Monday, December 17, 2012

The Salt Witch of Mono Lake

Mono Lake Outpost, early 1900's
I've spent the better part of a day searching for some solid Myths that I can look out for on my ride to Bishop this weekend.  I finally found the one that I think has a lot of potential.  The Salt Witch, who roams the areas around Mono lake and has reportedly been seen at the far ends of Mono County.  Join me as I explore the Mono Lake Salt Witch in this weeks Myths, Legends and Tales from the road!

The native people, who inhabited the area around the lake, often shared a story of an old wise woman. When exiled from her people, she made her home around the salty lake.  She did not speak the language of the Indian people but she seemed to understand them well enough to trade food and items as well as general information.  She had a reputation as a worthy hunter, gardener, tanner and most famously her dried meats knew no equal.  She fostered a relationship with the native peoples for years and they came to respect her knowledge of the land and ability to survive comfortably.

Somewhere in the mid 1800's a group of trappers found themselves stuck very near the basin one winter.  They were headed west and had furs, dried meats and much more to trade with the peoples of the valley for supplies and anything else they may need or want to live out the winter in the hostile area.  They camped very near the Old Wise Woman and it is said that in the first night the trappers came, the Indians could hear screams from across the water near where they had camped.  In the early morning the Indians seeing a very large fire upon the lake set out to discover what it could be.

Mono Lake Kutzadika tribe photo
When they arrived at the trappers camp they found all the trappers dead or dying from a mysterious sickness.  The sickness seemed to dry them out and give them a thirst that no water could quench.  The few dead men lay near the edge of the lake having slurped up as much of the salty brine as they could manage before life left them.

The Indians carried the last two living men to the hut of the old wise woman thinking that she could help. Her home had been pillaged in the night and what remained left the tribes men haunted.  It barely resembled a shelter at all.  The floor and walls were stained with splatters of blood and the littered reminisce of the old woman's belongings.  The Indians not knowing the horrid details of what must have passed in the night left the last two men to choke to death by the woman's shelter.

One brave Indian swam in the freezing waters of the lake to examine the fire that had burned down off shore some distance. He hoped that he would find the wise woman and that his people could care for her until she was able to return to her home.  The raft had been piled high with wood and set on fire late in the night and little remained, save for the salt soaked timbers which rested in the water.

The Indians still share stories of those who come to the lake with malice in their hearts never being able to leave.  It is said that if you are in need of help there will sometimes appear an old woman with intimate knowledge of the area who guides people to their destinations or helps them with their problems.   However if you pass through the valley carrying guilt or hostility in your heart she appears to summon you to the lake and fill your lungs with the salt alkali of Mono and let you dry out on a hidden shore very near the place that she lived so long ago.


Modern Sightings:
It is said that early in 1940's a robber turned murderer in his last job left LA seeking to escape his crimes.  The police learned his location to be Reno and began an investigation into his whereabouts.  They found nothing for months until one day a scientist discovered a body near the lake which an autopsy found the cause of death to be asphyxiation.  The mans lungs had been completely filled with fine silica powder.

Mono Lake, Salt Pillars. (Naturally form
from Mono's unusually high salt levels.
A group of high school children on a field trip visiting the lake became separated into several groups.  One group went missing for almost four hours only to return with rock, plant and water samples that were used for years to come in helping scientists determine the history, chemical composition and habitat of the lake area.  The children all said that one of the older rangers had taken them on a nature trail to a little crater where they found everything they had gathered.  All of the rangers at the time were known to be with other groups and well accounted for.

In the late 60's a man and woman's bodies where recovered just off the highway with no transportation anywhere near by.  After some investigation it was discovered that though they appeared to be married it was no to one another.  When their families where contacted and came in the mystery couples partners met after years having not seen each other.  They had been high school sweethearts and even in the wake of the devastating news they came to be close friends once again.  They were married eight months later and are still together to this day.

Mono South Shoreline
Other various sighting include people seeing an old woman crawling out of the lake and shaking off the water from her body only to be seen briefly wearing clothing suddenly before vanishing as if she was never there.  Others say that the Salt Witch walks across the waters of the lake wreathed in flame and wearing a fine crystalline dress.  It seems that the witch will only ever present herself to help or harm but she's become infamous.

I'm excited to make a brief stop by the lake to see if I can spot her.  Maybe she'll lead me to my next bike or leave me drown in salt along the shoreline.  Either way it is a very compelling story and I am excited to have the chance to witness some aspect of it myself.

If you know any other Myths, Legends or Tales I should explore on my trip please write in., there are some interesting stories about the Laws Museum as well.  Perhaps I'll have a real story to share when I come back after Christmas.

Read more about Mono Lake: HERE!
Read more about the Indians of Mono Lake: HERE!
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