Slide-Rock Bolter: The TRUE Story Behind This Colorado Cryptid TAP TO GET PODCAST
As lumberjacks continued to work their way down the southern edge of the Colorado Rockies, they noticed something out of place. Since the collapse of the Colorado gold rush, they thought they had this land to themselves. But the destruction they witnessed told a different tale. As the sightings of a giant whale-like creature engulfing entire mountain sides piled up, whispers began to stir they that weren’t as alone as they thought.
Hikers, tourists, and country artists alike all seem to hold a special place in their hearts for the Rocky Mountains. Spanning across 3,000 miles from Alaska through parts of Western Canada, and all the way down through New Mexico, the rocky Mountains are world-renowned for their gorgeous views and scenery. Like any good John Denver fan, there’s just something magical about the Rocky Mountain High that we can’t get enough of. Whether its the stunning mountain-top views overlooking the early morning sunrise, the crisp, breezy air on the trek to set up camp, or the clear skies with nothing but stars to light the way at night, people have travelled from all across the globe to see this awe inspiring bit of nature for themselves.
While the Rockies are wide and vast, stretching across multiple western states, Rocky Mountain National Park officially calls Colorado its home. And also happens to be where our story takes place. Rocky Mountain National Park isn’t just known for its expansive mountain range and gorgeous views. No, the rockies hold a much darker secret. Out hiding, sitting motionless on the steepest slopes in Colorado lies a treacherous creature, silently awaiting its next victim.
Dating back to the 19th and 20th century, hard-working lumberjacks in the heart of the Rocky Mountains have passed down countless stories of men and women mysteriously disappearing in the wilderness, never to be seen or heard from again. While many skeptics have rationalized their ill-fated disappearances to formidable bears, prowling mountain lions, or ravenous coyotes, believers in the strange and unusual suspect a more sinister beast. It could be your typical animals that roam the rocky mountains causing these disappearances or it could be a more elusive being, the Slide-Rock Bolter.
According to the El Paso Herald in 1912, the Slide-Rock Bolter can be described as a colossal monster, with “an immense head, small eyes, and an enormous mouth running from the front of its face all the way back behind its ears with its tail consisting of a divided flipper, with huge grab hooks, that fastens over the mountain ridge, often remaining there motionless for weeks at a time to watch the gulch for tourists.” It is said to use its moveable hooks on its tail to fasten itself to the nearby peak or cliff. Then with a stroke of its powerful flipper-hooks it propels itself down the mountain, assisted by the spittle leaking from the edges of its mouth to act as a lubricant, it then slips off to its next hiding place. Legend has it, once the Slide-Rock Bolter has its sights set on its next big meal, it releases its grip and slides down the rockies’ steep slopes at break neck speeds, engulfing its prey. It then mysteriously works its way back up the mountain to patiently wait for the next unlucky passerby. But the Slide-Rock Bolter doesn’t just consume its victims, it consumes everything in its path, all in one bite. Everything from groups of unsuspecting campers and hikers to the trees and every living creature that inhabits them. It has quite the appetite.
Most would argue that a whale-like creature this size, hiding amongst the steepest slopes of the rockies, sitting still for days on end couldn’t be feasible with its lack of water, much less lack of evidence to prove its nature. Whales can’t live on dry land in the woods, at least, not our modern whales. But that hasn’t always been the case.
The first whales that ever roamed the earth are thought to have first evolved in South Asia around 50 million years ago. In 2011, a team of paleontologists in Peru uncovered what is believed to be a 43-million-year-old whale fossil, but instead of a flipper, this whale had legs! Most everything else about this creature looks familiar enough: the large body, gaping mouth, etcetera. But the discovery that these ancient whale ancestors had webbed feet means that whales, being mammals after all, evolved the opposite direction and found their way back to the water.
Again in the late summer of 2021, Scientists and paleobiologists on a dig site in the deserts of Egypt uncovered the oldest known land whale fossil to date. Estimated to weigh roughly 1,300 pounds and resting at about 10 feet in length, with daunting jaws crafted to hunt its prey, this wouldn’t be a creature you’d want to meet while enjoying a nice day on the beach. Interestingly, the skull of the amphibious Phiomicetus anubis, or land whale for short, resembles the Anubis, the ancient Egyptian jackal-headed god of the dead after which it was named. So maybe a mountain whale eating everything in sight isn’t so far fetched after all? Maybe this creature is similar to Nessie or the Kodiak Island Dinosaur; yet another ice age survivor hiding out in remote places.
