found myself hot on the trail of Badwater Nessie not long after she and the lake
waters appeared in Badwater, Death Valley, California, the year of 2005. It
puzzled me why she disappeared before the normally dry lake bed evaporated. She
was so fond of her vacations in one of the driest places on earth, that I just
couldn't imagine what had happened to her. So I donned my Dr. von Vargo hat and
began the search.
My first inclination was to go
back to the lake bed itself. The crowds and the water would hamper my
investigations however, so I was forced to wait until they both subsided before
even attempting an expedition to the actual site in modern times. Meanwhile, I
decided to do a little time traveling to see if there were any clues from
I figured my best shot would
be to hook up with the Death Valley 49'ers, and the Manly party, as that was
pretty much the first recorded history that comes to mind for the area.
Basically I discovered cows and lost wagons full of stranded pioneers, but no
I wandered around in the past
until the mid 1870's. There I found, a few miles from Furnace Creek, two young
men by the name of Leander and Philander. It was late and I was tired from
nearly twenty years of desert travel in so short of time, so they invited me to
sit around their cow campfire. A couple of roasts were on the spit, waiting to
be served up, and I was quick to say yes, when they offered me a chunk of the
juicy meat. Two Paiute women accompanied the boys, and passed around a jug of
firewater. Between swigs of the jug, Leander and Philander, told stories of
their brother's Meander, and Salamander, and the rest of the Lee family, back
home in San Joaquin Valley. It held my interest for a short while, then I found
my head bobbing, and my eyes nodding, and they offered me one of their extra
bedrolls for the night.
It must have been around 2
a.m. when I heard a rumble, and the ground beneath me shook. The dust was flying
so thick I couldn't see anything, but the stench of live beef, told me the Lee
boys cattle were on the move. I got on my high horse and joined the boys in a
rather lively attempt to collect the cows. We wandered around into the wee hours
of the dawn when the stampede led us to water in a small creek.
As the bovine dredged the
water, they eventually quenched their thirst and settled down again. Meanwhile,
the two Paiute females had set up a camp ring, and were cooking up breakfast.
Over hot cups of coffee and Indian bread, Cub and Phi dubbed the spring Cow
Creek. The name stuck, and I found it in Gudde's Guide to California's Place
Names when I time set myself back to the new millennium a few days later.
I liked the Lee brothers so
decided to hang with them for a couple of decades. The evenings were always a
joy with lots of tales. A favorite was Cub's story of Bellerin' Teck who
dug a ditch full of water out of Furnace Creek and turned it into a ranch
complete with alfalfa, barley and quails. Bellerin' was noted as a bad man, who
eventually traded part of his ranch to a Mormon named Jackson for a yoke of
oxen. According to Cub, Bellerin' waited a week for the Mormon to get settled
in, then tried to run him of the property with a shotgun. Bellerin' took control
of his ranch once again, and began more ditch digging for water. Philander
always interrupted when Cub got to this part of the tale. "You know, I was told
that while he was digging for that ditch, Bellerin' ran across some pretty big
bones." Cub would nod and take back his story. "Sure, brother, I remember those
bones....I saw 'em in a museum once and they looked like a giant serpent of some
kind when they were all pieced together."
The word serpent stuck out
like a sore thumb the first time I heard it. Could it be a water serpent perhaps
the likes of Nessie? I filed that thought away back in my mind, and continued on
with the Lee's for a few more years before heading back to the 21st
Around 1891 a bunch of
Amargosa ranchers took off prospecting. The Lee's were amongst those who spent
days rainbow chasing. On one dig, they ran across big bones the likes of which
reminded me of the Bellerin' Teck bone in Cub Lee's story. The hunt was for
gold, or silver, not bones, so the brother's casually tossed them aside and
continued digging. When they weren't looking I went to the pile and found the
remains of a jaw and a few others that intrigued me, and bagged them, then I
went to my watch and re-set it for late 2007.
Back in my office once again,
I rested up for a few days before checking out my bag of bones. It took several
days of calculated studies on those bones, before I dared to come to the
conclusion that these were the remains of an ancient water serpent, similar to
our Badwater Nessie. Once I was absolutely certain of this, I figured it was
finally time to head Death Valley.
As coincidence would have it,
the 8th Annual Death Valley History Conference was going on at
Furnace Creek just as I arrived. I horned in on the conversations going on and
presented my 2005 findings about Badwater Nessie, just because it seemed the
right thing to do. I kept my mouth shut, however, about what was in my large
bag, that I carried everywhere with me. That evening, following my impromptu
dissertation, I was approached by a someone who claimed to be from Cow Creek. I
followed her to the museum, where she immediately showed me bones the size of
the one's I had in my bag. The silence was thick between us. After long moments,
I nodded, then followed her to her Jeep.
As we climbed in the Jeep, and
the engine roared, the skies overhead darkened. A few raindrops hit half of our
windshield along the way. The sun blinded the passenger view, making it
difficult to see., but we managed to find our way to the Cow Creek turnoff and
to the little community that lived there.
A brief cloudburst hit just before the turnoff to the volunteer encampment. The
sun quickly replaced the clouds, but giant raindrops continued. The ground
rumbled beneath us, as we exited the Jeep, and a huge prism of color arched from
one end of the valley to the other. The ground rumbled louder, and the dust
stirred, blinding our vision as it had that time traveled night way back into
the past when the Lee cattle took off in search of water. Then there before us,
there she was in all of her serpentine glory.... Badwater Nessie, alive and well
in Cow Creek.
Quietly, I approached her, as
cameras clicked to record the moment. I was amazed at how much more gentle she
looked up close than she had from a distance. She greeted me as if I was an old
friend, and allowed me to run my hands over her rough hewn blue colored scales,
and through her stiff mane. At one point she made a monstrous whinny and
quavered her head in the air. Her nostrils flared, the heat of her breathe, and
the stench that followed, nearly threw me to the ground. As I recovered, I swear
she winked at me. The small crowd around us laughed.
I was allowed about a half
hour to familiarize myself with as much of Nessie as I could, then someone
called to her, and the ground rumbled once again as she stomped off to some
unknown part of the desert where she would be protected.
"But there's no
water....how..." I stammered to those around me.
"She's adapted," they replied,
and offered no more.
I took a few notes, exchanged
some contact information, then was whisked back to Furnace Creek for the rest of
the conference. On Monday I sat at my office beneath the mountains of the San
Gabriels, with my books and my research, a bag of bones from the past, and a
lock of Nessie hair. The photographs that arrived in my e-mails confirmed that I
wasn't dreaming and there really had been a water monster at the end of the
rainbow. There was more to this, I was sure, and I was game to go off chasing