The Legend & Unique Formation Of El Paso’s Thunderbird Mountain
The Thunderbird legend spans hundreds of years across the country, but its unique silhouette along the Franklin Mountains is unlike anything on earth.
The Thunderbird legend is not unique to El Paso; actually, the Native American legend of the Thunderbird spans generations across the continent and tells the tale of an enormous featherless bird that is both highly feared and revered by the people in their respective regions.
The Thunderbird is a legendary creature that is part of North American indigenous peoples' oral history and culture across the American Southwest, Pacific Northwest Coast, and Southeastern part of the United States.
North American Indian mythology considered the bird a supernatural being of power and strength, especially here in El Paso, where a natural and mysterious anomaly of what appears to be the silhouette of a Thunderbird presently still lies near the Franklin Mountain range.
Thunderbird Mountain gets its name from the natural formation of red clay or rhyolite band along the mountain in what looks to be the image of a Thunderbird. Rhyolite is an igneous, volcanic rock of silica-rich composition and made up of quartz and feldspar crystals that can range in color from a light gray to a pinkish reddish hue.
The immense reddish Thunderbird formed centuries ago along the mountainside in West El Paso and is still visible today. It is most noticeable when the sun hits it just right, showing off its outstretched wings and head turned to one side, facing west.
Legend has it that the mystical and massive bird could control the weather, loomed over the mountain tops, and snapped up man as its prey using its huge talons.
According to various oral traditions, the magical bird was said to stir up violent thunderstorms when it hunted and flashed lighting from its beak or eyes. At the same time, one flap of its gigantic wings would create rolling thunderclaps.
El Paso is notorious for having some terrifying lighting and thunderstorms, so I can see how the fabled connection of the Thunderbird legend emerged, especially after seeing the unmistakable outline of the bird on the mountainside.
According to the book Spirits of the Border: The History and Mystery of El Paso del Norte by Ken Hudnall and Connie Wang, a Thunderbird survived attacks by Indians, who nevertheless managed to imprison it alive in its cave and also issued a warning for future generations saying:
Woe be unto him who frees the Thunderbird, for he will be responsible for death and destruction far beyond anything mankind has yet experienced.
Throughout history, the mythical Thunderbird symbol has appeared on totem poles, pottery, petroglyphs, and carvings. In today's modern age, Thunderbird Mountain in El Paso has served as the inspiration for local businesses such as the now-defunct Thunderbird Lanes and as Coronado High School's T-Bird mascot.
While the Thunderbird legend may have been born from folklore, its distinctive natural imprint along the side of the Franklin Mountains makes us wonder if the fabled stories may have indeed been true at one point in time. Real or not, there is no denying that the formation of Thunderbird Mountian in El Paso, TX is one of Mother Nature's most spectacular natural wonders.