For Colorado natives and those who frequent the Rocky Mountains, it’s not uncommon to have temporary road closures due to seasonal climate changes. Whether its snow covered roads in the dead of winter, flooded passageways in late spring, or even landslides early summer, weather can often wreak havoc on our man-made comforts. According to the National Weather Service, “thousands of avalanches occur each winter in the mountains of Colorado.” In fact, “on average, 6 people die in avalanches in the state of Colorado every year.” Because of its steep terrain, Colorado is also no stranger to landslides. While most of Colorado’s landslides occur in the Front Range to the Western slope and are more easily monitored, some of these landslides are a bit more challenging to monitor because they happen in more remote areas. But no matter where these landslides happen, they can be all too devastating to its surrounding areas. From damming up rivers and damaging roadways to destroying storefronts and people’s homes, landslides can easily knock out entire cities and towns if caught in its way.
Now, you may be wondering what whale-like creatures camouflaging themselves on 45-degree cliffs awaiting to swoop down to their next meal have to do with randomized avalanches and landslides devastating entire towns. Well, many skeptics believe that the tall tales from the 19th and 20th century warning friends and family of the horrid creatures hiding on mountaintops may just in fact be glamorized retellings of natural occurrences witnessed on the slopes of the Rockies. But whether you’re team critic or team cryptid, it’s hard to catch sight of an elusive creature that’s supposedly been hunted to extinction.
Many swear this land whale monster is the sole reason for both unexplained and unfortunate events in nearby towns. Just ask the now remaining residents of the Rico mining town, just 27 miles south of Telluride.
Settled in 1879 as a silver mining town, Rico, Colorado was booming for business. Meaning “rich” in Spanish, Rico is adequately named for its rich history and richer precious metal mines. Now known for its tourism with people traveling from all over to catch fish in the surrounding Dolores River, or staying on the outskirts of Telluride to go skiing, this small mining town was once known for its abundance of resources. While Rico suffered from a slow start its first couple of years, the Otto Mears railroad finally reached the town of Rico and profits began to soar. From silver and gold to copper and lead, Rico became a bustling town for business, giving validity to its Spanish namesake. That is, until half the town of Rico supposedly met its demise one fateful day.
According to Colorado folklore, in an attempt to stop this massive land whale from deteriorating any more of the rocky mountains and eating unsuspecting tourists, one forest ranger decided to put an end to its destruction. Deep within the San Juan Mountains, a mountain range located in the Rockies, lies a valley beneath Lizard Head Peak, one of Colorado’s most dangerous and difficult climbs. Complete with an over 1,300 foot summit, this is the perfect cliff for a Slide-Rock Bolter to patiently stalk its next victim. Stationed right at the bottom of Lizard Head, a nearby forest ranger had enough of Slide Rock’s antics. He hatched up a plan to stop the Slide-Rock Bolter once and for all. He decided to take a mannequin and dress it as Slide-Rock’s favorite snack: your stereotypical tourist. But this wasn’t just any “dummy tourist”. Suited with the looks of an unsuspecting hiker and a map of the state of Colorado, this fake tourist turned trap was also full of explosives. And of course, the Slide-Rock Bolter fell for it. Or, rather, slid down for it. Like clockwork, the Slide-Rock Bolter was quick to take charge. And the plan worked! Only problem was, it worked too well. The Bolter made its way down engulfing everything in its path. It swallowed everything whole including trees, rocks, and the Explosive trap.
This is the part of the story where I need to mention that even our best efforts and intentions can still lead to a less than desirable outcome. An attempt to save tourists from being devoured in the mountain range only led to mass destruction. Legend has it, not only did the explosive dummy lure in the predator-turned-prey to its ultimate demise, the explosion also wiped out half the mining town of Rico. Trying to reign in this land-whale beast only created more mass destruction and chaos to the surrounding buildings, businesses and homes. Though, I should make mention while this was a devastating blow to the people in Rico, they’ll probably tell you a completely different story altogether. One that’s possibly more fact than fiction and a lot more believable than this bit of folklore I just shared.
It was the year 1858, just a decade removed from the dawn of the great California Gold Rush. As the excitement faded and the gold in California dwindled, miners decided to load up their picks, shovels, and headlamps and travel elsewhere to find a new crop of precious metals.
