From about Avila Beach, through San Luis Obispo, and all the way up to Monterey, runs the Santa Lucia Mountains. Lurking within these mountains are the strange and mystifying Dark Watchers. The Dark Watchers, as they have come to be known, are apparently giant human like phantoms that are only seen at twilight, standing silhouetted, ten feet tall, against the night sky along the ridges and peaks of the mountain range. When spotted, the beings are usually seen staring off into the open air of the mountains seemingly at nothing in particular, before vanishing into thin air, occasionally right before the spectators eyes.
Who or what the Watchers are, no one knows. Where they came from or why they are there, again lost in speculation. And what they are looking for or watching is beyond anyone's current comprehension.
The Chumash Native Americans first spoke of them in legends and their cave painters drew them in their colorful wall drawings. The Spanish back in the 1700s called them Los Vigilantes Oscuros. Later legendary author John Steinbeck described them in his short story, "Flight". The story details a teenage boy who has killed a man and is forced to run into the Santa Lucia mountains to hide. As he leaves, his mother tells him to avoid the Dark Watchers with this comment, "when thou comest to the high mountains, if thou seest any of the dark watching men, go not near to them nor try to speak to them." The short story later goes on to have the actual Dark Watchers appear.
"Pepe looked up to the top of the next dry withered ridge. He saw a dark form against the sky, a man's figure standing on top of a rock, and he glanced away quickly not to appear curious. When a moment later he looked up again, the figure was gone."
Excerpt from the short story "Flight" written by John Steinbeck first published in a collection of twelve short stories called The Long Valley in 1938.
Also in 1937, the poet Robinson Jeffers mentioned them in his poem "Such Counsels You Gave to Me" as:
"He thought it might be one of the watchers, who are often seen in this length of coast-range, forms that look human to human eyes, but certainly are not human. They come from behind ridges to watch. He was not surprised when the figure turning toward him in the quiet twilight showed his own face. Then it melted and merged into the shadows beyond it."
Excerpt from Robinson Jeffers poem "Such Counsels You Gave to Me" originally published in 1937
If Jeffers or Steinbeck ever actually saw one of the Watchers is unknown, but the local legend has been around since long before they wrote about it. It is additionally said that Steinbeck's mother, Olive Hamilton, was a firm believer in the Dark Watchers and she supposedly brought them gifts of fruit, nuts, and occasionally flowers. Many local families who have resided in Big Sur a long time also fully believe in the legends of the Dark Watchers. A few year's ago, John Steinbeck's son, Thomas Steinbeck, collaborated with artist, Benjamin Brode, on a book about the Dark Watchers entitled: In Search of the Dark Watchers.
In the mid-sixties, a Monterey Peninsula local who was the past principal of a local high school saw them while hiking in the mountains. He had enough time to study the dark figure, to see its clothing and notice how the figure was strangely studying the mountains. When the principal called out to his fellow hikers, the figure disappeared.
Other, more recent sightings have included a dark hat and cape in the description of the mountain residing phantoms. And, of course, the more creepy tales, those of the urban legend variety, tell of people who went to investigate the Dark Watchers simply disappearing with the mysterious figures, never to be seen again.
But could there be a more scientific explanation to the Dark Watchers? Two theories speculate that people are simply experiencing either Brocken Spectre or possibly pareidolia. Pareidolia is the simpler of the two theories. It is when a person's brain finds patterns in things. For example, when looking at a mountainside, and you see formations that may look like faces, or seeing objects in clouds as they drift by. So in this instance, long shadows, at sunset, as the play across the sides of the mountain range in Big Sur play tricks on people's minds, and they envision seeing forms or figures lurking in the shadows the way we find faces in mountains.
The other theory, Brocken Spectre, references the illusion one sees when gazing on the magnified shadow of someone that is cast towards clouds opposite the Sun's direction. Apparently, the shadow can appear to be surrounded by strange colors, rings, or shadows as a result. This happens when standing on mist covered or fog shrouded mountains. It can also sometimes appear when looking out airplane windows. The phenomenon is named after a peak in Germany, called Brocken, where the effect apparently happens quite often. To clarify, you are looking away from the sun, usually down the mountain into mist or fog. These situations are quite common in Big Sur, especially at twilight as the sun is setting off over the Pacific Ocean and the fog is starting to roll in for the night.
