The homestead had an invisible occupant when Kingsley purchased it in 1973. [Photo courtesy of Joe Kingsley]

For this year’s Halloween edition, we have compiled a few spooky stories from the area, complete with first-hand accounts of the alleged ghostly goings-on. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, perhaps we can all agree that there are some things in life that just aren’t readily explainable, or at least that ghost stories are a fun part of Halloween.

The River Witch

Part of what got me interested in Moab’s ghost stories was an experience I had when I first came to Moab as a young woman a dozen years ago.

I was very carefree in those times before children and a career, and I chose to camp for several weeks in Moonflower Canyon, biking the roughly three miles on Kane Creek Boulevard to get to work in the mornings and returning to camp at night. I didn’t have a car in those days and got around by bicycle. (But please, dear readers, don’t bike on Kane Creek Boulevard at night, even with a light. There are fast drivers, no shoulder, and it’s very dangerous.)

Biking out in the morning was great. The road follows the Colorado River and I loved the way the sun shimmered on the water, the blue of the sky so vivid in contrast to the red rocks. I arrived at my job invigorated by the exercise and natural beauty.

But night time was different. As I rounded the corner and entered the river corridor, I got this terribly uneasy feeling, sensing (though never seeing) a malevolent presence. I told myself over and over that it was just my imagination, but still, I biked through there as fast as I could, trying to convince myself that I did not really feel the presence following close on my heels.

Once I saw the big cottonwood tree outside of Moonflower Canyon, the presence was suddenly gone, as if there were an invisible boundary it could not cross.

It wasn’t until I had lived in Moab for several years that I heard the story of the River Witch, and I couldn’t help but notice the similarities to what I experienced.

Jessica Allred told the Moab Sun News that the River Witch was local legend when she was a teenager in the late 1990s.

“There used to be a cattle guard where you would begin the race,” she said. “You would stop at the guard, after dark. Everyone in the car would get out and chant ‘River Witch, River Witch, come alive / Before I can count to five,’ or something similar to that. Then everyone would jump back in the car as fast as we could and hit the gas. You were supposed to drive as fast as you could to Moonflower (I think) before she caught you.”

The spring 1996 issue of the Canyon Legacy, a publication of the Dan O’Laurie Canyon Country Museum (now the Moab Museum), is titled “Myth, Legend and Folklore” and has an article on the River Witch. The story in the article is different from the one Allred heard, but both involve a young woman who died tragically and whose ghost will pull others into the river if she catches them.

According to the article, the River Witch story is decades old, at least, and bears a resemblance to the variations of story told throughout the Southwest and into Mexico of La Llorona, “the weeping woman,” who haunts riverbanks looking for her lost children, and may mistake living children for her own and try to take them.

A moonlit encounter at Moonflower Canyon

Story submitted by Jackie Codina

“The thing we saw was unexplainable.”

I unfortunately got to experience an odd situation at Moonflower Canyon while hiking at night. 

I was with two friends, a guy and a girl. We were hiking back to our Jeep around 11:30 p.m. We were all joking, laughing and enjoying our time there, until we hit the sand part of the hike. As you may be aware, once you hit the sand part of the canyon, it’s no more than 500 feet from the parking lot. 

Matt was leading the hike, I followed and then Aubrey was last. Aubrey and I were chatting when we both heard something to our far left. It appeared to be an animal just shaking shrubs. We brushed it off. But then Aubrey and I looked back at the same time, and for whatever reason we both looked at the same tree. All of our laughter came to a quick silence right away. 

All three of us took off, running across the short sandy area for what felt like miles. We just couldn’t get to the parking lot. It was like a bad dream. 

Once we got in the Jeep, we immediately drove off. No one said a word until we got into town, and we started to go over what had just happened. 

We had all seen the same figure. Mind you, this was nighttime. It was dark out; no other light besides the moon was there to guide us. 

The thing we saw was unexplainable. That…thing…was staring right at us. It looked like a tall man but with the head of a bull. With bright, bright eyes. It was dark out, but this thing still managed to be darker than anything around it. It was hiding behind a tree. It seemed like he had been following us until he finally made his presence be known. 

To the day, I will never return to Moonflower Canyon at night.

A ghostly tenant at the Castle Valley homestead

Story submitted by Joe Kingsley

“You city folks really don’t know how to handle ghosts.”

This a true story.

It begins in December of 1973. It is a new adventure for my sister Carol and I. She is joining me and I am moving down from Salt Lake City.

This is our first night in the homestead in Castle Valley. The log cabin was built in 1856 by John Martin and his family. The log cabin has never been used for decades. For many years, it was simply a shelter for cattle. The floor had a deep layer of manure, which had been cleaned out by the movie crew doing the filming of the movie “Against the Crooked Sky” just earlier this year.

The floor is still just dirt.

Carol is lying on a borrowed couch, and I’m lying on the floor of the cabin in a sleeping bag. We have between us a wooden crate topped with a new oil chimney lamp, because the cabin does not have electricity nor any other utilities—nothing.

We’re talking about how this feels like being a pioneer going back in time, and how this is a new adventure for both of us, both being from cities.

Then all of a sudden, the oil lamp gets blown out.

My sister gets angry at me because she is now frightened in the dark, but I try to calm her down by lighting it again.

Suddenly, it gets blown out again! Now, as you all know, an oil lamp with a chimney – especially a new one – does not just go out. It must be blown out.

Then something else happens in the loft above our heads. We hear a laughing noise, combined with the sound of a chain clanging.

We immediately think it is Bob Deglas, a good friend of ours. There’s only one way to get to the loft and it’s from the stairs in the room that we’re in. I go up to the loft with a flashlight, only to find it totally vacant.

Carol immediately says, “I’m out of here! I’m going up to Annie’s and I’ll sleep with her in her trailer, and I won’t be back until you solve this problem.”

I take the sleeping bag and go out to the car and spend the rest of the night in the backseat.

The next day, I’m at First Security Bank (now Wells Fargo) and I’m talking to the manager who at that time was Don Cook. I’m telling him about what happened the night before, when one of the tellers overhear the conversation. And she just rolls her eyes and says, “You city folks really don’t know how to handle ghosts. It is so easy, let me tell you how.”

She says what you should do is confront them. You go back to the house; you tell them they’re welcome to stay and they can do anything they want to do, as long as you are not there. This is your home now, and you take priority, so if they do break or move anything, they must put it back in original condition and place it back upon your arrival.

I go home and speak to the ghosts with a very authoritative voice. I communicate to them the new rules, that this is my home and how it will go into the future from this point forward.

Guess what: it worked!

I lived in the homestead in Castle Valley for over a decade and never had this problem again. I’ve often speculated who the ghost(s) were because the homestead does have a history…but that is another story.

“You city folks really don’t know how to handle ghosts.”

– Joe Kingsley

“The thing we saw was unexplainable.”

– Jackie Codina