In the dead of summer, mining prospector, William Green Russell, along with his brothers Oliver and Levi, were joined by a party of Cherokee Native Americans and a group of white settlers traveling from Georgia. William and his brothers had only one thing on their mind: Gold! And gold they found at the Little Dry Creek, just south of Denver.
With such a promising discovery, William and his fellow mining prospectors founded the Montana City settlement (later known as Denver) on the banks of the South PLATTe River. However, this ended up not being the great gold mine they were hoping for. While they did find a small amount of precious metal, it wasn’t enough to satisfy their desires. But, their efforts weren’t completely in vain. William and his team were accredited for establishing the first ever settlement in Denver. And little did they know, this would create just enough spark that would eventually ignite the Colorado gold rush.
Not long after their initial discovery, another mining prospector, George A. Jackson, traveling west of Denver, also had his sights focused on striking it rich. If there was a small sect of gold in Montana City, George knew there had to be more nearby. That’s when he found it. In the harsh January Winter, tucked away between Chicago Creek and Clear Creek, which is now known in present day as Idaho Springs, George found the first substantial amount of gold Colorado had thus far seen. But while George made a great discovery, he didn’t initially share this good news with others.
Once George realized what he uncovered, he got to work. However, while picking through the rocks and rubble, George quickly realized that if he was going to unearth this hidden fortune, he needed better tools. But this newfound secret didn’t stay hidden for long. After trying to pay for new mining tools with gold dust, locals became suspicious. Soon, mining prospectors flooded Idaho Springs and its surrounding areas for their cut of the fortune.
Yet another jackpot discovery was uncovered by Colorado miner, John H. Gregory, a Cherokee County, Georgia native, who struck gold west of Denver, between Black Hawk and Central City. Nearly two decades before the booming success of the aforementioned silver mining town of Rico, Central City’s population skyrocketed. And when I say skyrocketed, that doesn’t even seem close to describing its massive growth. It doesn’t get much faster than growing a population from 10 to 10,000 residents in a single month. And this was just one small area that sprung up from this Colorado gold rush. Again in 1859, gold was found along the Georgia Gulch on the Swan River, now known as Breckenridge, about 3 hours south of what was later incorporated as Rocky Mountain National Park.
The Pikes Peak Gold Rush, (later dubbed the Colorado gold rush), Was officially in full swing and as mining towns flourished, more and more territory was being consumed by the miners and their families. With all this growth, mining towns needed more room to spread out. And the faster they grew, the more resources they needed. And as their need for resources grew, they soon turned their eyes towards the San Juan Mountain range. There was just one problem; This land wasn’t theirs to take. It had long been claimed by the Utes, a tribe of Native Americans who had long called this land their home.
Ouray, meaning “Arrow” in the Ute language, was born in New Mexico in 1833 and would later become the leader of the Tabeguache band of the Ute Native Americans in Colorado. Although Ouray had little authority over the Colorado Utes, the US government appointed him as their Chief. Tasked with this new assignment, Ouray became the primary voice for negotiating treaties on behalf of the Ute peoples. Ouray did his best to promote a peaceful lifestyle and effectively communicated with various communities across the area to establish harmony between Local Natives and white settlers.
After moving to Colorado in 1851, Ouray married his first wife, an Apache named Black Mare. And In 1857, they celebrated the birth of their newborn son, Paron. Unfortunately, Black Mare died suddenly later that same year from unknown causes. Two years later, Ouray married his second wife, Chipeta, an Apache by birth, who was raised by the Ute tribe. Things started looking up for Ouray, that is, until tragedy struck once again in 1862 with the capture of his son. Although we don’t know really the full story, Pahlone historians believe that the Lakota, tribe from the Dakota’s, may have kidnapped Paron.
Although Ouray had endured tragedy after tragedy, things seemed take a turn for the better for both Ouray and Chipeta. Because of their peaceful nature, hospitality, multiethnic backgrounds, and negotiation skills, they were placed in high esteem among both the Utes and the US government officials. In the fall of 1863, Ouray helped complete the treaty of 1864. This treaty allowed miners and homesteaders who had already started to take over the Utes territory to legally use this land by paying monetary payments to the Ute Nation. However, the use for more land had only just begun.
As the demand for more land grew, more treaties were signed into effect. Ouray did his best to maintain balance between the use of Ute land and proper compensation, but, if you know much about US history, then you know haven’t always kept our end of the bargain.
