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COUNTY: Washoe County
LOCATION DETAILS: Described in context above.
NEAREST TOWN: Reno
NEAREST ROAD: US 395
OBSERVED: This is the second in a set of chronological reports that I am submitting regarding a series of encounters I had between 1970 and 1983 in Nevada, California, and Washington States.
I grew up several miles Northwest of Reno, Nevada in the foothills of the Sierra's. My father was a geologist who preferred sparsely populated areas, so we lived, camped, fished, gold panned, rockhounded, and hunted Indian and goldrush artifacts in some relatively remote places.
This second encounter occured in August of 1972 in Lemmon Valley, Nevada. Lemmon Valley is Northwest of Reno on US 395. Though the area I am about to describe is now covered with housing developments, in 1972 there were only two developed areas in the valley. Stead Air Force Base (deactivated in 1959)[N.B. below] was on the West side of the valley and the community of Lemmon Valley was on the East side. The community of Lemmon Valley was, in reality, simply a strip of built up properties along Lemmon Valley road - just housing and few small businesses extending for about five miles toward the back of the valley and for a couple of hundred yards at most to either side of the road. US 395 cut across the South and higher end of the valley at the base of Peavine Mountain's North slope. Toward the back of the valley, the North or lower end, were a few small ranches. Only a couple of improved dirt roads cut across the center of the valley connecting the community of Lemmon Valley to Stead.
The climate was high desert. Roughly 5000 feet in elevation with negligible year-round rainfall, but sometimes several feet of snow in the winter. The humidity was generally less than ten percent and often as low as five. Other than those planted near developed properties, there were no trees in the floor of the valley. Scrub pine begins on the higher ridges about five miles West of the valley and thickens to fully developed arid pine forest as the elevation increases. The dominant vegetation is sagebrush, mixed with a wide variety of large weeds and coarse grasses. Jackrabbits, prairie dogs, and smaller rodents were very common, as were a wide variety of lizards and snakes. Coyotes are common, but rarely seen. Cougar and black bear are rare, but sometimes sighted in the area. Deer stick to the surrounding higher elevations with more trees. Other indigenous animals include hawks, falcons, and few burrowing owls. Quail, and other ground nesting birds are also plentiful. There is also a variety of large insect species (cicada, locusts, etc..) to round out the ecosystem. At first glance, the area may not look like it supports much in the way of life, but it actually does. Snow melt is the primary source of open water in the late spring and early summer and a small lake forms toward the back of the valley. By late August this has usually dried up and the only sources of water are near human habitation.
As I mentioned in my first report, the North face of Peavine Mountain was deforested in the late 1800's. It has also eroded significantly over the last century as a natural result of the vegetation loss and due to hydraulic mining. The runoff from the mountain was clearly heavy at some time in the past, because two deep washes cut through half the length of the valley flowing North from Peavine Mountain.
These washes were eight to ten feet deep in places with vertical walls and averaged five to eight feet in width. Walking down one was much like walking through a school hallway with slight curves. Their depth would increase and decrease as they intersected the natural fingers and draws running down from the ridges that bounded the valley. They were difficult to climb in and out of except at a few places where they shallowed out to a couple of feet as they intersected a draw. Because they were shaded and contained a little more moisture than the surrounding terrain, they formed a small microclimate where certain species of lizard and an occassional scorpion could be found. The sagebrush also grew a little taller (about three feet) along their edges. Below, the floors of the washes were almost perfectly level, shaded, and protected from the wind. Very little vegetation grew in the floors of the washes and was usually limited to tumbleweeds and some patches of coarse grass. From the floor of the valley these washes were virtually invisible. You could only tell where they were from a stripe of sagebrush running along their edges that was a little greener, thicker, and taller than the rest of the sagebrush in the valley. You couldn't see them or see down into them until you were right on top of them.
This encounter took place in the early afternoon in mid-August of 1972. It was bright, sunny, and hot, about 85 degrees Fahrenheit, at the time. The wind was less than five miles per hour. I was twelve. I was with my brother, who was ten, and a friend, David, who was also twelve. For years, my brother and I had spent the summers exploring the surrounding hills and valley. We knew all the best places to catch each type of lizard, the best places to look for arrowheads, where the trash dumps from the 1800's were (good for old bottles), and the best places to find old shell casings and such from when the airbase had been active. We didn't often make it out as far as the dry washes, but when we did we made a point of exploring them because of the unique things like scorpions you could find in them. We had just moved from Stead to the Lemmon Valley side of the valley and David, a new neighbor, was with us for the first and, as it turned out, only time.
We had decided to go all the way out to the closest wash to show it to David, and were angling toward one of the shallow points where it would be easier to get into. As we walked along we were searching the ground for horned toads, arrowheads, and anything else that might be interesting. We were about twenty feet from the wash when we stumbled across an area with jasper and obsidian chips on the ground and started looking around in earnest for arrowheads and other stone tools. My brother and I were seriously competitve when it came to hunting arrowheads.
I was facing North, focusing on a piece of jasper I had just found, and had my back to my brother and David when I got a sudden feeling something was wrong. I don't know whether I heard one of them gasp or just go abruptly quiet, but I knew there was a problem. I had a sense of where my brother was a few feet behind me and turned to look at him. As I turned clockwise from North to South I saw first David, about twenty-five feet away from me and a couple of feet from the rim of the wash, then what I perceived to be a giant black man about eight feet from David and about three feet away from the wash, and finally my brother, who was only about five feet behind me. The giant black man was about thirty-five feet from me, standing still facing me with his arms at his sides looking directly at me (I guess he must have figured I was the lead male). David was in shock, rooted to the ground, staring directly at him with his mouth wide open and his lower jaw level with his collarbones. My brother was poised to run and looking from the "man", to me, and then to David in a panic. As soon as I saw the man I took a step to run also, but realized David wasn't going anywhere and we'd need to help him if the "man" tried to do anything (we weren't that far from Reno and there are a lot of weird people who drift through that town - a man out of place in the desert is immediately considered dangerous). I settled my weight and looked the "man" in the eye waiting for him to indicate his intentions.
