Western Colorado's Grand Mesa is a majestic place. Treasured for its beauty, pristine lakes, and abundant wildlife, it's no wonder the Ute Indians viewed the area as a magical land.

To the Ute, the Grand Mesa was known as Thiguanawat, which roughly translates as "The Land of the Departed Spirits." Also called Thunder Mountain, the Utes told a legend of the Thunderbirds. The legend says:

A Ute chieftain Sehiwaq and his son were on a camping trip at the base of the mesa. While the chieftain was away hunting. A thunderbird plunged into the camp, grasping the young boy in his claws and carried him to its nest.

Destined to get revenge. The father camouflaged himself with the sacred red cedar tree and began to ascend the mesa.

Whenever a thunderbird would soar above him, Sehiwaq would freeze in place, as if he was rooting himself to the side of the mountain.

After scaling the mesa all day, Sechiwaq finally reached the giant bird's nest, only to find his son devoured by the beast’s nestlings. Angry, he pulled the young from the nest and tossed them down the cliff. A giant serpent, Batiqtuba, lived at the base of the cliff who devoured the young thunderbirds as the fell from the nest.

After the thunderbirds returned to their nest. They realized their young were missing, and swooped down on the giant serpent. Carrying him high above the mesa, they ripped him to shreds with a thunderous clash. The pieces of the serpent crashed to the ground and created giant craters in the mesa’s landscape.

Engulfed with rage and sadness, the thunderbirds’ wings clapped with thunder and tears flowed from their eyes filling the craters forming the lake on the Grand Mesa.

If you look at the mesa just right, you can see some of this legend right in the landscape. The photo below shows what is believed to be a hieroglyph of a thunderbird etched into the side of the Grand Mesa.

Looking at the Mesa (Do you see it?)

Google Maps

Closeup with Thunderbird Overlay

Google Maps / Thinkstock

The legend also states that the three thunderbirds nest on the ridge of the Grand Mesa. In this photo, it is said that the "white" areas are the discarded bones of the Thunderbirds. Plus, you can just make out the shape of a serpent, where it's believed Batiqtuba lived.

Overhead View of the Mesa

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Looking at the Mesa

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This could just be a campfire story to make sure children behave, or there could be some truth to the story, we may never know.