The very nature of a desert is hostile to life itself. The formidable and stark landscape features extremes in temperatures, a lack of rainfall, and inhospitable environment. You don’t need much more to get scarier, but deserts seem to be magnets for all things creepy, dangerous, and just plain weird.
If you don’t think you will be encountering any monsters very soon, just remember that deserts cover about 20% of the planet, so you’re likely to find yourself in one sooner or later.
Be careful where you step.
In the desert southwest, Navajo Native Americans or Diné believe a legend of frightening beings called skinwalkers. In their native tongue, yee naagloshii, translates into “he who walks on all fours” and are sometimes described as hollowed-out dogs.
These supernatural shape shifters transform into animals under the cover of night. The skinwalker witches walk among the humans and can appear as a coyote, owl, fox, wolf, crow or any other animal. And if that wasn’t creepy enough, they often lurk around graveyards. Navajos are so frightened by the subject, they are reluctant to discuss it with outsiders.
Legend has it that somewhere deep in the Sahara Desert lies a whitewashed oasis city called Zerzura that is home to a sleeping king and queen. This mysterious place lies beyond a gate adorned with a carved bird where untold riches and magnificent treasure awaits the intrepid explorer. The fabled city is said to be situated in a valley between two mountains, but guarded by large black giants to prevent anyone from entering or exiting. This probably explains how the city has remained hidden for centuries.
The Zerzurans are purported to be European-looking and not of Arabic descent or culture, although the city is believed to be west of the Nile and somewhere in Egypt of Libya. In 2003, an Austrian explorer discovered a place he called Djedefre’s Water Mountain, which was a water depot founded more than four centuries ago. Alas, there were no giants and whether this was the location of the famed Zerzura is up for debate.
Covering some half million square miles, the Gobi Desert stretches from Northern China into Southern Mongolia and is the world’s fifth largest desert. This rocky terrain is home to the Olgoi-Khorkhoi, also known as the Mongolian Death Worm.
The legendary thick-bodied creature is about two to five feet long, red with splotches, and has the bonus of spikes at the ends. To touch the Olgoi-Khorkhoi means certain death.
The Death Worm travels under the sand and kills by spraying venom or electric shock. Although numerous expeditions have been mounted to find the worm, the cryptid currently occupies the realm of folklore. . . for now.
4. Yucca Man
Straddling the Colorado and Mojave Desert in Southern California lies Joshua Tree National Park, home to bleak landscapes and a frightening Bigfoot-like creature waiting to meet you on your next camping trip.
Witnesses describe Yucca Man as being up to 12-feet-tall and covered with tan hair. The cryptid may be related to the towis or takwis, smelly devil creatures living in the cursed Tahquitz Canyon region as described by the Tongva Native Americans of the San Bernadino Mountains.
The first modern report of Yucca Man came from a credible witness stationed at 29 Palms, California. The marine on guard duty stated the monster came out of the desert toward him, so he raised his weapon and order it to halt. Yucca Man grabbed his rifle, bent it half and knocked the marine unconscious. The man was found the next day, dazed and with the badly damaged weapon. Since then, the hairy monster has been sighted in the area around the base and in Joshua Tree National Park.
5. Arica Monster.
The barren sand and rock of Atacama Desert of Chile creates a narrow strip of no-man’s-land west of the Andes. Considered the driest desert, it is regarded as inhospitable, but apparently not to a bizarre prehistoric monster.
The sharp-toothed bipedal Arica Monster is described as similar to a 6-foot-tall kangaroo, but far fiercer, like a raptor. Some believe it is a surviving member of the Dromaeosauridae family from the Cretaceous Period, or perhaps even a theropod. With sharp teeth and three-toed feet, the carnivore has been sighted in the desert region since 1980.
6. Jumping Cactus.
In the American Southwest you will encounter a variety of sharp, prickly plants in the Sonoran, Colorado, Yuma and Mojave deserts. But one stands out to desert dwellers: Cylindropuntia fulgida or the “jumping Cholla.” These cacti grow long chains of fruit which are covered in sharp painful spines and the plants are so plentiful, they often cover large areas of the desert in fuzzy Cholla forests.
While scientists dispute that the cacti can jump, locals claim that merely walking within three feet of the plants will cause them to release a section of chain which will then embed into the clothing, the fur of an animal or anything unfortunate enough to be nearby. Removal of the spines is often tedious and painful. The cacti are widely reviled for this reason and the reputation for jumping persists despite what science says.
7. Deathstalker Scorpion.
The deserts of North Africa and the Middle East are home to a deadly scorpion with the most toxic venom. Called by various names such as the Omdurman scorpion, or Israeli desert scorpion, this creature is often aptly referred to as the Deathstalker. The painful sting from these tiny creatures injects a venom that is a powerful mixture of neurotoxins as well as cardiotoxins which causes extreme pain, convulsions, paralysis and sometimes even death due to heart and respiratory failure.
8. Killer Bees.
A cross-breed between the European honeybee and the African honeybee has resulted in a menacing insect threat in the deserts of America’s southwest.
Known as Killer Bees, these insects are especially aggressive resulting in sometimes thousands of stings. Experts estimate that 500 stings to be the equivalent of a rattlesnake bite. The average hive has 40,000 to 60,000 bees, all of them hostile and waiting for a reason to swarm. One deadly attack on record resulted in the death of one and serious injury of four others when the group was swarmed by an estimated 800,000 bees. Even submerging in water won’t deter their angry assault as they will simply wait for you to come up for air.
9. Inland Taipan.
In the Tirari Desert of Australia lives the most venomous snake in the world, the Inland Taipan. Reaching lengths of 5.8 to 8.2 feet, one bite from this deadly reptile is enough to kill 100 grown men. It is so toxic and fast acting that once bitten, the snake’s prey has no opportunity to fight back.
Humans unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of the Inland Taipan bite can expect convulsions, paralysis, cerebral hemorrhage, kidney failure and heart damage. Untreated, victims can die within 45 minutes of being bitten.
The combination of a little wind and lots of sand can create deadly conditions in deserts around the globe. Haboobs, an Arabic word for “violent wind”, are generated when a storm kicks up dust thousands of feet thick and moving at high speeds. Without warning, it can cover an area of hundreds of miles and reducing visibility to zero resulting in deadly accidents. Massive haboobs can cross seas, knock out power, and engulf entire cities.