Column: Desert holds many mysteries

We had been sitting around visiting, and I mentioned a TV news program about an unusual creature seen in Texas. The video being shown was supposed to be of the legendary chupacabra.

The literal translation of the Spanish word is goat-sucker, for the creature's supposed habit of sucking animals' blood.

The story itself was inconclusive; all that could be seen was a somewhat fuzzy picture of an animal running away from the camera. Detractors said it was only a dog, while proponents claimed it was the fabled creature.

It is not surprising that as civilization encroaches more and more into wilderness areas, more sightings are reported. There are few places in the United States that remain sparsely inhabited. The largest such areas are here in the desert Southwest, with its miles of barren wastelands surrounding pockets of civilization. It seems a mystery that anything could survive. It is a landscape that abounds with sandy washes, rocky hills, sagebrush and cactus. By day, all that can be seen are a few birds, jackrabbits and an occasional lizard.

But at night, the desert comes alive. Animals that seek shelter from the heat of the day emerge to eat, drink and hunt. But in their quest for food, they must be ever vigilant. In one unguarded moment, the diner becomes dinner.

It is here, in this harsh and unforgiving region, that the chupacabra is thought to have made its home.

There have been chupacabra sightings in Golden Valley and Kingman. In one, Carla, a 40-something housewife, was driving along Interstate 40 east of Kingman late one evening and saw a creature run across the road in front of her. Accustomed as she was to the desert, she could see that it was not a dog or coyote. As it lumbered across the highway, it paused to look at her. She said it appeared to be hairless.

Reflected in the glow of her headlights were two large, emerald-green eyes. This creature was unlike anything she had ever seen.

Another even more interesting sighting was reported on South Estrella Road in Golden Valley. Rita, a retired therapist who was driving home one evening, saw something lying near the side of the road. It appeared to have no hair and mottled, grayish skin.

As she passed it, she saw that it was not a dog, coyote or anything else familiar. She stopped her truck and went back to check it out. As she played her lights over the area, she was amazed at what she saw.

Again, it was a creature unlike any she had ever seen. If anything, she said, it looked like the creature Gollum from the Hobbit movie. She reached for a camera, but when she turned back, the creature was gone.

As she peered closely at the spot where it had been, she could see drag marks leading into the desert where the creature either had crawled or been dragged away.

As legends go, the chupacabra is a relative newcomer. Stories of chupacabra activity can be found in newspapers dating back to the 1950s. The first-reported case in North America was here in Arizona, circa 1956.

Although incidents have been reported in Arizona, Oregon, Michigan, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, Florida and parts of Brazil, Chile and Mexico, the majority of activity has occurred in Puerto Rico.

A rash of animal attacks plagued various regions of Puerto Rico in 1995. In Canovanas alone, several hundred livestock fatalities were attributed to the chupacabra. This creature has been a conundrum for cryptozoologists, scientists who study animals that may or may not be real.

Originally, it was thought the chupacabra might be a half-human, half-vampire beast. The victims, most often goats and chickens, reportedly are drained of all their blood but otherwise left intact.

There usually is no evidence of a struggle or attack, simply two or three puncture marks large enough to accommodate a human finger in the animal's neck. The difference in the number of marks could be attributed to various claims that it has two large, protruding fangs, and other reports of three large claws on both hands and feet.

Descriptions are as varied as the reported sightings, although they seem to describe the same creature - a reptile-like being appearing to have leathery or scaly greenish-gray skin and sharp spines or quills running down its back. It stands about three feet tall, and although it has been seen running on all four legs, some say it hops like a kangaroo.

It is further described as having a dog- or panther-like nose and face, a forked tongue and large fangs. It also is said to hiss or screech when alarmed.

Another description is that of a strange breed of wild dog. This form is mostly hairless or has stiff, sparse hair like a pig. It has a pronounced spinal ridge, unusually pronounced eye sockets, and fangs and claws. It is claimed this breed might be an example of a dog-like reptile.

Although the chupacabra appears shy and elusive, it has been known to become aggressive when it feels cornered or threatened. Yet, of all the reported encounters, there have been few reports of human injury. In one such case, the creature is said to have rushed by a man, its sharp claws tearing at his clothes and leaving a deep gash in his leg.

Many people scoff and laugh at the suggestion that such a creature as the chupacabra could exist, and they profess disbelief at the many reported sightings.

Despite their scorn, one thing is certain: Some things are true ... whether you believe them or not.