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Thursday, May 27, 2010


Today I take a look at the strange story of huge bird nests found in the Utah Great Salt Lake Desert by American explorers in 1936 and as far as I know, still unexplained. Could this be tangible evidence of the Native Americans legendary giant bird the Thunderbird, or the “now extinct Behemoth Bannock Birds.”?(1) (my source is dated 1960). The story is as follows, quoting from Frontier Times Winter 1960.;

This is the story:

'Editor`s Note: This is a corker! We`ve tried everything short of Alley Oop`s Time-Machine * to try to research this one and present you with the facts! The American Museum of Natural History says there couldn`t be any such creatures-but we`ve got photographs of the nests they left on Utah`s Mud Desert! We`ve asked professors, geologists, historians, ornithologists, biographers- even an English tea leaf reader and a Hindu elephant tamer-but no one has been able to explain this mystery. The nests are there; what made them?........ Nowhere in the world is there a wilderness so desolate, so untraveled as Utah`s Mud Desert. Barren, completely without vegetation, and so level the distant horizon is a burning white glare at the rim of the world, the Mud Desert is mysterious and dangerous, a challenge to man`s physical and intellectual resources. Only two groups of travellers are known to have crossed the Mud Desert, which is part of the great area loosely defined as The Great Salt Desert. The first was the tragedy bound Donner Party, migrating to California in 1850.Eighty-six years later dr.Walter M.Stookey successfully followed the Donner route and emerged from his experience in the wilderness with some of the most surprising discoveries ever to be made in the Desert State. [The author of this article then describes Stookey and his friend Raleigh Johnson`s crossing of the great desert by vehicle in 1936-R] Fifteen miles due north of their starting point they located the Donner Trail. At first the trail crossed rolling desert country with some brush, a fairly solid trail until it angled northwest towards Pilot Moutntain. …….A mile or two after entering the soft mud they began finding castoff pieces of clothing, wagon-parts, and furniture that the Donner party had discarded in order to make their vehicles lighter. Farther on they found John Reed`s “Palace Car” parts of which they reclaimed from the desert and later presented to the University of Utah Museum. Next they found great quantities of clothing ,unopened trunks,wagon-beds, and the skeletons of many oxen. Not far away was a bleak,unmarked desert,cemetery for those who hadn`t made it.

But the most fantastic discovery was yet to be found.While following the trail and after entering the most desolate part of the Mud Desert, Stookey and his companions stumbled upon some huge mounds. Some of them were six to eight feet high and resembled gigantic birds nests. Limited by time and the necessity to proceed, the adventurers did not pause for a thorough investigation. Stookey,however,could not get the bird-nests off his mind.He did a lot of digging into Indian myths and read many accounts of trappers,explorers and trail-crossers, and the following year he went back specifically to inspect the strange phenomena……..Imagination immediately flared. The Pony Express, a publication edited and printed in Sonora, California, published a story on the nests, attributing them to the now extinct Behemoth Bannock Birds [a quick Google search couldn`t find info on these-R] leviathans of prehistoric times that outlived their other companions of dinosaur days and existed until less than 150 years ago. Further, they claimed they had definite proof of the existence of these creatures, but they have never divulged this information…….The Behemoth Bannock Birds were, according to these sources, five times larger than eagles and capable of carrying prey like antelope, deer and mountain sheep to their nests. (Stookey, in fact, found wagon-parts and other large discarded remnants of the Donner party`s trek in various nests!) According to Indian lore, such birds existed. Bannocks, Shoshone, Paiutes, and Geshutes related stories about them to the first stories about them to the first trappers to enter Utah. Abner Blackburn, who passed through Utah en-route east in 1847, and whose diary and journal have recently been revealed, told his children about them…….Some of the University of Utah scientists who saw the nests believe they were built by the rough-legged hawk, buteo lagopus. This may be true, but it would stand a little more investigating, as no hawks of this species have been known to build such nests anywhere else. For over a hundred years the Mud Desert has preserved,graphically, the story of the Donner Party and their tortuous journey through its barrenness. How much longer will it retain the secret of its giant birds? (2)

Well maybe another 26 years. In April 2006 the case of bird-like meat eating dinosaur-bird emerged:

“ Scientists from the University of Utah and the Utah Museum of Natural History have discovered the remains of a new bird-like, meat-eating dinosaur in Grand Staircase-Escalante National National Monument, southern Utah. The new dinosaur was formally named Hagryphus giganteus, which means “giant four-footed, bird-like god of the western desert” in reference to the animal`s outward resemblance to a large land bird, its giant stature, and its discovery in the Utah desert.

