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Kate Ramsayer / The Bulletin
DESCHUTES NATIONAL FOREST — Sucking in a deep breath, tilting forward then throwing his head back and cupping his hands around his mouth, Matt Moneymaker let out a siren yell that echoed across the forested valley.
The dozen people on the ridge stand silently, listening intently, binoculars scanning the distance. One points a sound amplifier toward the opposite slope.
“WoooooOOOOOOoooooo,” Moneymaker calls again, altering the inflection of the yell.
A red-tailed hawk screams twice; wind blows through tall pines in the afternoon sun.
The group strains to hear anything, motioning to a visitor to hold still — the sound of gravel crunching beneath her feet contaminates the quiet.
Still, no response. There are no calls from coyotes, no bugling from elk and — most importantly — no return howls from bigfoot.
And it is bigfoot that the group hopes to hear from. The possibility of hearing or — even better — seeing and documenting the hairy, huge, mythical primate said to roam the forests of the Pacific Northwest had drawn people from across the country and even the globe to Central Oregon. Many talked of their encounters with sasquatches, while others simply were curious, wanting to see for themselves if something’s out there.
“We’re looking for a needle in a haystack, but we’re using a magnet,” said Moneymaker, the founder of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization and the leader of the expedition. In this case, the magnet is the method used by the group to bring the animals in, he said.
Like coyotes, if you call to a bigfoot properly, it will call back and venture closer to check out the source.
“I’m good; I can call them in,” Moneymaker said earlier in the day. Creating the calls takes a lot of volume and some technique as well, he said.
“It’s gotta have a bit of a mournful touch to it,” he said of the calls, adding that they vary in different parts of the country — a sort of regional accent.
The expedition members also bang on logs and trees with pieces of wood, since that’s apparently another way bigfoots communicate across forested hills and valleys. It sounds like they’re breaking logs against trees, or banging rocks against each other, Moneymaker said. And it’s loud.
“The knock is a very strong indicator (of a bigfoot), because you have to have a hand to do that,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it, your knees just quiver.”
A hotbed of activity
The three dozen or so participants in the bigfoot organization’s expedition that officially started June 14 were in the Deschutes National Forest for four days, in some cases even more. They were looking and listening for responses to calls, return knocks, scat or other traces of the legendary creature. Or better yet, an actual sighting.
“Ultimately, I think we all would like to see them with our own eyes,” said Chris Vertopoulos, a fishing guide from Garibaldi on the Oregon Coast, adding that he would like to have the creature recognized scientifically.
Curiosity had drawn Andrea Zurbrick, of Phoenix, Ariz., a data analyst for a bank.
“I’m open-minded and curious, and after visiting the BFRO Web site, it was compelling,” she said. “I thought it would be fun.”
She admitted, however, that she was also a little scared poking around the forest in the dark, looking for an 8-foot-tall, hairy primate.
“I will freak out if I hear or see anything,” she said.
But the more you learn about the behavior of sasquatches, the more you learn that they’re not going to hurt you, said Scott Taylor of Tacoma, Wash. Going on an expedition like this is a way to cope with the fear, and also to learn more about the mysterious primate.
Plus, “it’s fun to know about something nobody else knows about,” said Taylor, who added that he’s a bit of a thrill seeker as well.
“I think it’s a hotbed of activity down here. We’ll see if we can have an encounter,” said John Callender, of Seattle, a commercial airline pilot. Callender also is a volunteer investigator with the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, which Moneymaker, who works full time on the effort to get footage of bigfoot, founded in 1995.
There have been 12 reported encounters in Deschutes County since 1963 that are listed on the group’s Web site, leading the group to explore this area. The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization is holding nine expeditions across the country and in Canada this year. Moneymaker interviews potential participants, who pay $300 per person or $600 per car to camp out and spend their time calling and searching for bigfoot.
Bouncing over pocked logging roads in a red sports utility vehicle, Moneymaker led a caravan of five trucks and SUVs up a ridge above a creek drainage outside of the Mount Jefferson Wilderness. Publicizing specific locations are a no-no for the group, to prevent others with malicious intentions from coming back and harassing the creatures.
But to navigate along the many back roads of the Deschutes National Forest, Moneymaker was armed with five different Global Positioning System devices and a topographic map. The searchers kept in touch with camouflaged walkie-talkies.
Two groups separated, one to go farther up the ridge and call back to the group down below. Sasquatches evidently respond better to a “conversation,” Moneymaker said, and with people in different spots, the investigators can better triangulate the source of any sounds. They announce upcoming calls or knocks over the walkie-talkie.
“I’m going to do a howl in 10,” Moneymaker said at the first stop. He howled. Birds chattered. No one spoke.
“A double,” he said.
Vertopoulos whacked twice on a log.
