Every June, I used to attend an annual event known as the Mono Basin Bird Chautauqua. This event consisted of lectures, workshops, and field trips devoted to birds and other nature-related topics in the Mono Lake area. It was one of the least likely places for a ghost story to take place, but that’s what happened one year.
One summer I was staying at a motel in Mammoth Lakes, which was just down the road from Mono Lake. On Friday and Saturday nights, it meant a long drive through the darkened desert and mountains, but it was worth the trip. There wasn’t much out there but mule deer and coyotes, and I got an appreciation for the overhead stars.
That Saturday, my mother and I were just coming back from an evening lecture. It was pitch dark outside, as there weren’t any artificial lights along that part of the highway. We were just entering the area that climbs out of the Mono Basin toward the south entrance of the June Lake Loop, a steep section of highway surrounded on two sides by lava cliffs.
There was no moon out, which meant it was darker than usual. I scanned the road for any wildlife crossing the highway and was going a little slower than usual because I didn’t want to hit anything. That’s when I happened to glance to my rearview mirror and saw flashing red and blue lights.
“What in the world?” I muttered.
I certainly wasn’t speeding, so why would a cop car be flashing its lights. Furthermore, where did it come from in the first place? Did the car pull out from a shoulder that I missed? Whatever had happened, there was a cop car in my rearview mirror, and it was very close.
I thought it was odd because I didn’t see it approach from anywhere along the highway. It certainly didn’t come from a distance, or I would’ve seen it coming. As far as I could tell, it had simply appeared only a few feet from my back bumper, and the driver clearly meant business.
Of course I pulled over and waited. Perhaps I had a tail light out or something else was wrong. But the cop car never pulled up behind me, nor did it pass me. In fact, the lights had disappeared and there was no sign of the vehicle anywhere.
“That’s strange,” I remarked. “There’s no place it could’ve gone.”
That portion of the road had no pull-offs. It was nothing but lava cliffs and there was no place a car could’ve gone unless it turned around and drove the wrong way, and if it had, I’d be able to see it leaving. When I climbed out of my pickup truck and looked around, there was no sign of departing lights behind us, and nothing drove past us. There weren’t even distant head or taillights.
I know I saw a cop car in my mirrors. It wasn’t just the rearview mirror, it was in the side mirrors as well. Though I did find it weird that Mom didn’t see the lights. She simply asked me what was wrong.
As I got back in the truck and drove off toward Mammoth Lakes, I realized there was something strange about that patrol vehicle. The car was white and boxy, like one that was around in the 1980s. The light bar on the top was large, with red, white, and blue blocks and a speaker in the middle, also like the cars of the 1980s.
All of a sudden my drive to Mammoth Lakes took on a creepy air. I drove to the motel and thought about it for the rest of the night, but I was no closer to an explanation than I had been when it first happened. I decided I would have to investigate tomorrow.
I tried to repeat the process the next night, just to make sure I didn’t see a weird reflection and had my mind fill in the blanks. No flashing lights appeared and there was nothing that could’ve suggested them. All I saw was a dark, empty highway.
I began asking around to see if anyone else ever saw anything weird on that stretch of highway, but no one had any stories to tell. Certainly there had been no wrecks involving patrol vehicles in the area, whether in the 1980s or any other time. This only deepened my mystery.
Today I wonder about that case. What did I see in the middle of the night? Was it really a ghost car or was there a more logical explanation? Was it some kind of strange reflection? Was I just tired and seeing things after a long day of hiking and lectures? Did I a real cop car that somehow turned around? To this day, I have no answers. It was just another of those strange stories that happens in the desert in the middle of the night.