So which is it? Do giant ten foot tall human like creatures lurk in the mountains along the Big Sur coast, silently watching for some unknown and mysterious reason? Or is it all just a strange effect of the eyes, simply a trick your brain is playing on you?
- Linda of Madera, CA on 2023-04-03 said:
- I like in the country side of Madera. About 2 years ago, I saw a tall thin figure standing in the shadow staring at me. I couldn’t see the face, what type of clothing it had on, nothing! I froze and kept my eyes on it, my cousin saw it too and she dragged me inside the house. I didn’t want to keep my eyes off of it, I thought if I turned my back on it, it would get me. Just today, another cousin came out last night to have some drinks. He said while he was outside, he saw a tall thin figure watching him. He also froze, he said when he blinked it vanished. He ran inside to get us and we all ran outside looking for this shadow.
- andres of bakersfield, california on 2021-08-14 said:
- I was driving home from a beach trip with my girlfriend in 2016, going through
cuyama it was pitch black outside, we saw a large shadow figure glide across the road in front of
our headlights. No notable features, just a large dark shadowy creature. If she wasn't awake to
confirm what i just saw, i would have chocked it up to me being tired, but she saw what i saw. We
let it go until a few days ago, when we brought it up again, searched up shadow people in cuyama,
and learned about "dark watchers" in santa lucia. this is so crazy to learn we arent alone in this
- Dan of N/A, AZ on 2021-01-15 said:
- Back when i was a teenager i used to go hiking in the desert and a mountain range where i lived 7 miles outside of Blythe Ca. One afternoon i went deeper into the mountain range than i had ever hiked before when i felt like i was being watched. The hairs on my arms stood up. I quickly started looking around fearing a mountain lion was near by, when i looked up towards the top of the mountain and saw a small cave like opening at the top of a sheer wall. There looking out towards the valley i could see a hooded human figure. I could not see its face since it looked like it was covered by a thin veil but the hood and cloak looked tattered and ripped. The figure made no movements. I turned around and started to walk back the way i came and never went back to that area of the mountain range. That area was not traveled since there were no dirt roads or tracks so who knows what was up there. All i know it was not human and ive never been back since. This was back in mid 90s.
- Michael of Thousand Oaks, California on 2019-04-01 said:
- I've camped a few times in the Santa Lucia range near to Cone Peak, right near the coast and the 1. We were camping up on some of the coastal ridges there, overlooking the ocean, and definitely experienced some very strange energy. My first time up there, there were three of us, including myself. One person and myself both actually spotted one of the watchers up on a high ridge, partially obscured by low-flying clouds. Neither of us were familiar with them at this time and chocked it up to a tree. When we slept that night, we felt an indescribable discomfort and decided to keep driving north the next morning.
- someone on 2019-01-29 said:
- sounds a bit weird and unrealistic but no one will ever know
- Anonymous of Stockton, CA on 2018-09-23 said:
- Today my boyfriend I were driving from Arroyo Grande to Stockton. About an hour outside of AG, we saw a dark human figure in the hills. It was several hundred yards away from the road, and seemed to be trudging laboriously uphill in the 95 degree sun. Despite rubbernecking multiple times to try to get a better look, we could distinguish no identifying marks, no seams of clothing, no hint of shoes or anything. Just solid black walking up the hill under the burning afternoon sun. There was a small station with a tank and satellite on the opposite side of the road. I wonder if we didn’t see some strange ritual.
- Donny of San Marcos, California on 2018-08-20 said:
- What is the difference between shadow people and a dark watcher? I have never heard of a dark watcher before. I had an experience of seeing a shadow person at my home in Texas, but the description of it fits a Dark Watcher much more. Brimmed hat, still, very still, just watching.
- Anonymous of Paso Robles, California on 2018-08-14 said:
- Seen them multiple times in my lifetime living right spot on in the area they are from, they seem to have different clothing then described when I see them but every time I don't feel alarmed at the sight.
