On the Trail of Bigfoot
Copyright Chicago Tribune 1993
THE TRAIL OF BIGFOOT: TALL TALE OR HUGE CRITTER?"
From one end of Humboldt County to the other, unsuspecting visitors might run into Bigfoot, the legendary ape-man, over and over again.
Tourists can fill up at the Bigfoot gas station in McKinleyville. They can join locals playing nine holes at the Bigfoot Golf & Country Club. And new residents can join the Bigfoot chapter of the Lions Club in Willow Creek.
Since the 1930s more than 120 sightings of the giant mountain-dwelling beast or its tracks have been reported in the dense forests of the Klamath-Siskiyou high country, along the Pacific coast of Northern California.
The creature's existence has never been confirmed by scientists. Nevertheless, people who say they've seen it give similar descriptions: a hairy ape-like being, 300 to 400 pounds, 7 or 8 feet tall and walking upright. It usually shies away from people, but once in a while it is said to play with oil drums, trucks, construction equipment. Property damage has been reported, but not human injury.
Something similar is known in several parts of the world. In Siberia, Bigfoot is called the Yeti or the Abominable Snowman. In British Columbia it's Sasquatch.
But folks in Humboldt County attend their annual Bigfoot Daze festival in Willow Creek-a parade and carnival every Labor Day weekend-confident that they have a more legitimate claim to the legend than anyone else.
It was just north of Willow Creek in 1967 that a Bigfoot buff named Roger Patterson shot a film of the creature referred to as "Marukarar" in the ancient lore of local Indians. There have been more recent Bigfoot films, but Patterson's is still the only one that isn't routinely dismissed as a fake.
Patterson had purposely gone hunting for Bigfoot. His film is about a minute long and was shot from 90 feet away, he said. The beast is seen in a creek bed; it turns and faces the camera, then turns back and walks down the creek and out of view. Patterson described the creature as a female, 7 feet tall, perhaps 350 pounds.
The number of weekend Bigfoot hunters arriving in this town of 1,050 has tapered off since the craze that followed the release of Patterson's film. But an occasional sighting, dutifully reported in the local newspapers, keeps a trickle of tourists heading into the area after they've viewed the 1,000-year-old trees in Redwood National Park to the north.
"The legend is still alive, and we do what we can to promote it," said Dona DePaoli, vice president of the Humboldt County Convention and Visitors Bureau, who has been known to wear hairy Bigfoot slippers at trade shows.
"I'm rather convinced," said Al Hodgson, 69, who sells Bigfoot souvenirs at his department store in Willow Creek, "though I am bothered by the fact that it's been all this time and there's been no concrete proof."
Rumors circulated recently that a state road worker had seen Marukarar but didn't report it to the papers because he was afraid everyone would laugh at him.
Hodgson frequently has gone to the scene of reported Bigfoot sightings and has made about a half-dozen plaster casts of the beast's tracks. One of the casts is sitting in a showcase at the China Flat museum, a small collection of vintage logging equipment and other artifacts run by Hodgson's sister, Judy Chase.
Chase said the sheer number of sightings has her convinced.
"There was a case of a person making fake tracks," Chase said, "but he couldn't go all over and make all those tracks."
On a museum wall is posted a list of all significant Bigfoot sightings in the area since the 1930s. Among them was the time a fellow named Mark Karr said he drove his auto into a tree in September 1975 to avoid hitting a Bigfoot in the road.
Two years earlier, a logging truck driver with slower reflexes said his front grille was badly damaged when he hit a 7-foot Bigfoot near Orick. The beast apparently wasn't hurt enough to be captured.
In June 1962 Robert Hatfield claimed he was knocked down after running smack into the chest of a Bigfoot on the front porch of his cabin. His friend, Bud Jensen, supported his story, and a muddy, 11-inch handprint was found on the cabin's front door.
In 1963 Thomas Sourwine reported that something repeatedly lifted a 300-pound boulder and used it to smash his road-building equipment near Bluff Creek.
In the fall of 1958
a local newspaper editor reported seeing animal droppings so big they
came either from a Bigfoot or "a 2-ton bear."
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