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A big step: The search for Sasquatch

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By Pamela Lawson

Editor’s note: Scout around Google Earth these days, and you might be astonished by what you find — such as the report by a man who claimed he spotted bigfoot between Kittredge and Indian Hills in 1974. He was a boy at the time, hiking with his brothers and the family dog. The incident scared him so badly he nearly choked the dog to death with its leash while climbing a tree. In America, in recent times, there have been more than 3,000 reported sightings of Sasquatch — described as a large apelike creature with human characteristics that walks on two legs.ee Ninety-five of those sightings have been in Colorado, with at least 10 reports in Jefferson, Clear Creek and Park counties.eeWhich begs the question: Does the legendary Sasquatch walk among us here in the Centennial State?

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Keith Foster was fishing a beaver pond with his sons in the San Juan Mountains one June evening in 1993 when he heard an indescribable sound.

It was loud and intimidating, something between a roar and a scream. A sound the seasoned bow hunter had never heard before.

Foster deemed it too dangerous to investigate that night — not with his sons in tow and not without a firearm. He waited until morning, when he could track the creature alone.

Foster, 42, and his family had been visiting that area of southwestern Colorado, 70 miles south of Crestone, for 14 years. He had tracked many animals deep in the San Juan wilderness and had never crossed paths with another human being.

His parents, in their mid-60s, were often the first to arrive at the cabin compound where the family stayed. And, three years earlier, they had told Foster an astonishing tale. They had seen a huge apelike creature standing next to a cabin when they arrived in the spring of 1990. It was at least 8 feet tall, and it ran like a man.

Foster, who works as a director of noxious weed mitigation for a neighboring state, had shrugged off the story, assuming his parents had seen a bear.

But the 20 big footprints Foster found the morning after that unforgettable scream in 1993 caused him to reluctantly join the ranks of thousands who have found indications that, in modern times, an ancient species — possibly the legendary Sasquatch — could still exist.

“I have spent over 300 days in that part of the wilderness,” Foster said June 5. “I have been a bow hunter 30 years ee I am a pretty good tracker. I can tell the difference between a bear, deer, lion and Sasquatch.”

Meanwhile, a sighting as close as Bailey — and as recent as last month — brings this big controversy very close to home.

Local sightings

The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization began collecting reports like Foster’s around 1995. It is a virtual community of scientists and specialists from diverse backgrounds who hope to demystify the bigfoot phenomenon.

The BFRO website includes roughly 300 reported sightings of similar creatures in other countries. And it lists more than 200 articles posted on the topic over the last eight years, including an alleged news account from the London-based Daily Universal Register in 1786 that tells of a wild man — discovered by shepherds near Essex — who was very tall with hair like a bear.

Reports the organization receives are often presented to forensic specialists for evaluation, according the BFRO website. Representatives of the organization have created a three-level classification system — from clear sightings to possible sightings or signs, to third-hand reports. Researchers then take steps to verify the credibility of the information they receive before posting it.

One “A-rated” report came from a witness traveling south on U.S. 285 toward Jefferson, near the back road to Kenosha Pass, during the winter of 2002. The cabinetmaker and his wife were driving slowly on a snowy night when they were dumbstruck by the sight of a “very dark body with large head and huge hands (that) crossed the highway in a smooth, fluid motion, paying no mind to the vehicles coming in either direction.”

Another report came in 2000 from a man named “Neal” in Clear Creek County. He reported seeing a “large, hairy, brown and black animal” while hiking with a friend near Loveland Pass. The men watched the creature move through the brush in a “long, loping, two-legged gate.”

And there was the report from a 53-year-old professor who was picnicking in Jefferson County at Wellington Lake south of Buffalo Creek in the summer of 1978. She was there with her husband and children when she saw a “bipedal creature with white fur” step out from behind a boulder. When she told her husband to look in the direction of the animal, it ducked behind the rock. It continued that behavior, rising up and dipping behind the rock each time he tried to see it, exhibiting what appeared to be “human-like” behavior, the woman later reported from her home in California.

The woman had once lived in Colorado and was familiar with the wildlife here, she said. But this creature, which was fast and light on its feet, was like no others she had ever seen.

“I am perfectly sane,” the woman wrote in her report to the BFRO, noting that she had a master's degree in education. “I am the type of person that has my feet set directly into the earth. In other words, I don't believe in anything I can't see, not even God. I don't take drugs, and I didn't take drugs then, either, nor did I drink alcohol.”

Then she added: “I would like to know if anybody else has seen this creature or a creature similar to it?”

Crazy by association

Even Native American cultures have stories of non-human wild “peoples.”

But modern-day sightings of Sasquatch in beef jerky commercials or televised bigfoot explorations on networks that also explore haunted houses or the mysterious Bermuda Triangle continue to distance the creature from reality.

About a third of the reports to the BFRO often go unlisted on its website because people are afraid to say publicly what they saw, Colorado BFRO investigator Dennis Pfohl said.

“A lot of people go through a state of shock and denial,” he explained. “A lot are government employees — forestry workers, firemen, police officers who have a tendency to have a higher rate of sightings on back roads but they fear for their jobs, lifestyles and reputations.”

In 2006, Jeff Meldrum, a professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University, was willing to stake his reputation on the topic by releasing the book “Sasquatch — Legend Meets Science.” It was a chance for the author to take a closer look at the evidence in a field where hoaxes are prevalent.

Meldrum’s research has been difficult for some scientific reviewers to accept, he said. Some rejected it outright when he submitted what he believed to be scientific evidence for publication.

