Field Report By Todd Neiss, 2002
returned from a historic journey to Bluff Creek California
If ever there existed an icon for the elusive beast known alternately as Sasquatch or Bigfoot, it would undoubtedly be the 352nd frame of the 16 mm film produced by Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin back in 1967 in northern California. In 35 years, no evidence, in any format (photos, tracks, hair, dung, etc.), has intrigued both believers and skeptics alike. That being established, the very ground on which the famed creature strode remains unarguably the "Mecca" to those adventurers who pursue these giant beings. That place is located in the rugged interior of California's Sixes River National Forest, north of the mountain redoubt of Orleans. Not far from the headwaters of Bluff Creek lies the exact location where, on that fateful day, Roger and Bob flushed out the unwary female Sasquatch as she squatted along the banks of the freshet. The following is my personal account of what I believe will be considered, not only as a personal highlight as a researcher, but a historic venture as well.
As far back as April, I was contacted by Peter Byrne as to my interest in participating in a documentary being filmed at Bluff Creek on (or near) the 35th anniversary of what has become commonly known as the Patterson-Gimlin (P-G) film site. I had a vague recollection of such a venture as I had previously rented my home on Mount Hood, Oregon to the director and his assistant Alec in the winter of 2001-2002. Without hesitation, I graciously signed on to was to become a truly fulfilling experience as a dedicated researcher in the phenomenon. The object was to gather a group of noted researchers together for a historical gathering at the original film site in an attempt to pinpoint the exact location of the creature's path (more difficult than I imagined). The director's intention was to record this search as it unfolded.
The participants were to rendezvous at Louse Camp, situated along Bluff Creek some 1.5 miles downstream from the film site. It was at this very camp, some nine years prior to the film, that Tom Slick bankrolled the now famous "Pacific Northwest Expedition" back in 1958...nine years BEFORE the P-G film! This was a rare instance in which John Green, Rene Dahinden and Peter Byrne worked together (along with Bob Titmus, Ed Patrick,Kirk Johnson, Tom Slick and Gerri Walsh (Tom's secretary). The first to arrive were Blake "Buck" Eckard and his assistant Alek from Missouri. Not far behind was Joe Beelart (author of "The Great Sasquatch Conspiracy") from West Linn, Oregon. Joe had carried the bulk of the camp gear in his truck and graciously agreed to set up the camp. I drove in on my own from Vancouver, Washington. Peter and his associate Rick arrived via commuter plane in Eureka, California on the Pacific coast. Ron Morehead and Al Berry (creators of the "Sierra Sounds" recordings) flew in from Mariposa, California on Ron's private plane. The Cameraman (another Joe) and his assistant joined late Friday night and rounded out the group.
My journey took me down the I-5 corridor to an exit just six miles south of the Oregon-California border. There, I took the scenic Jefferson Highway which follows the Klamath River as it courses westward through the rugged northern California Coast Range. As I passed the remote hamlets of Salmon River, Happy Camp and Sommes Bar, I was taken by the absolute beauty of the surrounding forests. All along the way, one couldn't help but observe a number of Bigfoot references (i.e.. Bigfoot towing, Bigfoot Car Wash, etc.). It was then that I knew I was getting close to THE place. Upon entering the town of Orleans (population 120), I noticed a small forest fire just outside of town. Helicopters, tankers and a spotting plane swarmed over the blaze and soon had it quickly under control. My concern was whether I could still access the "Go Road" (15N01) as it is known by the locals. After conferring with the local ranger station, I was assured that it would not be affected by the blaze.
