The Lake Vallecito Monster
Not long after moving to Vallecito Lake, in late 1997, I woke up early one December morning after a series of strange and impossible dreams. Still partially asleep, I walked out to the deck in the half light of mountain dawn. It was then, then that I heard the noises for the very first time.
I remember standing there in the cold, blue twilight, listening to the eerie, creepy sounds coming from the lake and thinking to myself, “Am I still sleeping and still dreaming? Or is this reality? And if so, how could this thing be?”
Over the next few weeks, I became intimately acquainted with the peculiar, fantastic, almost unbelievable noises emanating from beneath the steadily growing sheet of ice. After a while, I began to think that the source of the sounds was a mysterious, deep sea creature that had somehow gotten trapped in this high country lake and was trying to return home to the ocean. Kind of like the Loch Ness Monster, only this underwater dragon had never been sighted, or rarely even noticed by most folks.
Indeed, over time, I began to wonder if perhaps only I could hear the exquisitely spooky and wonderful music, almost haunting in its occasional sadness, almost shocking in its occasional joy. Because, you see, there were a number of mornings when I would stand on my deck, listening in awe, and I’d see my neighbors walk outside to feed the dog or start the car, and never pay attention to the clearly audible din. Not once did I witness anyone even pause, just a few seconds, and savor the bizarre yet lovely noise. The thought entered my head that maybe I was, um, “hearing things.” Therefore, not wanting to alarm my neighbors, just in case I really was “touched,” I never mentioned these sounds to anyone the first winter.
In retrospect, it was kind of like being the earliest explorer to ever see the Northern Lights, and then upon returning to the homeland, wondering if you should tell the others about the sublime, celestial colors that dance in the night-time sky up north.
Even so, almost every morning, while the annual freeze-up was taking place, and again for several weeks during the spring, I would bundle up good and tight and go outside and listen.
Listen to the noises.
Now, there was such a wide variety of strange and impossible sounds that I hesitate to even attempt to describe them. For, at times, it almost seemed like human voices, or perhaps supernatural ones, singing, humming, groaning, wailing, even laughing. Other times, it sounded more like animals howling, barking and roaring; or birds chirping, whistling and warbling. There was popping, pinging and dinging. Bubbling, burping, snapping, breaking and tearing. There was vibrating, clattering, shattering, booming and thumping. Sounds like .22 caliber gun fire and bullets ricocheting under the ice. At times, it sounded like submarine sonar or a soundtrack to a scary movie.
Other times, it seemed like a jet plane taking off, or large boulders rolling down a mountain. Then it would slowly crescendo, resonating beneath the ice plate, kind of like dolphins or whales trying to communicate with each other, or perhaps trying to communicate with us land creatures.
And yet, at still other moments, it sounded like a huge, angry sea monster, swimming back and forth below the ice. I would get the notion that he was likely, at any moment, to rise up and reek vengeance on the human race for damming Vallecito Creek 70 years ago, thus keeping him from returning to the sea.
And then, there were mornings when the curious noises sounded like the very voice of the Cosmos, or Eternity, or even God, brought to life by water and cold air and sun and sky and contours of the lakeshore and curvature of the planet and movement of molecules in complete coordination.
In other words, magic.
Yes, there was something almost divine about the extraordinary racket. Ethereal, yet earthy. Supernatural, yet tangible. Surreal, yet real.
For there were unseen forces down there, ever so slowly moving the developing ice around like a conductor moves an orchestra. Like a heavenly chorus of earthly ice.
Yes, still just another perfectly natural phenomenon, or secret message from the universe. Like seeing a rainbow, or freshly frosted windowpane, or the very first flower of spring. That beautiful, that original, that unexpected, that remembered thing that makes life so well worth the living.
And so, as December became January, the lake froze as solid as a rock, and the noises below were heard no more, at least for several weeks. However, come spring, the “creature” returned and commenced with his humming, singing and groaning for another few weeks, before disappearing as the ice melted back into lake water.
Now, I do not know where the monster goes, or what he does, during the summertime. Maybe the tourists and fishermen and loud motorboats drive him down to the deepest, darkest part of the reservoir where he cannot be disturbed, or seen, or even heard.
But I do know this. Come November into December, just as the lake begins to ice over, the splendid creature will return. Yes, one fine, cold, clear morning, along about first light, he’ll be back. I guarantee it.
Just as surely as strange and impossible dreams come to us during the night while we sleep.
– Curt Melliger
Curt Melliger is a former contributor to the Telegraph who recently returned to the area after spending five years in hell, er, Nebraska. He lives in Cortez.