to deadly scorpions, black widow spiders, and rattlesnakes. As if that’s not enough, Africanized “Killer” Bees have also moved into our state. The last grizzly bear in Arizona was killed in 1935 near Nutrioso, in the Escudilla Wilderness. However, mountain lions and black bears still inhabit Arizona, and the Mexican gray wolf was recently re-introduced. While these large predators are rarely seen, they can be dangerous if you do happen to run into them. The Mexican Gray Wolf’s territory is the Blue Range Primitive Area, a portion of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, and the Gila National Forest in west-central New Mexico. The Arizona Mountain Lion has a wide and diverse habitat including high elevation forests, rimrock canyons, and mountainous desert areas. It prefers dense underbrush and rocky areas which facilitates its ambush method of stalking or lying and waiting for unsuspecting prey, then pouncing from above or behind. The Mount Graham area is home to the largest population of bears in Arizona. In general, to prevent animal attacks when camping or hiking in wilderness areas, keep your kids close and don’t let anyone wander off alone. As a safeguard against bears in particular, campers need to remember that bears have an extremely good sense of smell and will check out anything that smells like food. So never store food of any kind inside your tent, and avoid fruit-scented shampoos and lotions.

9. Bubonic Plague – Although widely known as a disease of the Middle Ages, the “Black Death” is still found today in the southwestern states of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and California. Plague activity occurs mostly in elevations above 4,500 feet during the wet, warmer months of the year. In Arizona, most outbreaks occur in Coconino and Apache counties, as well as the Four Corners area. The disease comes from fleas carried on rabbits, prairie dogs, and other rodents. Bubonic plague will wipe out entire prairie dog towns. So avoid close contact with rodent burrows, and stay away from sick or dead animals. Domestic animals left to wander can also pick up plague-infected fleas and bring them home.

10. Toroweap Point – This remote area west of Grand Canyon National Park has one of the most breathtaking (literally!) views of the Grand Canyon – with no obstructions, no crowds, and no guardrails. Getting to Toroweap (also spelled Tuweep or Tuweap) is a significant part of the challenge. First, you have to be brave enough to drive for 2.5 hours on a tire-ripping dirt washboard road to the very edge of the Grand Canyon. Then you can stand on the edge and look straight down into a 3,000-foot-deep chasm that’s twice the height of the Sears Tower in Chicago. A trip to the Toroweap overlook is not recommended if you have young children or a fear of heights. It’s best for experienced back-country adventurers seeking an adrenaline rush. Even if you’re not afraid of heights, the sheer unfenced cliff will surely give you an uneasy feeling when you step out to the edge to see the Colorado River flowing way down below.

Honorable Mention: Grand Canyon Skywalk – This new tourist attraction was completed in March 2007, and it’s another place that you may want to avoid if you’re afraid of heights. The horseshoe-shaped glass walkway protrudes 66 feet beyond the edge of the canyon on the Hualapai Indian Reservation. Its height of 3,600 feet height above the floor of the canyon far exceeds that of the world’s tallest skyscrapers. The walls and floor are built from 2-inch thick glass. You can stand there and look straight down at the Colorado River if you dare. Rest assured, the structure was built to withstand up to 100 mph winds and a magnitude 8 earthquake. Tuned mass dampers minimize vibration from wind and pedestrians. Visitors are provided with shoe covers to guard against slipping and to keep the glass floor from being scratched. Also to protect the glass and to prevent items from being dropped into the canyon, no personal articles – including cameras – are allowed. Of course, you can buy a photo for $30 if you want to pay for it on top of the $75 cost to get in ($45 entrance to Grand Canyon West + $30 skywalk charge). But there is a cliff right next to the skywalk where you can stand and take pictures for free, and it’s scary enough as it is with no fence or handrail.

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