At first, the U.S. government made good on their promise by keeping miners away from the Ute territories they had not gained rights to use. But the miners greed continued to grow and their demand put more pressure on the U.S. government to acquire even more land. Given the backlash they received, the U.S. government decided to protect the interests of the miners, rather than observe their previous treaties with the Utes. But there was an impasse. Both Ouray and the Utes refused to give away any more of their land and at the same time, the miners refused to leave. So what did the U.S. government do ease the tension? They resorted to bribery.
Felix R. Brunot, the chairman of the Board of Indian Commissioners, learned that Ouray’s son had been captured years before. That’s when he had an idea. In 1873, Felix persuaded Ouray to sell the San Juan Mountains to the US government if they helped Ouray find his long lost son. Longing for his son’s return, combined with the belief in Brunot’s sincerity, he agreed and signed to what would later be known as the Brunot Agreement. However, for whatever reason, the effort to find Paron didn’t… pan out. The U.S. Government was unable to help track down Ouray’s son after all.
The Utes had a hard time adapting to these new terms of agreement. After all, they signed over millions of acres of their lands to the US government. I’m sure it felt like a major defeat. While new Colorado townsfolk thrived in their ever-growing communities, the resources and assets the Utes once thrived upon dwindled. And when Nathan Meeker was appointed as the Indian Agent for the Grand River Utes misfortune only increased for Ouray and the Ute tribes.
Nathan C. Meeker was anything but fit to do the job at hand. Rather than embracing the Utes for their diverse qualities and ways of living, he wanted to convert them. Instead of allowing them to continue their hunter-gatherer lifestyle, he wanted them to follow the ways of Christianity and learn how to farm and live more “civilized lives” (Air quotes for those listening). I’m sure many of you would agree that if someone came into your home, took control over your land, and forced you to live according to their ways and beliefs, it wouldn’t go over very well. Most likely, you’d demand they leave your property immediately. And that’s exactly what the Utes tried to do. After resisting the many attempts to convert the Utes to his lifestyle, Meeker decided that if he couldn’t control the Utes, he’d get rid of them himself.
In September of 1879, Nathan assembled armed federal troops to guard the “acquired” Ute land. Only Nathan’s plans of controlling and manipulating the Utes backfired when the Utes killed him, along with ten other individuals, and took his entire family captive. These captives included the employees guarding the White River, Meeker’s wife, and his adult daughter Josephine. According to the Colorado Encyclopedia, the “women and children were kept as prisoners for three weeks until their release was negotiated by US agents and then were taken to Ouray and Chipeta’s ranch.” Of course, no matter how the Ute’s rebelled, retaliated, and tried to take back what was rightfully theirs, it resorted to their ultimate downfall.
Because of this horrific tragedy known as the Meeker Massacre, white Coloradans were terrified of something similar happening to them. Outraged at the actions of the Utes, they called for the US government to cease all Utes from living on their “newfound” lands. Because of Ouray’s peaceful nature, he feared retaliation against his people because of what they did and tried to peacefully approach the US government to come to mutual terms that benefited both the U.S. and the Utes. While he didn’t offer to extend any more of their land, he also didn’t ignore the US government from asking him to deliver the 12 Ute men responsible for the massacre. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough. No matter how much land and resources he had previously offered to give, no matter how peaceful his negotiations, the U.S. government still cut off all associations with Ouray and the Utes, ordering them to leave the area at once.
With the Utes gone, mining towns from across these millions of acres continued to boom. For the town of Rico, even more success came with the discovery of silver just in time to take the place of gold as it began to fizzle out. With this additional precious metal, the town of Rico spread like wildfire, both in terms of how fast they spread and the destruction they brought. This now not-so-small town grew quickly, reaching a population of 5,000 residents in 1892. People flocked to the growing town of Rico and businesses flourished. However, the wild success of these miners would only last a short while. In 1893, just a year after reaching their highest residency and booming economy, the price of silver plummeted, Turning Rico from a bustling 5,000 residents to a whopping 811 in just a short year. But, as the saying goes, “when one door closes, another door opens.”
Like we see all throughout history, time and time again, shiny new objects often leave men hungry for more. An ever-growing appetite for more power and more financial gain. So what did the U.S. government do with all this land they acquired once the desire for silver plummeted? A new industry took its place: The lumber industry.