“That’s not loud enough,” Vertopoulos said. Moneymaker whacked two pieces of hard plastic together. No response.
Nancy Jones, a Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization volunteer investigator from Idaho, stood on a stump nearby. She wore headphones connected to a parabolic dish — basically a device that could pick up far-off sounds.
“I’ve been interested since I was a little girl,” she said. This was her first bigfoot-searching expedition with the organization, and she came with her 9-year-old son.
When nothing stirred or sounded at the first spot, the caravan moved up the ridge.
“We gotta keep moving until something responds,” Moneymaker said.
Two stops later, they heard a response.
Standing in a cluster of trees, Moneymaker made a call, then stopped and held up his hand.
“I just heard something,” he said. Other expedition members rushed over to listen, radioing the other party to make sure they kept quiet.
Moneymaker called again. A high-pitched noise echoed.
“It’s an elk,” someone said.
He called once more.
“That’s coyotes,” another said.
“I don’t know if it was an elk or coyote, but it was one of those two,” Moneymaker said, before directing the group to move on, yet again.
The fault of many bigfoot trackers is that they get stuck in one place, unwilling to explore other areas, he said. His plan was to keep moving until they found a place where a bigfoot responded, and then focus the efforts on that spot. Sometimes, it can be days before they hear something good, he said.
Some say, however, that bigfoot has come to them.
“About 20 years ago, I had an incident that put the fear into me,” Vertopoulos said.
He was camping with a friend south of Mount Hood when something came stomping toward their tent. Vertopoulos started waving his Maglite, yelling “Who are you?” into the woods.
“It made a lot of noise, it wasn’t shy, it wasn’t stealthy, it wasn’t dainty at all,” he said. “But it was curious.”
It stopped short of the beam of light.
“It was not afraid, other than it didn’t want to be seen,” said Vertopoulos, who took time out of the middle of sturgeon season to come on the expedition.
It wasn’t a bear, a deer or an elk, he said, echoing the comments of others on the trip.
“What else could it have been?”
Callender, the airline pilot, said he saw two once. And they saw him.
“The thing I remember most was the eyes, the awful fiery red eyes,” he said. “Both eyes on both animals tracked us as they walked.”
It was on a camping trip with his brother in April 2005, he said, when the two sasquatches took less than two minutes to cross a clear-cut that had taken the men 10 minutes to cover.
When the animals walked, their eyes were 7 feet off the ground, Callender said. When they stopped, crouching behind a slash pile, he could see one’s shoulder and arm. There was no doubt in his mind, he said, that it wasn’t a deer or bear or anything else from the forest’s normally spotted wildlife.
Kristine Walls, also of Seattle, had an encounter with sasquatch at camp when she was about 12. She and some friends were the last ones awake and heard branches break from within a thicket of Himalayan blackberries. She was scared, she said, so she positioned herself in the center of the pack of girls.
Her friend, however, lay awake, listening to two bigfoot whistling and making noise, digging in the food boxes.
At one point, the friend had to move her foot to avoid being stepped on by the creature. Then, Walls said, it reached out and touched her back.
“And then she passed out,” Walls said. When she woke up, her sleeping bag was drenched under her armpits. It has been 30 years, but the friend has never gone camping again, Walls said.
But Walls, with curly blond hair, pink lipstick and a Seaside sweatshirt, seeks the creatures out.
“It’s probably just the mystery of it,” she said, adding that she saw one three years ago and one in May.
Moneymaker estimates that he has had dozens of encounters but didn’t want to go into details so as not to influence other accounts.
“The consistent description that people give is consistent for a reason, because that’s what they look like,” was all he’d say.
His Web site, however, describes them as about 7 feet tall, sometimes even more than 10 feet tall, covered in hair that can vary from black to reddish brown, gray or white. Its head, which is relatively small for the big body, has a pronounced brow ridge with prominent cheekbones and a square jaw.
Estimates put the North American bigfoot population at between 2,000 to 6,000, Moneymaker said, which includes animals across the country. But they’re also spotted in other places around the world.
Greg Hannam, of Brisbane, Australia, saw what Aborigines call a yowie while driving along a fairly quiet road north of the city in the 1960s.
“This thing ran out from thick scrub,” he recounted. “It was running with this big, lollopping sort of gait.”
He didn’t get a good glimpse of it, only what he could see in the glare of the headlights, but said it was big and bulky.
“It was impossible to fit into the known Australian biota.”
He’s not 100 percent sure that it was a yowie, he said, adding that he doesn’t want to seem like a “wacko.” But he figured this expedition would be the best chance to actually see something similar. While he hadn’t seen a sasquatch on the trip, Hannam, who works in construction and is involved in Australia’s conservation community, was excited to spot different birds, raccoons, deer and chipmunks, if nothing else.
