Bigfoot Encounters

Hunt for Bigfoot near Trinity River

John Flinn, Chronicle Staff Writer - - Sunday, August 24, 2008

Willow Creek, Humboldt County -- Somewhere in the wilds of the Siskiyou Mountains, a hulking, ill-kempt, apelike creature should be on the lookout for that dreaded letter from the AARP. Yes, it's true: Bigfoot is about to turn 50.

Or, to put it more precisely (if less fancifully), the phenomenon of Bigfoot is hitting the half-century mark.

In 1958, not far from here, a man from Willow Creek discovered the first size-15 footprints in the mud. Wildlife biologists, scoop-hungry reporters, crypto zoologists, psychics, New Age shaman and even big-game hunters have been combing the wooded mountains ever since. They've turned up more footprints - lots and lots of footprints - and a few other intriguing bits of evidence, but no one has been able to produce definitive, unassailable proof that the creature exists.

Still, several communities claim Bigfoot as their native son - none with a louder voice than Willow Creek, a tiny town overlooking the Trinity River on Highway 299, 40 minutes east of Arcata. It's home to the Bigfoot Museum, the Bigfoot Motel and the Bigfoot Golf & Country Club, and was the site of the 2003 International Bigfoot Symposium.

Why now? Willow Creek will be staging its annual Bigfoot Days celebration Saturday through Sept. 1, with a likely appearance by the big guy himself, or at least a guy in a really cool Bigfoot costume. One possible guest is a woman identified as "Bigfoot's baby mama" by the Weekly World News.

The back story: Stories of a big, apelike beast called Sasquatch circulated in the Pacific Northwest long before white settlers arrived. Then, on Aug. 27, 1958, a bulldozer operator named Jerry Crew stumbled upon a set of eerily large footprints next to a U.S. Forest Service road he was building near Bluff Creek. Andrew Genzoli, a columnist for the Humboldt Times, coined the name "Bigfoot," and suddenly Northern California had its own version of the Loch Ness monster.

Nine years later, two other men from Willow Creek, Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin, were searching in the same area and shot the famous home movie that depicts, depending on your point of view, either Bigfoot or a person in a cheesy Bigfoot costume. The 53-second clip has been analyzed nearly as thoroughly as the Zapruder film, and whatever your conclusion, there are dozens of "experts" who will back you up.


Al Hodgson, who used to own the town variety store, holds a plaster cast of the print he discovered. John Flinn/The San Francisco Chronicle

In the decades that followed, there have been recurrent whispers in Willow Creek of Bigfoot sightings. But 84-year-old Al Hodgson, retired owner of the town's variety store, says encounters are more common than is publicly known.

"If you say you've seen Bigfoot, people make fun
of you," he said. "A lot of people hold back, keep it to themselves."

He's never encountered the big beast himself, but Hodgson has found several sets of footprints, which he preserved with plaster casts. They're now on display at the town's Bigfoot Museum.

Checking in: In a town where a funky 1950s motel used to be the best you could hope for, Coho Cottages offer handsomely luxe lodging at reasonable prices. Built by local rafting guides Marc and Londa Rowley on a bluff above the river, the large, stylish, brand-new freestanding cottages have screened-in porches with Adirondack chairs and gas grills; large walk-in showers with rain showerheads; whirlpool tubs; fluffy pillow-top beds with high-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets; gas fireplaces with sitting areas; and larger-than-normal kitchenettes. The photos on the Web site don't come close to doing this place justice.

Spend your day: Start your day shopping for delectable fruits and vegetables at Trinity River Farm, a '70s commune now being managed as a traditional farm by Molly O'Gorman, the founder's daughter. Then head over to the Bigfoot Museum, also known as the Willow Creek-China Flat Museum. The Bigfoot wing is in the back, and there you'll find lots of plaster footprints, a few strands of alleged Bigfoot hair, a tiny chunk of Bigfoot's alleged Achilles tendon, lots of newspaper clippings and a couple of films. On the way out, stop at the front desk to buy Bigfoot cookies, "Bigfoot crossing" signs, Bigfoot shot glasses, Bigfoot coffee mugs, Bigfoot jelly, Bigfoot T-shirts and ... well, you get the idea. In the afternoon, go for a whitewater rafting trip on the Trinity River, keeping an eye out, of course, for Bigfoot lounging on the riverbank.

Dining: There aren't a lot of choices in Willow Creek. Those staying at the Coho Cottages might want to barbecue. In town, the best place for lunch and dinner is Cinnabar Sam's, a convivial burger-and-steak joint with lots of whimsical bric-a-brac on the walls and ceiling.

Don't miss: The chance to buy a genuine replica Bigfoot plaster footprint at the Bigfoot Museum.

Don't bother: Looking for a country-style breakfast in downtown Willow Creek on weekdays. Curiously, none of the restaurants serves it. You can find breakfast, we're told, at the Bigfoot Golf & Country Club every day, and at Cinnabar Sam's on weekends.

Word to the wise: Many of those who've encountered Bigfoot say the creature stinks like rotting garbage. So don't just look with your eyes; use your nose, too.

If you go


From Arcata, north of Eureka, head east on Highway 299 for about 40 minutes.


Coho Cottages, (800) 722-2223,  Spacious, modern, well-appointed cottages with screened porches run from $135 to $190 a night. One cabin is ADA-compliant.


Cinnabar Sam's, on Highway 299 at the east end of town. Burgers for two with beers, $35. (530) 629-3437.


Bigfoot Days run from Saturday to Sept. 1 in downtown Willow Creek, with a parade, live music, a disc golf tournament and appearances by various Bigfoot experts. Saturday is the big day.

Trinity River Farm, 2443 Highway 96, about 2 1/2 miles from downtown Willow Creek. (530) 629-3200, .

The Willow Creek-China Flat Bigfoot Museum (38949 Highway 299, 530-629-2653, is open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., May through October, and by appointment at other times. Admission is free.

Bigfoot Rafting Co., (800) 722-2223,  Full-day whitewater trips on the Trinity River, $85; half-day trips, $59.


Humboldt County Convention & Visitors Bureau, (800) 346-3482,

Willow Creek Chamber of Commerce, (800) 628-5156,
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John Flinn is executive editor of Travel. To comment, visit and follow the links. This article appeared on page E - 7 of the San Francisco Chronicle 

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