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The mythical forest-dwelling creature turns out to be the starting point of a larger story about the violent history of the area and its multilayered secrets.
But the Bigfoot legend itself looms large in this region. California is second only to Washington in state sightings, with 445 encounters (versus Washington’s 676) documented by the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization.
True believers still come to this part of the country hoping to catch a glimpse of Bigfoot/Sasquatch, which Britannica.com defines as “a large, hairy, humanlike creature believed by some people to exist in the northwestern United States and western Canada.”
The travel guide Fodor’s even has a list of the top ten places in California to go if you’re looking for a Bigfoot encounter, many of which are in or near the “Sasquatch” series’ setting.
The Internet is filled with accounts and recordings by freaked-out campers who see and hear strange things while in the vast California wilderness, with experiences of hearing the “Bigfoot howl” especially abundant.
“Sasquatch” includes interviews with several northern Californians who swear they’ve had a brush with the supernatural wild man.
The most famous of the featured “Squatchers” is Bob Gimlin, whose 1967 film clip, shot in California’s Humboldt County, is still the most in-focus footage of a supposed Bigfoot.
Gimlin, who shot the film with his friend, the late Roger Patterson, maintains it’s not a hoax and that the men actually saw what appears to be a bipedal, female ape-like creature strolling across the wilderness, casting looks at them over its shoulder as it goes.
But “Sasquatch” also includes an interview with Bob Heironimus, a neighbor of Gimlin’s, who swears equally vehemently that the film is a hoax, and that he knows this because he is the gorilla-suited man in the clip.
Disgruntled at never having been paid like the two men promised, he finally broke his alleged vow to say nothing and went public in 1999.
The Patterson-Gimlin film, though only one minute long, has been the subject of never-ending debate in the Sasquatch and, marginally, scientific communities. While most scientists are not inclined to allow for the possibility that a huge, undiscovered species of hominid could have secretly existed all these years, some are equally convinced that the unsophisticated film could not have been a hoax.
The late Washington State University anthropologist Grover Krantz was one of the most famous academic defenders of the film: After initially dismissing it as a prank, he eventually studied the gait of the creature in the clip closely and concluded that it couldn’t have been easily faked by a human.
His belief in Bigfoot, which he began to think was a relative of the long-extinct Gigantopithecus primate, was shored up by the 1969 discovery of what became known as the Cripplefoot tracks — casts of giant footprints in the snow, with the left foot appearing to be deformed. But Krantz was widely believed to have been overly credulous in his insistence that nobody could fake an unusual footprint.
The late ’60s and early ’70s were high times for Sasquatch explorers. A key piece of supposed evidence was recorded by another pair of men at a remote California deer camp between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park.
Their hair-raising audio recordings, known in the Bigfoot community as the “Sierra Sounds,” purport to capture a number of unidentifiable creatures in the night, yelling and vocalizing in what seems like a primitive language.
After their initial experience, Ron Morehead, a church board administrator, and Alan Berry, a Sacramento journalist, went back to the spot over the course of a year, amassing what they always swore was a legitimate series of recordings.
But over the decades, despite unflagging public interest, not one Bigfoot researcher has ever managed to get a clear photo or video. Visual evidence has largely consisted of unconvincing footage, such as a 2001 clip from the Marble Mountain wilderness, also in northern California.
Taken by a church group, it supposedly captures the image of a Sasquatch walking along a ridge.
In 2007, Sasquatch was given a legitimacy boost when legendary anthropologist Jane Goodall allowed for the possibility that it might be real.
In her praise for the book “Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science” by Jeffrey Meldrum, she wrote, “In many parts of the world I meet those who, in a matter-of-fact way, tell me of their encounters with large, bipedal, tail-less hominids.
I think I have read every article and every book about these creatures, and while most scientists are not satisfied with existing evidence, I have an open mind.” She repeated those sentiments in a 2018 interview: “I’m a romantic. I would like Bigfoot to exist. I’ve met people who swear they’ve seen Bigfoot.
I think the interesting thing is every single continent there is an equivalent of Bigfoot or Sasquatch. There’s the Yeti, the Yowie in Australia, the Chinese Wildman, and on and on and on. I’ve heard stories from people who, you have to believe them. So there’s something.”
In 2018, Bigfoot entered the legal system when California resident Claudia Ackley sued the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the state Natural Resources Agency for refusing to acknowledge her encounter with a Sasquatch in a tree.
“Respondents’ denial of this species puts the public’s safety at serious risk,” stated her lawsuit, which was dismissed. In one of its more risible claims, the lawsuit also alleged that “her right to establish a legitimate Sasquatch-based business has been infringed upon.”
So what keeps hope alive, in the face of a damning lack of evidence, for Squatchers?
What explains nine seasons of the Animal Planet reality show “Finding Bigfoot,” which has yet to live up to its title? One guest on that series, folklorist Lynne McNeill, thinks she can explain it. “[For some believers], it’s a better world if Bigfoot can be real,” she told California magazine.
“It says something positive about our ecosystems and our environment. It says something positive about our retention of wilderness spaces. It says something positive about the fact that we maybe aren’t utterly destroying the planet we live on if a species can remain hidden and undiscovered.”
Brian Regal, history of science professor at New Jersey’s Kean University and author of the 2011 book “Searching for Sasquatch: Crackpots, Eggheads, and Cryptozoology,” offers a glimpse into the psychology behind the search for Bigfoot.
“Monsters aren’t born; we make them. All monsters are human-made. We make them out of the things we’re afraid of,” he says in the “Sasquatch” series. “In the past, we became fearful as an evolutionary mechanism for survival. ‘Don’t go in the cave, it’s dark, there could be something in there that could eat you’ … It seems to be hard-wired into the human psyche.”
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