Only the hands and feet of Hagryphus were found , but the scientists were able to use the animal`s close relatives in Asia to estimate it to be around 7 feet tall! It is a member of the oviraptosaurs, a group of bird-like feathered dinosaurs with toothless beaks, powerful arms and formidable claws. They are thought by some paleontologists to have been omnivorous, feeding on a mixture of meat and plants.

The scientific paper naming and describing this criter was published in the latest issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.(3)

1. E.Sparks A New Mystery on the Donner Trail. Frontier Times Winter 1960 p.41
2. E.Sparks Ibid p27, pp41-42
3. New Critters web site. Giant,bird-like Raptor-Hagryphus giganteus http://www.newcritters.com/2006/04/05/giant-bird-like-raptor-hagryphus-giganteus/

* Alley Oop was a cartoon character in an early 1930s American newspaper syndicated strip, ( a time travelling caveman) created by V.T. Hamlin. PS: A song based on the character `Alley Oop` was a hit for a band called The Hollywood Argyles (and later covered by The Beach Boys) and included the line: "Look at that caveman go!" which was later purloined William Burroughs style by David Bowie who used it in his 1973 hit `Life on Mars`. JD


She sings from somewhere you can`t see
She sits in the top of the greenest tree
She sends out an aroma of unrefined love
It drips on down in a mist from above

She just the girl,just the girl
Girl u want

You hear her calling every where you turn
You know you`re headed for the pleasure burn
But the words get stuck on the tip of your tongue
She`s the real thing but you you knew it all along…


theo paijmans said...

Hi Richard,

My files indicate an earlier source on the giant bird nests of the Utah desert; in 1943, during the annual meeting of the sciences, arts and letters, held at the Utah State Agricultural college, among the speakers were Dr. William H. Behle, Dr. Woodbury and Dr. W.P. Cottam of the University of Utah, who presented their "Further Light on the 'Fossil' Bird Nests of the Great Salt Lake Desert."

Sincere regards,


borky said...

John Downes: "the line: "Look at that caveman go!"...was later purloined William Burroughs style by David Bowie who used it in his 1973 hit `Life on Mars`."


I never knew that - an' I've always LOVED that line.

Typical Dave, eh?


I'm a huge Bowie fan ever since me Mum accidentally turned over while waiting to see Coronation Street, (or some other drab, soul sucking horror like Family at War).

Until then, a twelve year who only knew of Slade or The Osmonds, suddenly I beheld this strange creature from another order of existence with an acoustic slung around its neck intoning, "There's a star...man...waitin' in the sky..."

Used to seeing strange things and being 'persuaded' to keep them to myself, THIS guy was BEING a strange thing - an' doin' it in full view of everyone - ON THE TELLY!

Nothing was ever the same again.

That man was the main reason I stayed in this world until I was nearly thirty.

Thank you, John.

('ave y'ever thought of doin' a blog where you plait or interlard your mystery of music 'you' with your crypto 'you)?


borky said...

As I started reading this, Richard, my mental reflexes went for the option the 'nests' might be some sort of sacred construction devoted to the Thunderbird, (or the 'Behemoth').

What seems to squish that idea is the items found in the nest.

It'd make a great psychological horror story though, low on production costs, too, the sort of thing Syfy or the Horror channel might go for, where the Donner Party, already suffering mental and physical depredations, encounter the 'nests' (which, even if real, might last've been used thousands of years before), and begin to 'imagine', or even 'hallucinate' - we're not sure - they're in danger of being picked off by the owners of these monstrous nests, until ravaged by psychosis, they begin sacrificing each other to their new 'gods'.

To relieve (but also subtly manipulate) the tension, we could throw in a few gags, maybe a couple of Hope and Crosby 'Road to...' style figures, and call it Donner'n'Blitzen!

Put it in a double bill with Mrs. Tiggy's Winkle and its Cannes, Sundance, here we come!


Anonymous said...

The account has a couple of statements that are stated as authoritative. The "Behemoth Bannock Birds" reference is basically tautological and defines the Thuderbirds by calling them Thunderbirds: the "Prehistoric bird" reference presumably means Teratorns.

It is not known if Teratorns would build nests but condors, for example, do NOT.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, not all f my comment got through, probably because of a transmission error. My remark was that the account includes several statements that are represented as authoritative.

...but in fact the statements are bogus. They are made-up "facts" that appeared in this article first and do not draw on any earlier authorities.

And I consider the "nests" to be geological features IMHO.