- Anonymous of Ojai , California on 2018-06-04 said:
- I was hiking up a remote trail up the 33 in Ojai, I was about an hour up the mountain, no people, no cars in sight. as I was hiking, I had this eerie feeling I was being watched. I looked up at the top of the mountain. I was a black figure. I waved, jokingly, not really thinking the object was a person. It waved back. Thinking I was maybe tripping, or that it was a tree waving in the wind, I took a puff of my cigarette, only to see the figure blow out a plume of smoke as well. I started seeing it flowing, and I say flowing, almost floating virtically. I ran like hell back to my car, spraining my knee in the process.
- Sally on 2017-08-20 said:
- I live in the country in Canada I saw a 7ft man very slowly walking along the fence line. He seemed to be all a solid shadow. But because he appeared to be behind the 6ft fence I didn't get a good look at him. Every time it is twilight I look out at all the fences to see him again to conferm what I saw, but I haven't seen him since. Could you help me find out what he was? ^-^
- Evangeline of Oceano, Ca on 2017-01-29 said:
- I saw a dark watcher just about dusk in June of 2016 he was standing near the ocean cliffs just outside of Hearst castle..No one could see him in our party except me.As I walked toward it it vanished.I also had a sense of foreboding.Eery scary feeling
- Joey of Sylmar, CA on 2016-01-24 said:
- I'm a long distance runner most of my training is in up in the good old Californian Mountains. I had a long run scheduled so I headed out. I headed to Veterans Park here in the Sanfernando Valley. Time of day was 2:00 pm I was running and up in an area where no human could climb without gear I saw a black figure in plain day light. I never seen anything like it up in the mountain. Was darker than dark could not explain it. A year past and today again January 24th I saw it again and in the same spot.
- Anonymous of Northern California, Ca on 2015-09-06 said:
- These are Masonic rituals. End of discussion. Mind your own business people, for your own safety
- Jason of Rosenberg, Texas on 2015-04-23 said:
- I seen dark figure about 7ft tall in one of the mountain by vernal ut it was a late winter lots of snow the moon was full the light reflected off the snow so I had no problem seeing. I worker nights for a siemic company as a trouble shooter I heard a crew member say on the radio that he seen jeeper creep he drop everything he had and ran back to his truck we thought the was up to long with out sleep so they send me to his location to to finish what he had to do while walking on top of the mountain to fix the problem I seen it 20 feet in front of me my heart starting beating fast I try to run but it was hard because of the snow as I was running it seem to float on the snow it move really fast and start to circle me then stop all I had on me was a pocket knife I pull it out and started to prey for GOD to help me fight it I started to run towards it I got about 10 ft to and it started to move back fast I lost site of it in the dark it never seen it face it had a robe like the reaper dont no what it was
- cyndi of florence, alabama on 2014-11-06 said:
- I first seen this shadow figure. I thought it was a person. It was standing over my friend while he was asleep. When it seen that I could see it. It ran down the hall of the house. I ran after it but found nothing. Then after my friend killed his self. I awoke to the same being at the end of my bed. I was worried about my baby. So I ask it "where is my son." It told me that he was watching t.v. my son was about three months. So I thought it was lying cause my son was a baby. I jumped up to find my son with his father watching t.v. I really have the feeling that it was not evil. I just think that it being so weird was what scared me
- caroline of Santa Barbara, California on 2014-10-01 said:
- There is a beautiful new book about the Dark Watche rs!! John Steinbeck's son (Thomas Steinbeck) and an artist friend of his, Benjamin Brode have made an really cool art and story book about Thom's memories of Dark Watcher stories from his dad and grandmother, Olive... It's really beautiful. It's called In Search of the Dark Watchers: Landscapes and Lore of Big Sur !! You can find it online.
