A family camping trip on Arizona’s Mogollon Rim brings terror and understanding to an 8-year-old girl

Because this was my first real camping trip, I brought with me the trepidation 8-year-old girls have of unknown places.

Older brothers scaring younger sisters is as universal as bubble gum and Coca-Cola. From the boogeyman in the closet to the monster under the bed, I believe all scary stories can be traced back to an older brother attempting to scare a gullible little sister. This terrifying tale begins on a dark night in a small pup tent on the Mogollon Rim, where my parents brought my older brother, Mark, and me for a family camping trip.

Laced with trails and home to two scenic lakes, the Mogollon Rim attracts outdoor adventurers year-round. The escarpment stretches almost 200 miles across central Arizona, forming the southern boundary of the Colorado Plateau. Though the average elevation of the Rim is 7,000 feet, dramatic drops, sometimes as much as 2,000 feet, make it a wilderness destination with rugged terrain and panoramic views.

Because this was my first real camping trip, I brought with me the trepidation 8-year-old girls have of unknown places. We arrived at a clearing in the woods after dark, quickly set up our tents and started a fire. Overhead, pine trees groaned and scratched at one another in a quiet but strong wind. Campers nearby laughed and shouted, their voices echoing in the darkness.

Illustration by Sarah Handfield
Don Davis first encountered the Mogollon Monster during a Boy Scout trip around 1944 near Payson.

The Mogollon Monster
Soon my brother and I crawled into our pup tent and slid into our sleeping bags. Eager for entertainment, Mark decided to tell me a story.

“Hey, Kimmer, are you asleep?” he asked.

“No, thanks to you,” I said.

“Do you want me to tell you a story I heard?” he persisted.

“Yeah!” Not wise to the ways of older brothers on camping trips, I readily agreed.

“I heard this story when I was camping with the Boy Scouts. There’s a creature called the Mogollon Monster, and he lives in the woods along the Rim. He looks like Big Foot, and he’s been seen right where we’re camping. He’s at least 6 feet tall, covered with black hair and has long fangs as sharp as a Buck knife. He roams the forest at night, looking for people to eat.”

For decades, hunters and campers had reported seeing this wary creature, which they describe as between 6 and 7 feet tall. Don Davis, who studied secretive animals before his death, tells of spotting the Mogollon Monster during a Boy Scout camping trip in the 1940s. Davis described him as an enormous human-like creature covered with hair that had a broad chest and massive arms. Boy Scouts tell stories about an unfortunate man named Bill Spade, whose face was supposedly ripped off by the beast. Still, there are no confirmed accounts of the Mogollon Monster attacking anyone.

I lay there in the darkness with my eyes wide open and my heart filled with fear. Unrelenting in his quest to elicit frightened gasps from his little sister, Mark continued the gruesome story of the Mogollon Monster.

“Do you hear screaming and yelling coming from that campsite over there?”

With a quivering voice, I whispered, “Yes.”

“The monster is eating them right now. That’s why they’re yelling. And he’s going to eat us next.”

TOP TEN MONSTER MOVIES

1. The Lost World (1925). The great granddaddy of all monster movies is based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic novel. The special effects of the dinosaurs had audiences screaming in the silent era.

2. Frankenstein (1931). Boris Karloff was an unknown actor when cast as the monster, but his sympathetic performance quickly made him the most famous monster of all time.

3. King Kong (1933) and (2005). No matter if Kong is brought to life by stop-action animation or Peter Jackson’s computer graphic iImage magic, the truth remains that every big hairy ape is just a sucker for a blonde.

4. La Belle et la Bete (1946). Whether a surrealistic French fairy tale or an animated musical, the belief that inside every beast is a handsome prince is the stuff of immortal love.

5. The Thing [From Another World] (1951). James Arness plays a killer plant that would make a vegetarian turn to red meat. This alien from the dark cosmos started people watching the sky in horror, and his return visit in John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) proved to be a scarefest of gore.

6. Them! (1954). Ants transformed into giants by nuclear testing started a stampede of insects-taking-over-the-world movies.

7. The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). The beauty and the beast tale goes underwater as the weird cousin to Swamp Thing (1982) and other wet, misunderstood creatures looks for a little love.

8. Godzilla: King of the Monsters (1956). This badly dubbed import from Japan not only wrecked Tokyo but also set box office records in the golden era of the drive-ins.

9. Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986). Maybe they can’t hear you scream in space, but these acid blood creatures, which are born by being ripped out of human chests, still make earthlings scream loudly with fear.

10. Jurassic Park (1993). Producer Steven Spielberg, along with producer George Lucas, ushered in eye-popping realistic dinosaurs. The cinema world will never be the same again

—Ron Newcomer, faculty associate, Film Studies at Arizona State University

At this point Mark’s appetite for dominance through fear was satiated. Sure of his conquest, he turned over and quickly went to sleep. Meanwhile, I slid farther down into my sleeping bag and covered my head. Through a paper-thin slit at the top, I stared at the flicker of firelight dancing on the tent walls.

Images of nearby campers in their death throes quickened my imagination. I waited, sure I was next to die.

My older and wiser brother knew everything. His authority on matters of life and death was unquestioned; my trust in him, implicit. He loved me as older brothers do, and I followed him like an adoring groupie. If he said a monster was outside the tent preparing to tear my face off, then it would be best to say my prayers.

Cider and balance
Eventually the terrors of the night gave way to a peaceful morning. I emerged from our tent with sticky eyes and a foggy brain. Expecting to see devastation and carnage around me, I was shocked when my mother cheerfully asked if I’d slept well.

“Did I sleep well? How could I sleep when people were dying around me?” I said.

“What?” My mother looked at me as if I were a 4-year-old who’d had a bad dream.

“It was the Mogollon Monster,” I said, pointing to Mark, who cringed while I spoke. “He told me the monster was killing those people over there and was going to kill us next.”

His face turned pink as he stammered that he just wanted to scare me a little. He was only playing a joke. I mean, really, who would believe something that crazy?

A little sister would.

While Mark scrubbed my breakfast dishes with a tiny sponge, I watched from a comfortable lawn chair, sipping hot cider.

We learned a valuable lesson that day which forever altered our relationship and balanced the scale of power between us. Although big brothers may be experts at playing jokes on little sisters, little sisters are experts at telling on them.

Back to top