The Trinity Alps Giant Salamander is an alleged giant salamander that is reported to live in the Trinity Alps of northern California. It is often considered a cryptid, as no specimen has ever been recovered and it is not a recognized species. Although the salamander is larger than most salamander species inside the United States, it is comparable in size to the hellbender. It was first reported in the 19th century and has not been reported frequently since the early 20th century.
Tom Slick led an expedition to search for the creatures, but it was not successful. An elderly man interviewed during the expedition claimed to have seen several salamanders the size of alligators on the lake shore in his youth.
A member of the giant salamander family (Cryptobranchidae), known as the hellbender is found in the eastern United States, and in fact the cryptobranchid family may have had its origins in North America.
The Trinity Alps wilderness is the second largest designated wilderness area in California spanning three national forests and covering 517,000 acres. The Trinity Alps are home to an abundance of wildlife including reports of a Giant Salamander which have trickled in for more than seven decades.
The first modern documented sighting came during the 1920’s when Frank L. Griffith, while hunting deer near the head of the New River, reported that he spotted five Giant Salamanders at the bottom of the lake ranging from 5 to 9 feet in length. Mr. Griffith further reported that he was able to catch one of these Giant Salamanders on a hook, but was unable to pull it out of the water, forcing him to let the creature go.
In 1948, after hearing Frank Griffith’s tale, biologist Thomas L. Rodgers made four different yet equally unsuccessful trips to the Trinity Alps in search of the Giant Salamander. Rodgers speculated that these Giant Salamanders may be an abnormally large group of Dicamptodon, or Pacific Giant Salamander, isolated from the more common version which only reaches approximately 1 foot in length. He also noted that they could be a relict population of Megalobatrachus, a form of Giant Salamander which inhabits the fast moving mountain streams of Japan and China and can grow to lengths of 5 or 6 feet.
In 1951 Herpetologist George S. Myers wrote a piece in the Scientific Journal which stated that he thought the link between the Trinity Alps Giant Salamander and the Asian Megalobatrachus made sense. Myers went on to recall his encounter with a Giant Salamander captured in the Sacramento River in 1939. Myers was contacted by a commercial fisherman who found the creature entangled in one of his catfish nets. Myers was able to carefully study the specimen for nearly 30 minutes and noted that it was a different color than the Japanese and Chinese species. It was a dark brown color not a slate grey color found in the Asian Giant Salamander, it also had dull yellow spots, where as those known Giant Salamanders do not have these spots. Myers writes:
The animal was a fine Megalobatrachus, in perfect condition… It was between 25 and 30 inches in length…The source of the specimen is, of course, unknown. Its strange coloration even suggested the possibility of a native Californian Megalobatrachus, which would not be surprising, but no other captures have been reported.
Several years after Myers report was published animal handler Vern Harden of Pioneer California claimed to have seen a dozen Giant Salamanders in a remote Trinity Alps lake known as Hubbard Lake. Similar to Frank Griffith’s first report, Harden claims that he managed to hook one of the creatures but was unable to pull it up, having to release it due to an oncoming snowstorm, estimating the creature to be about 8 feet long before turning it loose. Harden’s claims made it to the ears of explorer and naturalist Father Hubbard, a Jesuit scholar to which Hubbard Lake was named after. Father Hubbard noted that the whole thing sounded fantastic and perhaps Harden ought to write fiction, however, based on his examination of the growing body of eyewitness reports, there may be something more to the reports of Giant Salamanders.
During 1958 and 1959, it is believed that both Father Hubbard and his brother Captain John D. Hubbard were associated with expeditions in search of the Giant Salamanders. In 1960 Father Hubbard stated that he had established the existence of huge amphibians in the Trinity region, unfortunately for us and the rest of the cryptozoological world no record of the Hubbard expeditions can be located to this day and some speculate that they may have never even taken place.
Following Father Hubbard’s statement renowned Bigfoot hunter Tom Slick joined the leagues of Giant Salamander seekers in 1960. He told the members of his Pacific Northwest Expedition, who primarily focused on Bigfoot research, to seek out a live specimen of Giant Salamander. These instructions did not sit well with some of Slick’s hired Bigfoot Hunters who felt searching for the Giant Salamander was a waste of time that took them away from more important studies. In the end Slick and his team came back empty handed.
That same year, on September 1st 1960, three zoology professors, Robert C. Stebbins of the University of California Berkeley, Tom Rodgers of Chico State College and Nathan Cohen of Modesto Junior College formed there own Giant Salamander expedition. Tom Rogers, the same Tom Rogers who lead several unsuccessful expeditions in 1948, would later note that the team was accompanied by ten laymen who would sometimes mistake sunken logs or tree branches as Giant Salamanders.
The team was able to collect almost a dozen Pacific Giant Salamanders, Dicamptodons, but the largest was only 11 ½ inches long, a far cry from the reported 8 foot length associated with the mysterious Trinity Alps Giant Salamander. Rogers, who was deeply skeptical from the beginning, hoped that this evidence, or lack there of, would put to rest any rumors about Giant Salamanders in the Trinity Mountains.
Rogers’ official 1962 debunking of the Giant Salamander seemed to end most zoological interest in the creature, that is until 1997 when the Kyle Mizokami Trinity Alps Giant Salamanders Expedition was established. Mizokami, a Japanese American writer, put aside his research on American Indian legends, including Bigfoot, to hunt for The Trinity Alps Giant Salamander. As with similar ventures, including that of Tom Slick, Mizokami returned with no evidence to support the existence of a Giant Salamander living in the Trinity Mountians.
Kyle Mizokami’s expedition was the last mainstream project to research and seek out proof of the Trinity Alps Giant Salamander and to this day no physical evidence has been found to support the existence of such a creature. It has been noted that these Giant Salamanders may be related to the Megalobatrachus of Japan and China which belongs to the family Cryptobrachus. The largest known North American salamander belongs to this same family and is known as the Hellbender. The Hellbender can grow to 22 inches long, much smaller than the reported size of the Trinity Alps Giant Salamander.
The Evidence As stated above no physical evidence to support the existence of the Trinity Alps Giant Salamander has been found to date.
The Sightings During the 1920’s Frank L. Griffith reports seeing 5 Giant Salamanders ranging from 5 to 9 feet in length in the Trinity Alps’ New River.
In 1939 Thomas L. Rodgers reportedly had the opportunity to study a Giant Salamander caught in the Sacramento River. No other specimens could be located however and the creature is still considered to not exist by modern science.
In the 1940’s Vern Harden of Pioneer California claimed that he saw nearly a dozen Giant Salamanders in the remote Hubbard Lake.
- Classification: Amphibian
- Size: 5 to 8 feet
- Weight: Unknown
- Diet: Similar to known salamander species, the Trinity Alps Giant Salamander is though to eat aquatic plants, invertebrates and sometimes small mammals like mice.
- Location: California, United States of America
- Movement: 4 legged walking and swimming
- Environment: Mountain Rivers and lakes.