It was the early 1990s when Brenda Harris had her first face-to-face encounter with the unknown.
On a hot summer night, Harris had the windows open in her mobile home in Upper Fruitland, on the west side of Farmington, where the metropolitan area spills onto the Navajo Nation. Her husband had left home about 30 minutes earlier, around 10:30 p.m., to start a graveyard shift at the mine. But Brenda was not alone – in addition to her children, ages 4 and 5, the kids’ cousins and Harris’ brother had come over to stay the night.
The kids were laughing and having a good time when Harris heard something walking on the gravel outside. As the footsteps approached, they were followed by heavy breathing. Harris quieted her kids so she could listen. That’s when she heard her family’s dogs. They weren’t barking; they were crying and whimpering, terrified underneath the front porch. The heavy footsteps then stepped from the gravel onto the porch.
“What is that?” Harris’ children asked her. She could only reply honestly with the words “I don’t know,” repeating herself when her brother asked the same thing. The entire family listened as something came closer, opened the screen door, and turned the doorknob to the front door. Possibilities flew through Harris’ head: perhaps it was a parent of one of the cousins, trying to scare the kids. Harris told her brother that he should open the door and see what it was, but he was too scared to move.
Harris walked up to the door herself and unlocked the deadbolt. As she did, whatever was on the other side of the door let go of the doorknob and went silent. She swung the door open and couldn’t believe what she saw.
“All I see is this tall, black creature standing in front of me. You know when you open the door and you say hello to someone? That’s how close it was to me,” she said. “I didn’t get to see the features of the face because it was covered in hair. The color of the hair was black from head to toe, all the way down to the foot. It wasn’t very muscular. It was kind of scraggly looking a little bit, maybe a little bit skinny.”
Harris and the creature stood there for a moment, looking at each other, before it took off and ran behind the house. The woman turned to her brother, who just looked at her with an expression of “What the heck was that?” She put the children to bed, refusing to tell them she had seen Bigfoot. She closed all the windows and turned the lights off, preparing to go to sleep. But then, the creature came back again, trying to get into the house through the front door. Harris turned the porch light on and it left, but returned about every 15 minutes or so until she would turn the porch light on again.
At about 3 a.m. or so, Harris began to doubt what she saw, thinking perhaps it was a skinwalker, a type of harmful witch in Navajo culture that can take the shape of an animal. Questions continued to mount in her head, prompting her to leave the house to investigate by driving around the property. At one point, one of the dogs came out from underneath the porch to follow her, but got scared and ran back to the house. Harris, who hadn’t seen anything while driving around the entire plot at the end of her family’s field, did the same and locked up again. As soon as she did, the creature returned.
Harris’ master bedroom overlooked the porch, so she opened the curtains and got another good look at the menace. It was 6½ to 7½ feet tall, with long arms, and was covered in black hair. It took off when the woman hit the window, but continued to return until it finally disappeared near daybreak. To this day, she isn’t sure what the creature wanted.
Harris told her husband what had happened when he arrived home from work at about 7 a.m. He didn’t believe her, so she asked him to come with her for a walk around the house to look for evidence. She wasn’t disappointed by what they found in the daylight. Behind the house, she found a long, three-toed footprint matching one popularized by “The Legend of Boggy Creek,” a 1972 horror docudrama about the Fouke Monster, a Bigfoot-type creature seen in southwestern Arkansas.
Though this was the first time Harris had seen a Bigfoot, it wasn’t the first encounter she’d had with one — and it certainly wouldn’t be her last.
InvestigationsAs a child growing up in Farmington, Brenda Harris shared a room with her sisters in a mobile home park just south of the Animas River. The girls heard scratching beneath their bedroom window and smelled a bad odor several nights during the summer. They ran to their parent’s room and told them what they heard and smelled, but their father’s investigations never turned up anything during the night.
Tragically, though, the family found a kitten that they had forgotten to bring into the house with its claws sunk into a nearby tree, apparently scared to death. At the base of the tree, they found three-toed footprints, but had no idea what had left them and assumed it was a skinwalker, Harris said.
Harris also remembers listening to a radio show called the “Navajo Hour” as a child during trips to visit her grandmother in Piñon, Arizona. During the show, a woman advised listeners not to go down to the San Juan or Animas rivers because of the presence of a monster. She referred to it using a number of Navajo words, but also called it a sasquatch — a term Harris was unfamiliar with until she saw “The Legend of Boggy Creek” as a teen ... and all of the puzzle pieces started fitting together.
Even after finally seeing the creature in the ’90s, Harris kept quiet about what she’d encountered because she didn’t want to upset her family. She remained curious about Bigfoot, though, and talked to her friends and neighbors about their own sightings, which began to grow in number. Finally, around 2009, she had so many people asking her questions about it that it was finally time to come out as a Bigfoot investigator. In 2012, she put together a team of investigators: New Mexico Shadow Seekers, which now posts some of its findings on a YouTube channel.
Harris’ team gets calls about all sorts of weird creatures in the region: dogmen and lizardmen, chupacabras, gnomes, little green men ... even a centaur. The only reports she is reluctant to investigate are UFOs, because she isn’t interested in them, and skinwalkers, because she doesn’t want to get mixed up in witchcraft. It seems, though, that most calls she receives are in reference to Bigfoot. In fact, she has hosted an annual Northern New Mexico Bigfoot and Paranormal Conference since 2013, which has drawn Bigfoot enthusiasts from far and wide. (In 2019, she switched it up and had a Bigfoot camp-out.)