“Last night, nothing happened, so you’d have to say that’s disappointing,” he said. “But it’s worth it to meet these folks and hear their stories.”
There are thousands of witnesses to bigfoot events, Moneymaker said, and chances are that not all of them are lying. That reasoning was echoed by many on the trip.
“We think it’s much more logical that people are actually seeing a species that are out there,” he said.
There are going to be hoaxes, Vertopoulos said, but if only one or two of the thousand reports are valid, it means bigfoot exists.
“There seems to be a hell of a lot of people with a story,” Hannam said.
No signs of elk
On that Friday, the story appeared to be more of the case of the missing elk. Bigfoots tend to follow herds of ungulates, Moneymaker said, and if there are elk, they’ll prefer those to deer. Sasquatches are omnivores that live in areas with big trees, water and other big animals, he said.
But the trackers hadn’t seen signs of elk, a fact mentioned throughout the day.
“I think as good as it might be, there may be better pickings elsewhere,” he said. The area had burned recently, and the fire and loss of habitat might have driven the elk, and by his reckoning the bigfoot, away.
Although elk are scattered across the landscape, their numbers are increasing on the east slope of the Cascades, said Steven George, a wildlife biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, who was not on the expedition. While fires are bad for elk habitat in the short term, after a few years, the grasses that regrow make for good forage material.
And as for bigfoot, he has received sketchy reports of odd things in the forest.
“In my 20-some years here, I have probably had three or four so-called sightings,” George said. People report seeing something weird or glimpsing something that they couldn’t identify.
He has investigated one case, going to look at tracks. It turned out to be bear prints in the mud, which had made them look bigger.
“I don’t believe there’s any evidence that one exists,” he said.
Lauri Turner, a wildlife biologist with the Deschutes National Forest, said she heard a couple of reports of unidentified large animals when she worked on the Detroit Ranger District on the west side of the Cascades, but she can’t remember any reports of bigfoot during her time working with the Sisters Ranger District and the Deschutes Supervisor’s Office.
“I never say never, but with all the people that we have roaming around, it’s hard to think that something exists out there that large without being detected all of this time,” she said, adding that people are usually encountering bears. But the searchers are welcome to report anything interesting or unique that they find.
“I think that’s great that they’re following their passion,” she said.
Search for proof
One passion that many members of the expedition have is to gather evidence, either audio or visual. Because bigfoots are said to be nocturnal, the real tracking action starts when it gets dark, members said.
Late Friday, they packed up tents and went to another spot in the Deschutes, where tracks were found a few years ago by a local couple.
“I wonder where I might get the best chance for an approach,” Callender said as he wandered along a road as the light faded.
He had come armed with two dishes to pick up audio equipment and recorders to capture any activity.
Taylor and Judy Carroll, of the Seattle area, walked the road and explained the game plan for the night. They would walk the roads, calling and then going to sleep and waiting for the bigfoots to come check them out. The hope was that the animals would make an appearance, perhaps even trying to intimidate the campers by making noises and breaking branches.
Taylor Carroll called out to the creatures in a different tone than Moneymaker, giving more of a Tarzan yell that didn’t waver.
He put his hands up to cup his ears to listen for a response. Crickets chirped.
Up the road, someone had found a track — 15 inches long, 4 inches wide at the heel, 6.5 inches wide at the ball of the foot.
“Looks like it’s got toes,” Carroll said, as she and others looked for other tracks nearby, noting where sticks had been broken a few feet away — possibly from another step, some hypothesized.
A few feet away, the investigators shined their flashlights on an indentation below trees, noting that it could be a good place for a bigfoot to lurk, waiting for deer to pass by.
As the stars became too numerous to count, a member of the expedition wondered about the best place to set his cameras and let them run for the evening.
Trace Tabor, of Medford, donned a get-up involving a helmet with a thermal imaging camera on top, connected to a screen that sits on his nose like bifocals.
“Every living creature has body heat, and that’s what this thing sees,” he said. The device recorded everything he saw, in the hopes of capturing the first thermal imaging shots of bigfoot.
Well-equipped, the searchers ventured along the road in the dark, listening and looking for the elusive sasquatch.
That night, two people thought they could have heard something, but it wasn’t conclusive, Moneymaker said.
The next day, searching for better elk habitat and, therefore, better bigfoot habitat, the group drove over to the west side of the Cascades and set up camp.
They had better luck there, he said. Some of the groups heard calls and loud knocks that they attributed to a sasquatch.
“Six people came back and said that they were 100 percent sure that they had heard something,” he said.
But the groups didn’t have recording equipment, so the calls weren’t captured for the record.
Next time, Moneymaker said, he’ll make sure each group has its own audio recorder. But he took it as a positive sign that sasquatches still haunt the central Cascades.
“I would be very surprised,” he said, “if there weren’t some within 20 miles of Mount Jefferson.”
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