I left the highway 96 on the western outskirts of Orleans turning north on 15N01 for approximately 23 miles where upon I made a left turn onto the Lonesome ridge Road (13N01). From there the road becomes somewhat dicey as it is littered with rocks ranging from the size of tennis balls to watermelons. As I was driving a small front-wheel drive Saturn sedan, it took every ounce of my concentration to dodge these obstacles and simply keep on the roadway...such as it was. Lonesome Ridge courses southwesterly for about 10 miles where it veers to the South at Blue Creek Mountain (where Rene Dahinden and John Green cast a number of tracks). At that point, I turned left on 12N10 heading east. It should be noted that the roads thus far basically followed the 4,000-4,500 foot ridges the frame the Bluff Creek Basin. The road at this point (12N10) becomes a very step serpentine decent down to the basin floor. In less than three miles, I found myself loosing about 2,000 feet of elevation! This series of switch-backs is not only littered with psoriatic rock falls, but is bounded by extremely steep drop-offs. Between the blinding sunlight, rock pylons and sharp curves, there was little doubt as to how Daniel Perez's motorhome wound up leaving the roadway in his unfortunate and fiery accident a few years back. I doubt that I would have had the courage to so much as even attempt to maneuver such a large vehicle down that careening path.
Upon reaching the river bottom, I breathed a sigh of relief and loosed my death-grip from my steering wheel. A quick right turn and I found myself staring at a brown sign with white lettering reading "Louse Lamp" (so named due to a major lice infestation that plagued the former prospecting camp in the late 19th century). It was at this very spot that the "Pacific Northwest Expedition" (a.k.a. the "Slick Expedition") set up their base camp some 44 years ago (and some nine years before Patterson & Gimlin would get their lucky break). A prelude to the expedition, was the repeated discovery of giant five-toed footprints left amongst heavy equipment used by Gerry Crew and his fellow road builders in 1958. Theirs were not the first, nor the last, tracks to be discovered in the area.
I drove on into the camp, greeted my comrades, then set about unloading my gear into the tent I had sent ahead with Joe. Save but for Peter's guest, introductions were not necessary. Peter and Ron were both members of my duration team during my 1998 expedition, dubbed "Entice Contact II" (or EC2 for short), situated at the base of Saddle Mountain in Oregon's coastal temperate rain forest for eight days. I had also worked with Peter on several television projects since 1994. Joe Beelart and I have collaborated on numerous treks, investigations and camp outs for several years now and I consider him a great friend indeed. Al Berry and I had met on two occasions prior and have corresponded from time to time. As mentioned before, I have known Blake and Alec for about three years and have assisted them on their film project for much of that time (which has included the same cameraman and his assistant). So it was, that I felt quite at home and in good company when I arrived.
Once unpacked, Joe and I took a walk up the road where he pointed out a bridge over nearby Notice Creek (a tributary of Bluff Creek) with the date 1958 clearly cast into the concrete guardrail. At that moment, I couldn't help but visualize Gerry Crew and his coworkers staring wide-eyed at the gargantuan foot prints that they may have witnessed on this very spot at that time. Surely the same type of concrete that was used in the bridge's construction was the same as they used to cast numerous tracks in the area. As a side note, several years ago (1995?) I was contacted by the granddaughter of Mr. Crew who told me that her grandpa had claimed top have coined the name "Bigfoot" and that her father still retained several of the original concrete tracks in their garage.
Friday was spent discovering (or rediscovering in Peter's case) the surrounding area. While the film crew scouted out suitable panoramic vantages (no shortage of those), other members sought access to the original film site. Up until then, we did not know whether or not we would be hiking into the site. Spirits were buoyed at news that, with a 4x4 vehicle, the group could drive right to the very site. That night we enjoyed a great meal of lasagna cooked over two side-by-side camp stoves. As with every night, good conversation and rounded out the crystal clear night. Anticipation ran high as we all were eager to make our "pilgrimage" to the P-G site the following day.
Saturday greeted us with bright blue skies, a virtual phenomenon in October and which held throughout the entire camp out. After a light breakfast of hard-boiled eggs and poppy-seed muffins, Blake decided to do some preliminary filming of Peter and I down at Bluff Creek which skirted Louse Camp (some 2 miles downstream from the P-G site). We had only been down at the creek a few minutes when a large American bald eagle swooped down through our little gorge. While this happened too quickly to get on film, I saw this as a good omen of what was to come.