- Elizabeth Benitez of San Mateo, California on 2013-12-20 said:
- I remember one day my friend and I were coming back from Los Angeles. We passed the San Luis Obispo reservoir, and as we drove on the road I saw something at a distance down at the end of the mountain. It was a really big human figure, but it wasn't. It had a Black Cape kind of like the grim reaper and it was leaning over holding on to a staff at a "puddle of water" or so that is what it seemed at a distance. It was in daytime too, so I could identify it wasn't a person. Even in mid light he was very black and reminded me of a raven. I told my friend that was driving to look over at the mountains, and surprisingly she was able to see a glimpse of it. I asked her what she saw without giving her my details, and she said exactly what I saw. She only looked at it for about 5 seconds, but she was able to see it. She almost lost control of the car too when she looked away at it, and I begged her to go back and see it, but she was very tired of driving already. These Dark Watchers are real!
- Bryan of Hollister, California on 2013-01-17 said:
- One early morning when my car was in the shop and my sister was taking me to and from work in salinas over San Juan grade rd. we where coming home to the San Juan Bautista/hollister side when we saw a very large dark figure standing at the edge of the mountians which is extremely weird since I've never seen anyone cross over the barbed wire fence and I travel that road daily and at all hours. We drove by it slowly behind the figure noticing it staring off into the distancing vallys and mountians (fremonts peak). It appread to have a large cape with straight shoulders that where very broad. It seemed to have a hunch on it's back. At first from a distance I thought it was a condor but when I got closer it stood almost over 10 ft tall. It did not notice us driving behind it but when we found a spot on the cliffy road to turn around and get a better look it was gone. This was around September 2010
- Kickboy Face of Moreno Valley, Ca on 2011-10-04 said:
- Interesting stuff. Many many years ago I was with a friend driving through a dirt field here in Moreno Valley near Allessandro (old east part) near what I believe were old abandoned barns, that I always had heard were haunted when my friends car broke down. (could have been coincidence, it was a beat up volkswagen bug)
It was dusk at best and there was no way we were going to make it out of the field before it was pitch black and instead of chancing getting retardedly lost and/or hurt in the dark we decided to sleep in the car and set out in the morning to go get help to tow the car. (it was wayyyyy before the days of everyone having cell phones and quick help)
As we were killing time, in the pitch black now, we were hanging out inside and outside of the car, killing time, sharing smokes, and we started to distinctly see what looked like black shadows, evenly distributed completely encircling us, they did not move, they stayed motionless but were of significant size and based on the distance, I would say at least the size of a small car like the bug we ourselves were in. Whatever these were seemed hunched over, perhaps kneeling.
Time passed, they never moved and though we walked around the car and got in and out of the car to see if what we were seeing was some sort of optical illusion, yet we couldn't explain or discredit what we were seeing.
To this day, it racks my brain.
- Maria R. of San Bernardino, california on 2011-07-18 said:
- When I returned from work walking around 12 to 1 from a small distance before crossing the street i saw a dark thin figure i tried to fast walk to see it and as i got there it vanished when i got to the place where i saw it i felt cold...
- Les Brennan of Ramona, CA on 2011-04-06 said:
- While flying my twin engine Beechcraft on a southerly course and just 20 nautical miles north of Vandenberg AFB I glanced toward the Santa Lucia Range just after sunset and saw what appeared to be seven large dark figures spaced evenly apart. They had an even spacing of about 1 qaurter of a mile
- C. Gardner of June Lake, CA on 2011-02-03 said:
- Up here in the Eastern Sierras, we see the Dark Watchers all the time. They are always out at dusk and dawn. All you see is just a tall dark silhouette. They almost look like horses standing on their hind legs with the assistance of a walking stick. Its pretty creepy, and nobody has ever seen them close up. They disappear the moment you try to get closer.
- Weird California (2006) by Greg Bishop, Joe Oesterle, Mike Marinacci, p: 56
- Haunted Places: The National Directory (2002) by Hauck, Dennis, p: 76
- Mysterious California (1988) by Marinacci, Mike, p: 75 - 76
- Ghost Tales and Mysterious Happenings of Old Monterey (1977) by Reinstedt, Randall A, p: 47 - 49
- Ghosts of the Big Sur Coast (2002) by Reinstedt, Randall A, p: 48 - 51
- Haunted Monterey Peninsula (2009) by Yasuda, Anita, p: 44 - 46
- LA Exposed (2002) by Young, Paul, p: 162
First Created: 2007-05-08
Last Edited: 2022-03-25