This all took about a second. At this point my brother turned to me and screamed, "That's not a man! That's not a man!" Not breaking eye contact with the "man" I snapped back at him, "Yes it is!" My brother immediately yelled "No, it's not!" and I snapped right back "Then what is it?" which shut him up. At that moment, in that situation, it was critically important to me that the "man" be nothing more than a man. I also knew my brother and I could probably get away, but David was at risk and I intuitively sensed that it was important to control the fear, both by keeping the "man" just a man and by calming my brother.
As I focused on the "man" I recognized that he was not overtly threatening but seemed stern and annoyed. He didn't move a muscle and he didn't make a sound. From his manner I gathered that he was not threatening us, but was determining if we were a threat to him - that we had disturbed him and he just wanted us to go away and leave him alone. My brother and I would have been happy to oblige but David was still standing like a statue and we weren't leaving him behind so we all just stood there and stared at each other.
I could see the "man" from the lower shins on up, and this is where it gets a little strange. He was at least eight and a half feet tall, three and a half feet to four feet broad at the shoulder, and had a comparatively narrow waist. His arms hung down to the top of his knees. Not only was this "man" huge and slightly disproportionate, but in the middle of the afternoon, in the middle of August, to my perception, he was wearing a black down ski parka with the peaked hood up, matching black down ski pants, and black gloves. Down ski-wear was a brand new fad with the skiers that came through Reno back then. I thought to myself that it was strange that he had this brand new ski outfit, let alone one that fit his frame. I thought he must have stolen it (I had already subconsciously assumed this guy was a hobo because we were at least a mile from the nearest road, there wasn't a vehicle in sight, and I couldn't think of a good reason for him to have apparently been hiding in the wash). As I thought about it, the hobo assumption made sense. The ski-suit was probably the only thing he had to wear and, at night, sleeping out in the open in the high desert it tended to get a little chilly, August or not. There was even a little dirt on it in places, indicating he'd been lying on the ground in it.
The "man's" bearing, though, didn't come across the way a homeless person's would. He stood tall with his shoulders relaxed, but back. His posture indicated a sense of self-worth that was almost regal and his gaze didn't flinch (as an afterthought, there was nothing about his eyes to give me the impression that he lacked human intelligence). Even under the ski suit you could tell that he had a massively muscled upper body, and the ratio of shoulders to waist were those of a world-class athlete. For a moment I considered that I was looking at fur-covered muscle and immediately killed the thought, then started to look a little closer anyway. This was when he simply broke eye contact, turned, stepped down into the wash at the shallow point where he was standing and walked away down the wash without looking back (this was a little strange in retrospect because there was absolutely no indication in body language or eye movement to telegraph that he had decided our encounter was over - he simply turned and left without acknowledgement). Within a couple of steps he disappeared around a slight curve in the wall of the wash as it cut through the next finger off of the ridge. We had stood looking at each other for maybe forty-five seconds.
I didn't move for a couple of seconds after he disappeared, waiting to give him time to go before moving to check on David. I'd never seen anybody so afraid that they were frozen on the spot before and I was concerned about him. As I walked up to David, looking cautiously down the wash as I got a better angle on it, my brother followed me and said in a voice that seemed to beg me to believe him, "That wasn't a man." Standing in front of David, I looked him in the eye and said, "Yes it was. It was just a big, black hobo." That ended the discussion. I asked David if he was ok. He just shook his head yes and didn't say anything. My brother moved up to the edge of the wash to see as far down it as he could and I asked if he could see the guy. He couldn't and we started to leave when curiosity got the better of us and my brother asked, "What do you think he was doing down there?" I thought about it for a second and decided I wanted to know, too, so we walked along the edge of the wash for a hundred yards or so to make sure he wasn't hiding close enough to threaten us (the guy wasn't carrying anything and I was worried that we would find his camp about the time he came back to it to get his belongings). We walked back down to the shallow spot in the wash and jumped down into it. I briefly recognized that the "man" had simply stepped down the three feet I had just jumped, but didn't say anything.
We walked both up and down the wash a hundred feet or so looking for a campsite. We didn't find one. No firepit, no food wrappers, no trash, no drug paraphenalia, no signs that a human had been camping there. The floor of the wash was granite sand so there really weren't any footprints that I could recognize to indicate where he may have been. We did find a spot where someone had taken pieces of tumbleweed and sticker bush and embedded them in the wall of the wash. Tumbleweed and pieces of bush were also arranged on the floor of the wash at the same spot. Those embedded in the wall of the wash were arranged in a tall half-oval with the peak about four and a half feet high. Those on the floor of the wash were also arranged in a half oval that joined the first. It was about the right size for the guy to sit cross-legged in with his back against the wall of the wash.
At that time I had never heard of Bigfoot, so it wasn't even an option for me to consider within the framework of the encounter. Even though several things about the encounter were strange I convinced myself that we had been confronted by a man. What else could it have been? About ten days later, though, something happened that forced me to admit that there was something in the valley that was manlike but wasn't a man. I'll submit that as my third report soon.
ALSO NOTICED: Described in context above.
OTHER WITNESSES: Three. Described in context above.
OTHER STORIES: More reports to come as I have time to submit them. The archives of the Reno Evening Gazette would also probably yield some information on other encounters. I remember them carrying a story or two in the late 70's.
TIME AND CONDITIONS: Described in context above.
ENVIRONMENT: Described in context above