We went into the California redwoods with the sasquatch-stalking stars of Finding Bigfoot. Guys, you ain’t seen nothing Yeti…
The ’Squatch Men
The Sasquatch—better known as Bigfoot—has both fascinated and eluded humanity for decades. A North American cousin to Asia’s equally mythical Yeti, these giant ape creatures are only ever seen in grainy video footage or family movies starring John Lithgow. Most say Sasquatches don’t exist. Others, like Matt Moneymaker, James “Bobo” Fay, Cliff Barackman, and Ranae Holland, the team members of Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot, think they do. Scratch that, know they do. That’s why I’m in the far reaches of Northern California to meet up with them. The team investigates claims of Bigfoot sightings all over North America, and tonight they’re hoping to prove to me that Bigfoots are very real.
“There’s a feeling that, because Sasquatches are in the wild, they should be seen often, and there should be all kinds of great photos,” says Moneymaker. “I think the assumption people make is that because there aren’t any good photos, they don’t exist.” Even though I’m not sure at this point if these guys are misunderstood geniuses or a pack of lunatics, their conviction and enthusiasm for the topic are contagious, and I find myself itching to get into the woods.
At 10 p.m. we finally reach our lodging—a series of cabins alongside a desolate stretch of highway somewhere near Eureka, California. (I’ve promised to keep the exact location secret.) Despite its old-timey exterior, inside the cabin is stuffed with all kinds of gadgets for Sasquatch tracking. While the group gears up (Holland isn’t present tonight), Cliff explains the physical characteristics of Bigfoots: They’re nearly 10 feet tall, almost always have a red tint to their hair, and move at the speed of a flash. “What they’ve found with Sasquatch feet is that the ankle bone is shifted forward on the foot, so it needs less force to propel a great mass,” he explains.
This may be a lot of Ghostbusters-style mumbo jumbo, but he sure sounds convincing, and I find myself nodding, impressed. As we bundle up and strap the night-vision scopes to our skulls, preparing to brave the dark woods, Bobo briefs us on the greater goals of Bigfoot field research. “The next step in ’squatching,” he says emphatically, “is to get more hot chicks involved.” Moneymaker nods thoughtfully before replying, “That’s always been the next step!”
We dodge a few large SUVs while crossing the pitch-black highway and then follow the rocky path on Lost Man Creek Trail. Bobo, who has been coming to this part of the Redwoods since the ’80s, tells us not to wander from the group: Besides being known for Sasquatch sightings, the area is inhabited by mountain lions and shotgun-toting marijuana farmers, protecting their crops from midnight attacks. “I ran into a mountain lion a while back. It would have attacked me, too, but it was too afraid of Monkey,” he grins, pointing at the faithful mutt who accompanies him at all times.
Howling at the Moon
A mile into the woods, the group decides to try some Bigfoot howls. Howls are believed to be made by large male Sasquatches, which many Bigfoot field researchers claim to have captured on audio. They mimic these calls at different points along the trail, hoping that, combined with bashing baseball bats against trees, this will lure the beasts out of hiding. Cliff, an expert in howls, cups his hands around his mouth and lets off the kind of sound you’d expect to hear from a German shepherd trapped beneath a closing garage door. Bobo answers with his own call—a roar that sounds like he’s just found a horse’s head in his bed.
A bearded law-school grad who acts as the team’s semiofficial leader, Moneymaker has an unshakable faith in the existence of these creatures. Having fallen for Bigfooting while attending UCLA in the ’80s, he founded the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO) in 1995 and has been leading expeditions into the woods for more than a decade. “I think Bigfoots are offshoots of a line of apes called wood apes,” he enthuses. “They were the largest ape species that ever lived. There are fossils of them called Gigantopithecus. There are so many consistencies with what people describe when they see Bigfoots.
These animals are surviving remnants of that line.” Science buff and former schoolteacher Cliff agrees. “When Sasquatches are recognized, I think it might level the playing field for all the ape species, including humans. We’re not as special as we think we are. We’re apes, just like the others.” Despite spending more than 200 days a year conducting field research, Cliff has never seen a Sasquatch. But he’s a true believer just the same. Bobo, a surf-punk dude and former logger in this region, caught the Bigfoot bug after watching the 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film that supposedly depicts a female Bigfoot, which was shot about two hours from here. He knows the local terrain like the back of his hand, but his secondary role is almost more crucial: keeping the group hydrated with his endless supply of locally brewed pale ales.
Moneymaker starts to run ahead of us, and I hustle to catch up, running along the dark, uneven trail and stopping randomly to try and spot him with the nightscope. After a few near misses with low branches, I manage to find him. Has he ever actually seen one of these things in person? “Many times. I had one come pretty close and throw a big old rock at us in Kentucky,” he nods, moving briskly through the woods. “I understand it’s really hard to believe they could be there until you’ve seen one or heard one.”
After three hours in the woods, Moneymaker and I find ourselves standing at a fork in the road, staring up into the vast Pacific sky, an endless mass of stars above us. We’ve seen a ton of cows, a Legend of Bigfoot gift shop, a full moon, and now the Milky Way on this trip, but no sign of any gigantic upright ape-men. With Cliff and Bobo nowhere in sight, I suddenly realize I’m in a position no man ever wants to be: alone in the woods with a stranger, on a crazy wild goose chase. I’m considering making my excuses and leaving—and then we hear something. It sounds like an angry burp, distant but clear enough to be deciphered. Moneymaker turns, wide-eyed.
“Did you hear that?” he whispers. “That wasn’t an owl, and it certainly wasn’t a bear!” I did hear it, and I have to admit it made me tremble. We stand dumbfounded, unsure if what we heard was Bigfoot or psychosis. When they catch up with us, Bobo and Cliff say they haven’t made any calls since their initial attempts, which means: Either there’s a Sasquatch out there, or there’s an elk with serious indigestion.
Moneymaker vanishes again, but by now the rest of us are tired, cold, and fearing the onset of athlete’s foot. It’s been a valiant effort, but none of us are really sure what we’d do if we did run into a Sasquatch anyway. Common sense told me I wasn’t going to see anything, and it was right. But it’s no consolation for my hopeful heart as we march back to the cabins. Alas, the non-giant-ape-creature world awaits, and the next day I have to head back home. Yo, Sasquatch, if you’re reading this, hit me up on Twitter or something.
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