Beyond the natural splendour of the Mountain State of Colorado lurk some very spooky myths and legends. These tales are founded on the stories of the indigenous Navajo population which has lived along the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers for centuries.
If you want to incorporate some history and local colour into your Colorado sightseeing, uncovering the legends of the so-called skin-walkers is a great way to explore the state's more mysterious side. That's if you can tear yourself away from awesome sights like the Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak, or thrilling outdoor adventures which include skiing, whitewater rafting and even cross-country mountain biking.
Believed to be witches which can take the form of animals, skin-walkers are very real in the minds of many Colorado residents even today. In fact, the creatures are so real for many of the Navajo that the subject of skin-walkers is considered taboo and is never to be discussed with outsiders.
These witches which take the form of animals are not the broomstick-riding old crones of Western folklore, but are more closely related to medicine men – although much darker in nature. The Navajo skin-walkers are thought to be medicine men who have practiced evil rites in order to obtain the power to shift shape.
The shapes which skin-walkers usually adopt are fairly predictable. The most typical forms for a skin-walker are those of a black dog, a wolf or a deer. Yet there are many variations told of in stories from the region: coyotes, crows, cougars, foxes and owls are all common skin-walker forms.
However, some tales tell of huge dogs with human hands and feet, others mention deer which walk upright on their rear legs. Red, glowing eyes or human eyes in an animal body are also frequent tropes. A feeling of evil and dread is said to accompany skin-walkers, reflecting their malign intentions.
Typically social outcasts, skin-walkers are believed to be highly negative presences, intent on causing harm to others. From creating disturbances around homes and placing curses, to causing car wrecks on America's highways, if these nasty creatures do exist, they are certainly sinister.
Skin-walker sightings abound across Colorado as well as Nevada and Utah, from locals who hear terrible groans and howls unlike any natural animal's on Navajo reservations, to people who claim to have come face-to-face with skin-walkers while driving or hiking. While one farmer tells of encountering two huge black dogs with red, gleaming eyes fighting on their hind legs, a motorist recounts offering an old woman a ride at the roadside, only to watch her run from his car at inhuman speed on all fours.
Many stories of skin-walkers come from motorists who claim to have experienced dark, malevolent creatures clinging to the side of their vehicles or running alongside their cars or trucks at impossibly high speeds. From dogs on reservations behaving strangely, to creatures on the roof at night, there is a rich storytelling tradition in Colorado and beyond, overflowing with tales of skin-walker encounters. Search for “skin-walker sightings” on YouTube and you'll even find videos purporting to have captured the creatures in the flesh.
Hotels in Denver make the perfect base from which to begin your Colorado adventure. A great starting point for visitors keen to explore the wild interior of this beautiful state, Denver is a vibrant and accessible city, perfect for a short stay on your way to the land of the skin-walkers.
Located just beyond Arapaho National Forest and under two hours’ drive from the Rocky Mountain National Park, a Denver base will give you plenty of opportunity to take in some of the most spectacular sights and thrilling activities this jaw-dropping natural environment is famed for. There's also plenty of entertainment to be found in the city itself. Why not catch a Rockies game at the Coors Field, take in some culture at Denver Art Museum or learn about Colorado's real creatures at the Denver Museum of Science and Nature?
A 30-minute drive to the west of the city, Denver Airport is a convenient entry point for this region. Cheap flights to Denver land regularly from all over the USA and the globe, transporting you conveniently to this amazing corner of the world – and the land of the skin-walkers.
If you’re planning to rent a car in Denver, your journey into the city is swift and straight-forward. From here you can explore the wildernesses and highways of Colorado your way – in your own time. If you prefer to use public transport, buses run from the airport regularly, taking 45 minutes to reach the city. Many tours and expeditions operate from Denver, allowing you to enjoy adventure in the wild without a vehicle.