The Thing About the Desert...Part 1
05 Feb 2014 · by Brennan Storr · Be the first to comment!
On September 24, 2013 I returned from a two week vacation during which I flew to Texas and ended up taking a 3600 mile road trip across six states, along the way visiting four national parks and catching up with a friend I hadn't seen since the first time we met five years ago, when I threatened his life over a card game in Morocco.
Along the way, my friend and I decided to look into local ghost stories and ended up with one of our own. This is part 1 of that story.
If you've already read part 1, click here to be taken to part 2
Those of you who read this site regularly will recall that I don’t find the desert to be a particularly exciting place. Apart from the odd dramatic vista and infrequent lightning storms, the many hours I've spent driving across the desert have mainly consisted of scanning radio frequencies looking for something – anything – to distract myself from the agonizing pace at which the miles on my GPS screen tick down. Yet, like so many things I claim to dislike – CostCo, social gatherings, Las Vegas – I find myself drawn back to the desert again and again.
The reading I’ve done in “paranormal” literature since beginning to write my book of ghost stories, and - oddly enough - the blog for dating site OK Cupid would like me to believe I’m wrong, that there is a great deal more happening in the desert than I thought but it took my road trip to the Grand Canyon last September to convince me.
For millennia, those who have travelled the Arabian Peninsula’s vast deserts have told hushed stories of their encounters with what they call "the Djinn". Known here in the west as Genies, the original legends of the Djinn - cruel tricksters said in the Quran to have been created by Allah of "smokeless fire" - are far less pleasant than our popular image of an animated, post-cocaine Robin Williams blowing around on a magic carpet.
Don't get me wrong, this is plenty scary
Though described in the Quran, Djinn legend far pre-dates the 6th century birth of Mohammed; in Reza Aslan's "No god but God" he describes the polytheistic tribes of pre-Islamic Arabia as praying to one of their many gods for safe passage through stretches of wasteland they considered belonging to the Djinn. Even in modern times some that pass through those far-off regions still talk about hearing strange music on the wind and amorphous shapes in the darkness warning them away from certain places.
North American Indian tribes have their own desert legends, including that of the Skinwalker. The Navajo people, residents of the Four Corners region of the American Southwest where I found myself last year (this area encompasses parts of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah) call their Skinwalkers Yenaldooshi, believing them to be witches so evil they have lost their humanity. The Navajo believe the witches’ evil acts have given them the nocturnal ability to don the skin of an animal and assume its powers, using both these and their “corpse powder” (made from, you guessed it – corpses) to bring about ruin and misery to those who cross their paths.
Ain't nobody got time for that
The Navajo people do not spend a great deal of time on the subject, believing that talking about the Yenaldooshi will attract their attention, and no doubt, that of bored white people who have parlayed their Bachelor of Arts degree into a career as “ghost hunters.” Certainly I had never heard of them until my friend Mike and I were sitting in the Kanab, Utah McDonald’s at 10:30 one night frantically searching for a hotel room.
The day before, Mike and I had entered Utah in search of Zion National Park after a 2-day stint in Las Vegas and we were just over the state line when he filled me in on the other thing that happens in the desert.
“You know the dating site OK Cupid, right?” he asked. “Do you ever read their blog?”
I confessed I didn’t.
Christ am I glad to be out of the dating pools
“It’s great, because from time to time they take the huge amounts of data they mine from questionnaires – sexual orientation, fetishes, romantic preferences – and map it geographically. They did one a little while back where they mapped fetishes by state and can you guess what were the two most popular fetishes in Utah?”
I confessed I didn’t want to.
“Rape fantasies and ball torture.”
Some things you can never unlearn.
Skipping over the minefield that is the discussion about fetishizing rape, let’s briefly discuss ball torture, which a very careful Google search undertaken afterward confirmed is really a thing.
This is Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist. Anything you look up past this is on you
As an adult male, I can safely say that having anything remotely painful happen to my genitals is right up there with “global pandemic” and “robot insurrection” on the list of things I most fear. That someone has managed to transmute that pain into something which benefits them makes me think they are either irreparably broken or the next step in our evolution; a spy with this ability would become legendary. Imagine the growing horror in Al-Qaida’s heart when hours of unceasing electroshock treatments to a discovered undercover agent’s genitals has not only failed to produce usable intelligence but has in fact resulted in the kind of erection breathlessly referred to in medical literature as a “Force 5 Diamond Cutter.” They’d wear out their shoes in the race to embrace whatever nameless desert horrors are offered by the Djinn.
"We're out. Anyone know if CostCo is hiring?"
After learning this, the windswept vista in front of me took on a decidedly more sinister aspect and I locked the car doors.
The next night, after spending the day in Bryce Canyon National Park, Mike and I had headed for Kanab with the idea of staying overnight. The next day we’d planned to hike the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, which was some two hours south of town. So far, each night on the trip we had been able to roll into a town around 10-11pm and take our pick of motel rooms but that night we weren’t so lucky – not only was every hotel room in Kanab booked, but so were rooms in the neighboring towns of Page and Fredonia. Our only option aside from sleeping in the car, which would have been unpleasant for someone as short as me and unbearable for the 6’4” Mike, was a room at the Super 8 in Hurricane, Utah, an hour out of our way to the west.
"This isn't happening"
This was how we found ourselves at 10:30pm in the Kanab McDonald’s looking up nearby ghost stories. Mike doesn’t particularly believe in such things but he’s a big fan of horror films and loves the stories; the idea of getting ourselves good and scared before the hour-long drive to Hurricane appealed to his adventurous side. Sure enough, Google turned up a few pages of spooky reports from around Kanab, all of which concerned Skinwalkers prowling the land near Best Friends Animal Society on Angel Canyon Road. We finished our McNuggets, said goodbye to the two counter girls who had helped us find a place to stay and headed to the car.
McDonald's: Now serving poor life decisions
Mike tossed me the keys.
“You’re driving,” he said.
“Because I don’t believe in this shit, so if we actually see something I’m going to have a heart attack.”