At around 11am, we boarded the vehicles and embarked on our journey to the P-G site in hopes of identifying the exact location of that now famous episode 35 years prior. Heading west on forest road 12N13, we rapidly gained about 2,000 feet of elevation in little time. Although the P-G site was a mere 2 miles upstream from Louse Camp, it took at least 20 minutes to reach the site as we had to first ascend to the summit of the ridge just south of the site before making a somewhat harrowing decent back down into the steep canyon. A word of caution to those who plan accessing the site in the future: the road is quite steep (especially near the bottom), strewn large rocks, and punctuated with numerous swales for water drainage. Do not attempt to access the site without four-wheel drive and use extreme caution during the wet season! And under no circumstances should one venture down there on your own.
We finally arrived at the end of the road which consisted of a wide sandy flat where we parked our vehicles and dismounted. A large nesting box stationed atop a 20 foot pole (ostensibly for the use of wood ducks) served as a landmark. Time and nature has taken it's toll over the years. The very stream itself has shifted nearly 50 feet to the North, burying much of the site under 10 feet of silt and debris. Once stout trees have fallen victim to ravages of 35 years of cyclical flooding. Had it not been for some original photographs which Peter had brought, it would have been nearly impossible to identify the site. But, within roughly 15 minutes, we had located the large Douglas fir seen in the background to the left of the creature in frame #352. This giant tree cants slightly to the right and now serves as a lonely sentinel to this historic spot. The large stump (with a sharp break to it's left side) seen between the large fir and the creature was also used to corroborate that we indeed had relocated the film site. As for the large downed tree seen in the film that separated Roger and the creature...it was long buried. As I cannot speak for the others, I can only say that for me, I was overwhelmed with a sense of awe and respect. Not only for what Roger and Bob accomplished the autumn day, but for the creature itself. The spirit of Patty truly permeated this sacred ground. We wrapped up the filming and, after taking a group photo, we boarded the vehicles for the ascent from Bluff Creek and returned to camp satisfied that we had accomplished what we had came to do.
That night, we all sat around the campfire and enjoyed a delicious venison stew I had brought (courtesy of a rather unfortunate 4-point mule deer I had shot less than two weeks prior in Central Oregon). As the evening wore on, we shared our differing theories and long-winded stories which only a good old-fashioned campfire can elicit. Peter had been taunting us all day regarding a humorous tale involving the late Bob Titmus and his unceremonious departure from the Slick Expedition. After some prodding, and a few "imbibements," Peter relented. His story follows...
During one of Titmus' scouting trips, he stumbled upon what could only be described as a "giant pile of dung" in the middle of nowhere. This was not just a single stool, but a long-term repository which a large animal was obviously frequenting on a regular basis. Peter went on to say that such behavior is not entirely unheard of in the animal kingdom as rhinoceros display that very characteristic. Thinking that he had discovered "Bigfoot's privy," Bob returned to camp and summoned Tom Slick to accompany him back to the site to validate his find. After a difficult ascent through thick brush, they finally arrived at the spot. Tom himself became excited at the sight of this massive pile of feces and began to think of what it could represent to the expedition. Just then, they were both surprised to hear the sound of heavy footsteps approaching their location! Could this be the chance that they had been hoping for? They withdrew into the brush to await the long anticipated arrival of their elusive quarry. To their amazement, an elderly Hoopa Indian came ambling up the hill on the back of his trusted steed. After tying the horse to a nearby tree, he turned to see two wide-eyed white men staring back at him. One of the men asked him what he was doing up there, to which he replied that he had been coming to this spot on a regular basis to gather spices for nearly 40 years. At that point, Tom asked, "I don't suppose you tie your horse to that same tree every time do you?" The old Indian replied, Yes. Why do you ask?" Upon hearing his reply, the two adventurers turned and left. Peter went on to say that, after a rather long and silent trek back to camp, Bob quietly packed his gear and left camp...never to return. This was just one of numerous great stories shared around the campfire which I will treasure forever.
In retrospect, the entire trip was a resounding success. Good food, good weather, and good company all converged to make for a very memorable adventure which can never be replaced. To have the good fortune of being in that historical place, at that historical time, in the company of my fellow friends and research colleagues was something that I will never forget.
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