The New Mexico Logging Company acquired the cutting rights for the western yellow pines that grew near Rico. Again, this small town saw wild success, just in a new form. With the growing industry of logging trees came the whisperings of a mysterious creature lurking upon the mountaintops. Whether it was an attempt to keep conservationists out of their logging areas, a sense of growing pride for their handiwork, or an effort to spook the new guys on the team, these lumberjacks began to pass around old-time stories of a monster that devours its prey in one large gulp. Adding to the suspenseful tellings, the long and winding strips of gravel waste leftover from the abandoned mines quickly became known as the slippery trail of the Slide-Rock Bolter, and the reasoning behind the deterioration of many of Rico’s buildings. Although these stories were probably all in good fun, perhaps there’s a darker meaning behind them. Because just like the rise and fall of silver and gold, the lumberjacks of Rico would begin to see a common pattern, one where history tends to repeat itself – You can only take up so many resources before you run dry. And that’s exactly where the last leg of this story ends up.
Unfortunately, these natural resources were exhausted once more. In 1914, the New Mexico Logging Company had to move further south because of the dwindling forests. The timber supply that had supported the Utes for hundreds of years was completely wiped out after just a short decade of logging.
The New Mexico Logging Company soon turned their eyes further south towards other still forested lands to continue their devastation. Conservationists soon caught wind and began to protest and lobby against deforestation. However, the lumberjacks fought back. But rather than using facts, they used fear. Tales of a monster that consumed everything in its path became increasingly popular, told to anyone who dared venture too close to their logging camps. As the stories spread, the tourists and activists alike, began to avoid these supposed hunting grounds of this colossal beast. The story of the Slide-Rock Bolter was weaponized, not as a tool to represent the dangers of nature but rather as a tactic to destroy it. Once upon a time this Cryptid was a way for people to cope with the tragedy of natural disaster but in the end, we were the disaster the creature foretold.
Like many of you listening, I love a good story whether it’s based on true events or entirely made up. I especially love stories that have deeper, complex meanings. Ones that foreshadow what happens when we overstep our boundaries or helps us cope with natural events. I feel like the Slide-Rock Bolter makes a great allegory for describing mother nature: A mysterious force sliding down mountains, swallowing everything in its path, and destroying surrounding neighborhoods. This explanation is almost poetic. Or could there really be a land-whale patiently watching over the rocky mountains, awaiting the most unsuspecting of victims? While I have my doubts, I do believe that humans have a hard time accepting the truth. It’s easier to make up fun stories about unbelievable beings to cover up the unmistakable darker parts of our history. Because sometimes the facts can be truly scarier than fiction.
“Rocky Mountains” https://www.kidzone.ws/habitats/rocky-mountains.htm
“What is Colorado Famous For” https://www.traveldrafts.com/what-is-colorado-famous-for/
“7 Things You Didn’t Know About Rocky Mountain National Park” https://www.doi.gov/blog/7-things-you-didnt-know-about-rocky-mountain-national-park
“Slide Rock Bolter” https://cryptidz.fandom.com/wiki/Slide-Rock_Bolter
“The Slide Rock Bolter” http://www.lib.lumberwoods.org/fclw/bolter.html
“The Legend of the Deadly Colorado Slide Bolter” https://www.outtherecolorado.com/blog/the-legend-of-the-deadly-colorado-slide-bolter/article_2eea9927-2d6e-576a-898f-7272e3fbbf0b.html
“Avalanche Safety” https://www.weather.gov/bou/avalanchesafety
“Lizard Head Wilderness: San Juan” https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/sanjuan/recarea/?recid=81055
“The Slide-Rock Bolter”https://wanderingwhaleroad.wordpress.com/2017/10/12/the-slide-rock-bolter/
“Ute History and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe” https://coloradoencyclopedia.org/article/ute-history-and-ute-mountain-ute-tribe
“Ouray (Ute leader)” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ouray_(Ute_leader)
“New species of ancient four-legged whale discovered in Egypt” https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-58340807
“The Colorado Gold Rush” https://westernmininghistory.com/4785/the-colorado-gold-rush/
“A Timeline of Colorado’s Mining History” https://www.uncovercolorado.com/colorado-mining-history-timeline/
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Thanks for touring Cryptids Across the Atlas. Until next time, keep your eyes open. You never know what you might see just on the edge of the road.