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Media Article # 7

Wednesday, July 19, 2000

Latest Bigfoot sighting might be true - or not

By Tom Stienstra
San Francisco Examiner

Dear Tom,

What did you think about that Bigfoot sighting last week? The guy was a

professional, for one thing, and he talked about how it smelled. It sounded pretty real. Are there any Bigfoots left in California? What do the Hoopas think?

- Kit Britt, Grass Valley

This is the story that keeps getting talked about at campfires, the reported Bigfoot sighting this month at Oregon Caves National Monument. Whether it's real or not, it's the best camp yarn in years.

The way it goes is that Matthew Johnson, a psychologist, was squatting in the woods near a trail at Oregon Caves National Monument, planning to surprise his wife and three children. Instead, he spotted a Bigfoot 60 feet away. To corroborate his story, Johnson's family told park rangers that although they didn't see a Bigfoot, they had smelled a pungent scent and heard some deep, guttural groans.

"It was very tall, it was very hairy," Johnson said, according to an Associated Press account. "It was nothing else but a Sasquatch. I swear to God."

This story was captivating to me because, believe it or not, I was once hired to find Bigfoot. The Examiner financed six months of preparation followed by a six-week expedition in Northern California and Southern Oregon, primarily scrambling off-trail, trying to live as Bigfoot would live.

I was joined for much of the trip by Michael Furniss, one of the nation's preeminent naturalists and watershed scientists, and Jeffrey Patty, an avid off-trail wilderness explorer and photographer.

We spent six months talking with scientists and primate specialists, and researching published accounts. I also spent much of a week with Hoopa tribal elders and medicine men, learning of their culture and their belief in Bigfoot.

We had also researched dozens of hoaxes, like the time a guy in a gorilla suit jumped into the woods from along a road - right as a Greyhound bus went by. A co-conspirator aboard the bus shouted, "Look! Bigfoot!" And just like that, there was a busload of eyewitness accounts, many of which include lengthy detail (to the conspirators' glee).

After the latest sighting, the first response is that Cave Junction is an unlikely habitat for Bigfoot. Cave Junction is located near Highway 199, between Crescent City and Grants Pass, Oregon. The Oregon Caves are a major tourist destination, easy to reach and crowded, and outside the Monument the area has been heavily logged, both reasons for Bigfoot to never be there.

But a likely habitat is located about 20 miles to the west, in the interior of the extremely remote Kalmiopsis Wilderness. The lush interior of the Kalmiopsis, which produces the headwaters of the Chetco River, is surrounded by hot, craggy country like a moat surrounding a castle. That is why there are species here not found anywhere else in the world, such as the Kalmiopsis flower, for which the wilderness is named, and some of the biggest Jeffrey pines anywhere.

If the Bigfoot sighting was true, there is one logic that supports it: A recent forest wildfire devoured much of the Kalmiopsis, and the logic is that Bigfoot could thus be forced out to more populous areas in search for food.

In our expedition, we identified ideal habitat for Bigfoot in the Kalmiopsis, but no Bigfoot. In fact, everything we saw that suggested Bigfoot could later be explained.

The footprints in a snowfield that were 17 inches long and 6 inches wide, which appeared to be from a Bigfoot tracking us, we figured out were my own size 13 boot prints. Over the course of a few days, the snow had melted out around them; we had figured it out by the distance of the stride, 18 to 19 inches from toe to heel, the stride of someone 6-1 or 6-2, not 8 or 9 feet tall.

After stalking and waiting, the glimpse of the large furry creature turned out to be a large black bear with brown fur. The strange sound in the woods of Bigfoot striking a hollow log with a stick was actually the mating call of a blue grouse. The discolored pool of water, where Bigfoot had been washing had also turned out to be from a bear. Other less-striking but curious moments had also been explained.

At one point, I went to the Hoopa Valley and spent several days with Jimmy Jackson, a tribal elder, then 75.

"You will never see him," Jackson told me one day. "You will see only his footprints."

Jackson eventually explained that while Bigfoot is known among his people as Ohmahah, "Wild Man of the Woods," they believe he is a spirit in a metaphysical world who leaves only footprints. That is why they aren't surprised when they hear of giant footprints being discovered, but raise a skeptical eyebrow at tales of sightings.

As for me, well, we wrote a song on our expedition, and the last verse goes like this:

"Animals? We seen 'em all.

"But Bigfoot? Can't recall!"

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