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The Monster of Elizabeth Lake?

Elizabeth Lake in the Angeles National Forest, 2008. Photo by Kfasimpaur, posted in Wikimedia Commons.

Editor's Note: the Almanac includes the following as folklore - not history. Although some elements of the story may indeed be historical fact, we offer these stories as a part of the cultural fabric of Los Angeles County.

Legend has it that a monster lived in Elizabeth Lake (17 miles west of Palmdale on Elizabeth Lake Road). Stories supposedly told by early Spanish settlers stated that the Devil himself created the lake and kept one of his pets in it. One of the first recorded stories came from the 1830s when Don Pedro Carrillo abandoned a ranch on the lakeshore after buildings on the property were destroyed by a mysterious fire. He complained of the La Laguna del Diablo (as it was named prior to 1834). In 1855, Americans settlers tried moving into the area but later abandoned it complaining of disturbing and unnatural noises and sightings at night. Not long afterward, rancher Don Chico Lopez, range boss Chico Vasquez and Don Guillermo Mentiroso claimed to witness at the lake “a huge monster, larger than the greatest whale, with enormous bat-like wings…. It would roar and splash the water with what appeared to be great flippers or legs.” Lopez also abandoned his lakeside ranch. He claimed that his livestock were quickly disappearing. In 1886, another rancher, Don Felipe Rivera, claimed to see a beast over the lake. Rancher Miguel Leonis, who later acquired the lands and also reported that he was losing livestock, also claimed an encounter with a griffin-like creature over the lake. He further claimed to have inflicted injury on it and perhaps driven it away from the area.

Portrait of rancher Miguel Leonis. Courtesy of the California Historical Society Collect & USC Libraries.

Leonis was the last to report any sightings of a creature at Elizabeth Lake, but the story goes on to say that a creature of similar description shortly thereafter began appearing in Arizona where it was ultimately killed.

Descriptions of the creature are close to that of the legendary Thunderbird commonly found in Native American mythology. Some suggest that had a large flying creature actually been seen around Elizabeth Lake, it could have been the California Condor, althought such a bird, as large as it is (wingspan up to 9.5 feet), does not seem as enormous as the creature described in Elizabeth Lake stories.

A waterbourne ceremony in British Columbia by Kwakiutl people featuring a masked portrayal of the Thunderbird, circa 1914.
Photo by Edward S. Curtis, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

California Condor. Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Sacramento Office.