Residents of San Juan County tend to report Bigfoot encounters to the Shadow Seekers for practical reasons — the creatures are impacting people’s livelihoods, stealing fruits and vegetables from farmland in the summer and fall, and killing animals in the winter and spring. People also report hearing the creature’s loud, sometimes lonely or mournful cries and hear or see it tapping on their windows. According to reports, it has red or amber eyes.
The majority of Bigfoot incidents occur near the water, Harris said. Along the San Juan River, people have seen it from Shiprock in the west to Bloomfield in the east. They’ve also been seen it up the Animas River, toward Aztec, and along the La Plata River, near La Plata, New Mexico, south of Hesperus.
Over time, Harris has learned ways to ward Bigfoot away. For instance, it doesn’t like the light.
“Back in ’86, when I moved out here, hardly anybody ... had street lights on their property. Back in 2009, when this thing kind of exploded and we had all these Bigfoot sightings ... I started telling them, ‘Hey, get some lights up. The more light you can have, the better it’ll be for you and your animals,’” she said. “Today, when you drive around out here in our area, some of these people now have three or four street lights on their property.”
She recommends bringing cat and dog food and livestock feed inside before dark. She also recommends women and children not walk alone outside, as she believes the creatures are drawn to them, especially their laughter. (Harris also says she doesn’t think a man could defend himself from Bigfoot alone and recommends they travel in pairs as well.) Finally, as another practical solution for scaring it off your property, she recommends hitting the alarm button on your vehicle key fob — sasquatches dislike claxons as much as anyone.
Beyond San Juan CountyDavid “Oz” Ortiz, another Farmington resident, got into cryptozoology through his friend JC Johnson, who formed the group Crypto Four Corners in 2004. Ortiz had heard secondhand reports of weird things in the region throughout his life, including a sighting of Bigfoot along the Animas River near Flora Vista by a girl he was dating in the early ’80s. But he didn’t see anything himself until he joined the group, he said.
Among other stuff, the group heard stories of a Bigfoot-type creature along the San Juan River between Farmington and Shiprock. In 2009, they investigated Brenda Harris’ property for evidence of the cryptid, which was the first time she and Ortiz met. After Johnson passed away in 2018, Crypto Four Corners fell into disarray, and Ortiz has since been investigating as a member of Harris’ team.
Since Ortiz started investigating Bigfoot, he has had many unusual experiences — a lot of them outside of the region of Harris’ sightings.
In 2008, Ortiz was riding his mountain bike near the La Plata Mountains on the east side of Montezuma County when he saw an unusual structure. It looked like something had mounted one aspen tree onto another one, so he got off his bike to get a closer look. As he did, he heard what sounded like a pig snorting and looked to see the source: a shadowy figure standing 150 feet away in the aspens. Ortiz shot a photo and the thing responded with a tremendous scream that Ortiz describes as that of a high-pitched voice and a peacock put together. Ortiz got back on his bike and took off, but was chased by the shape, crashing through the forest near the trail. Upon subsequent returns to the area, he has heard more sounds — vocalizations and tree knocking (Bigfoot investigators say the creature knocks trees with other objects to produce sounds) — and seen stick-built, teepee-like structures and X marks that are also supposedly signs of Bigfoot habitation.
Occasionally, Ortiz’s encounters enter the realm of the supernatural. On a drive though the Lukachukai Mountains, southwest of Shiprock, he stopped to take a photo of the moon. As he was setting up his tripod, he heard rustling in the oak brush nearby and got spooked. He shot his photos quickly and got back in his car. As soon as he put it in drive, he felt a surge from behind the vehicle. He couldn’t see anything behind him, but days later, he found a large inhuman handprint in the dust on the back window.
He and other former members of Crypto Four Corners were also pelted with rocks this February on Navajo Dam Road near Aztec. During that incident, something left handprints on his car but left no footprints around it, and the rocks seemed to drop from the sky. Stone and log throwing are also, apparently, Bigfoot behaviors — Ortiz saw logs thrown about during Bigfoot expeditions in east Texas and heard from a friend-of-a-friend who said a Bigfoot threw rocks at her in 2003 at Horse Gulch in Durango.
Sightings of the unusual seem increasingly common in La Plata County. While selling Ortiz a pair of backcountry skis, a Durango-based judge told him to be careful in the woods because of “strangeness going on out there.” He’s also seen Bigfoot-style structures on Missionary Ridge and heard Bigfoot-type growls near Purgatory.
For what it’s worth, a former city of Durango employee, who prefers to remain anonymous, told DGO she saw a structure like the kind Ortiz describes at the Dalla Mountain Park. She described it as big enough to stand up inside and looked like it would have taken a while to construct.
“We were like, how the heck did someone make this?” she said.
Is Bigfoot living along the rivers of the Four Corners? And if so, is it throwing rocks at people and trying to get into their houses? It’s impossible to say ... but you won’t see us near the Animas or the San Juan at night without a flashlight and a camera.