Archiver > FOLKLORE > 1998-10 > 0909856743

From: Kath <>
Subject: [FOLKLORE-L] San Juan Mermaid
Date: Sat, 31 Oct 1998 09:59:03 -0800

The high desert of northwest New Mexico is the last place where you
would expect to find mermaids, yet local legends and artifacts
dating back hundreds of years provide compelling evidence that
mermaids have inhabited this area. The artifacts have been found
near the crystal clear, pure waters of the San Juan River which
originate in the high mountains of southwestern Colorado. This
river flows out of the mountains, westward through New Mexico, and
onward to Lake Powell where it joins the Colorado River. Jointly,
they continue through the Grand Canyon and eventually empty into the
Gulf of California (next to the Baja Peninsula of Mexico).
Throughout the length, evidence of mermaid lore has been found, but
largely ignored by archeologists.

I became fascinated with these San Juan nymphs a few years
ago during an August canoe pack trip to Navajo Lake. This lake was
formed in 1958 when the Bureau of Reclamation dammed the San Juan
River. The lake extends 35 miles from near the town of Aztec, New
Mexico, up into Colorado. This was my first trip to Navajo Lake and
I was planning a six day camping trip, looking forward to the
solitude as I explored its numerous remote canyons.

On the second day I found this magnificent side canyon
which had a very narrow sinuous entrance. The sheer canyon walls,
ranging from fifty to ninety feet in height, were magnificent red
sandstone. The sandstone walls were scoured into undulating
pockets by eons of flash floods, as evidenced by a few logs wedged
high in the canyon walls.

Due to the narrowness of the canyon, sunlight was only
able to reach the water's surface in a couple places. At these
spots the luminous blue reflections of the sun's rays danced under
the water, the dispersion increasing as the ripples from my canoe
got bigger and bigger. This was truly a magical location. I
stopped there and spent an hour or so contemplating the wonders of
nature and rejuvenating my spiritual health.

Continuing onward, the canyon eventually opened up into a
beautiful valley with a sandy beach, lush vegetation, and
solitude. I set up camp and spent the next two days here. During
the day I hiked and explored more of this canyon. Upstream a little
ways I found a waterfall with a deep pool at the bottom. I spent
several hours jumping and playing there. The cool waters were so
refreshing in contrast to the hot, dry heat typical of southwestern

In the late afternoon as the temperature decreased I decided to
climb out the canyon to see what I could see. To my
surprise I found a series of ancient Indian petroglyphs carved into
the rock, high on the
canyon walls. One panel, in particular, caught my attention. It
depicted what appeared to be a fish with a human head. I later
decided that this must be a mermaid petroglyph. Above the figure
were a pair a wavy lines that I believe represent water. A little
lower was a turtle. This panel surely had a aquatic theme to it. I
wonder if the spiral could have represented a sea shell?

That night after dinner I built myself a small campfire
not too far from the shore. I was happily watching the flames,
mesmerized by their flicker, and listening to the night sounds; fish
jumping, little critters scampering about, an occasional owl
hooting, and the distant wail of coyotes. I became lost in my
thoughts, but eventually realized that I was hearing another sound,
something slow and melodic like a lullaby. The sound was so very
sweet and soothing. I was reminded of the ancient Greek legends
about mermaids who entranced passing sailors. I listened for hours
to the haunting melodies. The next morning I couldn't determine if
the mermaid songs were real or part of a dream. But the next night
I heard them again, and knew for sure that they were real.

Finally, it was time to leave my little paradise. I
packed up my gear and reloaded it all back into the canoe. As I
approached the narrows, quietly propelled by unhurried paddle
strokes, I heard splashing ahead. Rounding the
next bend, up in the distance I saw a woman frolicking in the water
by those luminescent sun spots. I must have startled her as she
immediately submerged. I couldn't tell for sure from this distance,
but it looked like she had a fish-like tail. Maybe it was just the
sunlight reflecting off her splash, but then again, maybe it was a
real mermaid. I was sure excited to find out. As I paddled to the
sun spots, I looked for her, but she did not resurface that I could
see. Then it occurred to me that she wanted and deserved her
privacy. I reluctantly continued on and did not dally any longer.

When I finally reached the marina, I discretely inquired
about the mermaid
petroglyph I had seen, being careful not to mention the
mermaid I saw
swimming. An old fisherman gave a wide grin, and began
telling me all about the
mermaids of the San Juan. He explained that mermaids have
been sited,
although infrequently, in the lake ever since it was
made. Before that,
according to legend, mermaids have lived all along the San
Juan River.
Now-a-days, however, they have only been seen in Navajo
Lake and in the Gulf
of California. People say that if you're real quite
while camped on the lake
during a clear night, you can hear the mermaid's haunting

The old fisherman then went on to
tell me about the
discovery made by his great
grandfather, Miguel De La
Ruse. According to Indian legend,
the ancient peoples
used to leave offerings of shells
and gems for the
"water spirits". In return, the
spirits would promise the
people protection from floods and
provide bountiful
water for irrigating their fields
on the valley floor.
These offering were always made at
dusk on the night
of the full moon. The offerings
were placed on special
tabernacles located at the water's
edge. The next
morning, the gifts would be gone,
and in their place
would be an assortment of fish.

Miguel happened to be traveling along the river during a
particularly dry season,
long time before the dam was built, and happened upon a
small hidden grotto
etched into the cliff. Normally the
entrance would have been submerged,
but the low water level opened it up
slightly. Miguel swam into the
entrance. Inside he found the
mermaids' treasure room full of shell
necklaces, gem stones, and ornately
carved figurines. Not wanting to
upset the mermaids for his intrusion,
Miguel left his pocket watch as an
offering, then quietly left the grotto
without disturbing anything else. Miguel told of his
discovery many times, but
always refused to reveal the secret location, and so no
one else has ever seen
the treasure room.

The old fisherman telling me the story truly believes in
his great grandfather's
tale. He speculates, however, that when the lake was
formed, the grotto
entrance was forever deeply submerged. Now, it is truly
protected and
accessible only to the mermaids.

All this talk got me excited about the San Juan Mermaid.
I began to research
all the information I could find. From what I discovered,
I really believe that
there is something to this myth. There is just too much
evidence for me to
ignore. For instance, many of the ancient Indians of the
area have legends of
"water spirits", including the Maya of Baja, Mexico.
Although rare, a few
fetishes have been
These are considered to
have very strong
spiritual power. And
there are many
more mermaid
petroglyphs and
pictographs along the

I am still fascinated with mermaid lore, especially with
the San Juan Mermaid
legends. Every chance I get I plan to travel back to
Navajo Lake to find new
discoveries. Of course, if I ever do get solid proof
you'll never find out about
it from me. From this point on, my lips are sealed.

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