Owyhee Canyon Dragon:
A myth, just history, or out there stalking?
by Sammy Castonguay, Friend of the Owyhee (Canyon Dragon)
Acknowledging Tim Davis, Friends of the Owyhee Director
Mythical Creatures pervade human oral tradition from legend and folklore to fantasy and religion. Often times the tales of these mythical beasts derive from the mystery of the land, sea, or sky. Sometimes they are mischievous, sometimes jolly, but all-the-time leery of the human race.
Think Bigfoot. The Minotaur. Mermaids. The Jack-a-lope. Lockness Monster. The Thunderbird. Chupacabre. The Lorax. Leprechauns. Etcetera. Mythical creatures, on one hand, seem like a relic of the past (like from Greek Mythology, or old Grimes Tales) but several of the above mentioned are a purely modern phenomenon. Be they a joke, long oral traditions, supernatural beings, or a modern naturalists-animists anthropomorphic connection to the land, they are among us.
Ill give my report of the Owyhee Canyon Dragon.
Its big, real big, most of the time. Its magick allows it to shrink to the size of a house-fly, but rarely will. Why would it? It is open out there, with few humans. Plenty of rocky overhangs and steep, impassable cliffs. Perfect for this stealth, flying feline-like apex predator.
It is a dragon; make not mistake. Some reports just call it a cat (cougar), others a deformed sheep, and others even an unusual sized bird. But undeniably it is a dragon by any classic measure of the word: it is long, slender, sleek, kind of slinky. Like the canyons, it can be winding and sinuous. Certainly reptilian with scales under thin fur. More dragon than the living lizard, the Komodo.
Its back is ridged. Probably its best adaptive camouflage. Nearly ever canyon of rock outcrops has a 'ridge' of jagged peaks and needles or dark reddish rhyolite or tuff, making shadowy ledges. Like the emerging dorsal fins of a school of sailfish. Perfect territory to hide, remaining stealth.
I'm probably one of the few of have observed one (one? are there many? just one? unknown.) closely; close enough to clearly see the face and far too close for comfort. Well, I am one of the few willing to speak of it. Either folks laugh it off, or folks give me an all-too-knowing shirking side-glance as if to say "we do not speak of it". Like its Voldemort of something. As if talking about it, which is admitting existence, simultaneously confirms a persons nuttiness and beckons it out of hiding.
Why are people afraid of it? Well, for duh it is a terrifying, fierce creature (uh, dragon!?!). But deeper, there is a historical land war here, as there is in all places where the wild and the domestic entangle. The Canyon Dragon has a rage for the miner, the cowboy, the sheepherder, the farmer... the human. Or at least what it has known of the human. As with all mythical creatures, when the mystery of the land is turned to known commodity, the myth of the land dies. A dying myth isnt quite, or still. For the better part of two centuries, the dragon has consumed pioneers, or at least their stock. This is a hell of a place for a cow; big, dumb slow pray, if it cared for the taste of gluttony at all. Herds of sheep missing. Dogs harassed. Equipment mangled. Desert disillusions. Monkey wrenching. Rumor has it, though I have not confirmed, it breaths fire and is so probably responsible for considerable range fires. Another reason to fear. Because of its threatened existence, it is feared and hated but probably recapitulates the feeling ten-fold. The Desert is a harsh place, and should never be underestimated.
Scary it may be, but as magnificent as you can imagine a mythical beast would be. It is a unicorn, in its own way. Quite a bit dirtier, less arrogant, and with less manners. This is no forest. Not time for manners, everyone makes mistakes, and it is impossible to keep the film of dust from depositing after emerging from any [rare] bathing hole. Like other mythical beasts, it makes not sound; at least not one widely reported or that I have heard. No call, no screech, no bellow. Though maybe, I have long thought, the sound of reverberating thunder in the canyons is echoed by the beast.
Its head, which is massive, is almost identical to a Cougar (Puma concolor) except for the huge rack of Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis) curls. Its age shows in the ripples muzzle skin, tattered long shiskers, and bashed up horns. Around the neck it has a feathered color, like that of a Condor (Gymnogyps californianus), almost like a mane. Peculiarly intentionally apply colored muds to its scaly face, in lines, dots, and geometric patters.
|By Jwanamaker - commons.wikimedia.org|
|By Saguaro National Park - Flickr|
|California Condor - commons.wikimedia.org|
By Connor Long - commons.wikimedia.org
As a match to its mis-matched head, its front paws are distinctly those of a puma, though seemingly a bit more functional as arms with some dexterity of paw. But it also has legs of a bighorn, its walking legs. Bighorns legs are agile on steep cliffs and the Canhon Dragon has four hooved legs that are as nimble as a sheep but stout as a horse.