“It’s rejected irrationally, and I find that curious, amusing and distressing,” Meldrum said. “This whole process has been a real eye-opener for me. ee Scientists are subject to the foibles of human nature as much as any other community of people out there. There is prejudice, bias, agendas, egos and ambition — all those things that unfortunately all too often get in the way of objective scientific investigation.”

Meldrum was part of a team of experts from various scientific fields interviewed for a Discovery Channel special about the topic in 2003. Afterward, producer Doug Hajicek and his friend, Michael Hsu, approached Meldrum to write the book, Hsu said last week.

“We just want people to think. We wanted to help generate interest to solve the mystery,” Hsu said. “I am not saying I am a true believer. But I know people once didn’t believe in dinosaurs, and now we have definitive proof. I am just looking for closure.”

The myth and the reality

Michael Hsu was listening to a life science show on Public Radio featuring primatologist Jane Goodall when she “came out of the bigfoot closet,” as he describes it.

Goodall supplied a comment for Meldrum’s book jacket touting the book’s value in bringing scientific analysis to the bigfoot debate. She referenced those she has met from many parts of the world who, “in a matter-of-fact-way,” have told her of their encounters with large, bipedal hominids. While most scientists are not satisfied with existing evidence, she has an “open mind,” she wrote in the book.

Martin Lockley, curator/director of the Fossil Footprint collection at the University of Colorado at Denver, has recently added a few bigfoot casts to his dinosaur track museum. He obtained them from Meldrum last summer after reading his book.

“I think it’s a very interesting phenomenon,” Lockley said June 6. “I do think there is a possibility that a lot of these (footprints) are for real — that they were made by some large bipedal animal.”

Three weeks ago, Meldrum returned from the Hubei Province in China after reviewing large bipedal casts of footprints made there by a game warden in the Shennongjia nature preserve. He also interviewed people who reported sightings. The information will air on an early-fall TV series, he said.

And a colleague of Meldrum’s has begun fieldwork in an unidentified Western state with the goal of obtaining DNA evidence of Sasquatch, thanks to recent funding that will cover about six months of work.

The discovery of a possible humanlike hominid (great ape) would be huge for primatologists, Meldrum believes. And it could also sharpen man’s connection to wild places.

Questionable beginnings

A prankster named Ray Wallace started the “bigfoot” characterization when he reportedly had a friend carve primitive wooden feet to create large footprints near a construction site in Humboldt County, Calif. in 1958. The reasons why he did so vary, according to family and acquaintances.

But scientists like Meldrum, who are experienced in the foot movements of humans and apes, claim the wooden relics are not similar to other alleged Sasquatch casts from that era.

One bit of possible evidence that does exist is the film footage produced by Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin in 1967 of a large hairy creature with long arms and an unusual gate crossing a snowfield in California.

But that did not solve the mystery, either. Some believe the footage depicts an animal unknown to science, while others believe it to be a man in a monkey suit.

Patterson presented the film to scientists in British Columbia and at the Smithsonian, and they could not prove it was a hoax, Meldrum said. But they also could not fathom the possibilities, he said. Soon after, the enthusiasm surrounding it faded.

“It left this void into which the amateur investigator/explorer walked in,” Meldrum said. “Then came the books written by amateurs and researchers.”

Big shoes to fill

Keith Foster didn’t have a way to photograph the footprints he first saw in 1993 after he heard that indescribable scream. And he hardly wanted to report it, having ridiculed his parents about their sighting. But he has since documented the tracks that others have found, and he has written extensive reports on them.

(It is believed by some paleontologists that the Sasquatch could be related to an ancient species named Gigantopithecus that dates back about a million years and may have migrated from Asia to other continents by means of the Bering Strait. Jawbones and teeth discovered in the 1930s and ‘50s substantiate that, some believe.)

BFRO investigator Dennis Pfohl became a believer around 2002 when he and his wife found a footprint near Leadville, and he claims he has since seen Sasquatch in real life.

“They are remarkable. They are masters at what they do and how they live — they avoid and evade.”

Others have been less enthusiastic about alleged encounters.

One hunter who claims he had bigfoot in his sights couldn’t shoot it because it appeared too humanlike; another shot at something and then ran the other way.

Sound specialists have explored the possible comparisons of a Sasqautch creature to a tiger that can stun its prey or ward off intruders with an infrasonic roar.

A Wyoming wildlife biologist and a fish and game officer attempting to track a Sasquatch claim to have experienced a sense of disorientation and nausea to the extent that one of them vomited. Others describe an inexplicable fear.

Which could explain the reaction of the man camping near Bailey three weeks ago who heard something “scream and growl at him.”

“He ended his report with, ‘I will no longer go camping by myself anymore,’ ” Pfohl said.

Is anybody out there?

In May, news reports from Brazil confirmed there are still Amazon tribes that have remained “uncontacted” by modern man. Four of those tribes being monitored by Brazil’s National Indian Foundation (making up about 500 people) roam an area of about 1.6 million acres.

By comparison, the state of Colorado has some 66 million acres, with about 84 percent of the 4.7 million population congregated along the Front Range.

Critics of the topic have no problem challenging the validity of the creature or the monetary reasons behind orchestrated bigfoot expeditions. And hoaxers still exist.

But Pfohl prefers to see things differently.

He has heard stories of bigfoot since he was a child living in California. But he never imagined that there would be reported sightings where he lives in Colorado.

“Everywhere there is consistency, that there is something (out) there,” Pfohl said. “It’s just a matter of a few years ee I think we are going to have enough evidence, and it’s going to be undeniable.”

email Pamela Lawson at www.pamela@evergreenco.com