Oh, had I not mentioned the animal is polymelia (many limbs)?
Yeah... a real beast this thing. Like a centaur, instead of horse and human: bighorn and cougar.
Im positive your questions regarding local fear of the animal are waning with every word.
As if not enough, it has a fourth pair of legs... and wings. :)
A perfectly designed beast to grab herds of domesticated sheep from the early Basque, or even a full grown cow from the flat-brimmed buckaroo cowboy.
If you ever do encounter one, its rocky ridge back and snack rattle not sneaky enough to either evade you or warn you, it will immediately begin to intimidate you. Like a peacock or Dilophosaurus, its frill of plummage will fan out; the bustle of a fancy dancer. The Owyhee Canyon Dragon has back plumage like that of the Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus): little more yellow at the base with long, slender blade-like black feathers emanating a meter from its body. The framing plumage is an additional intimidating feature, as it rears up on its sheep legs and outstretches its cougar arms. There, on its chest, a dazzling display of two gigantic skin sacks slowly filling with air. The sacks jiggle flat while the Dragon shakes at you, with the unmistakable sound of a male grouse strut during lek. ---boowee, yeeoo uwp, bwee yoop--
|Intimidating Dilophosaurus scene from Jurassic Park film -|
|Greater sage-grouse male in strut - |
As the apex predator stares you down with fierce, narrow cat eyes, a trembling body, rattling tail and swishing whiskers it is abundantly clear that this Dragon, like any other, can make a very swift corpse of you.
There is an intelligence in its eyes, you can see it is not animal instinct that fuels its disturbance. No. It is pissed. Its eyes hiss with disguist for you, human. 'An ape that has fouled the land'. Not a murderers eyes, but sick and tired of defending. Violence and intimidation are last resorts, but it never wanted any of this.
The quivering, deadly body raises up, taller, bushier, broader. Narrow eyes locked onto yours while honing on your jugular. The hind quarters begin to tighten and coil into a striking gesture for its fatal lunge.
Then speaks with an omnipresent sound from everywhere:
Protect the Owyhee.
You are a Friend.
I am a myth, but my disappearance it not.
|Haku in dragon form, Spirited Away film -|
McKenzies Dragon Nest Blog
The Owyhee is [always] on my mind. Ive gone through many changes near this watershed. Turns out, in 2002 as my sister Nicole transported me (and her entire life) to Oregon for the very first time (in a 2000 style Subaru outback wagon), we camped along the Owyhee at lower canyon. My sister recalls seeing "all those caves" above the river, like a cougar was going to come for us anytime. In recent years, Ive had the pleasure of getting in touch with this landscape and even spent a night in one of those caves my sister refers to. As a geologist, a playground of volcanic formations. I was drawn here as a community college teacher, and after I was asked to leave it has been these jagged rocks and the parched desert steppes that have kept me.
|Tim Davis -|
My own interest aside, I owe my exposure to the Owyhee to the local grassroots activist in land conservation champion: Tim Davis, Executive Director of Friends of the Owyhee. Without Tim and his grassroots efforts, I would not have spent a fraction of the time I did in the Owyhee, let alone to the roads less traveled portions. From a hometown kid with a view of Three Fingers rock from the High School football field to a leader of naturalist groups seeking wild lands and a knack for conservation politics. His professional growth, with no college training, has been tremendous and he now routinely networks between range land cowboys, State Park officials, Resource Councils, Congressional officers, and triple-crown through hikers. For a person that has a multifaceted perspective of this planets workings, Tim has reminded me of the multifaceted aspect of peoples historical interactions with land. This land: Owyhee Country.
This article was published today. The Friends of the Owyhee has been laying some local groundwork. It is the time that a landscape solution is on the table.
What will the Owyhee Canyon Dragon think about the solution?
Its a myth, no one cares.
|This was seriously the best I could do to glue all these pieces together! If you squint your eyes and use your imagination enough, you can begin to see the mythical Owyhee Canyon Dragon.|