Mendel Letters 54 — Bigfoot Hunters
November 20, 2021
College classes at CCNY in 1967 were like attending the 13th grade of high school, stifling of any interest or initiative. In the spring semester of our freshman year, my friend Kenny and I were sitting in an incredibly boring Sociology class. 250 or so students struggled to stay awake as an aging professor read to us from yellowed notes. Kenny and I sat in the back of the lecture hall and tried to keep ourselves busy and out of trouble.
One day Kenny brought in a copy of the February 1968 issue of Argosy magazine with an eleven-page article by Ivan Sanderson on a purported Bigfoot or Sasquatch sighting in Humboldt County in northern California. The article included photographs taken the previous October by Bigfoot hunter Roger Patterson along Bluff Creek in Six Rivers National Forest. We were hooked!
We spent the rest of the semester furtively pouring over topographic maps of the region and planning a summer expedition. Somehow I got a B in the class.
In preparation for our Bigfoot expedition, we bought new down sleeping bags, framed backpacks, a lightweight tent, and other camping equipment. Kenny purchased a camera and I bought a pair of binoculars. We spent weekends in Harriman State Park whenever possible to hone our camping skills. We had some money for the trip because New York State Regents scholarship payments did not arrive until after you completed the semester when you no longer needed them for college supplies and books.
Our plan was to fly stand-by to San Francisco, half price for college students, right after classes ended the last week of May, stay at a Y for a few days while we toured the city, and then hitch-hike north on coastal Route 101. We also figured that as intrepid explorers we would attract some female attention. Kenny and I had return tickets so our plan was to head back to San Francisco after we had a Bigfoot photograph. My parents tried to dissuade me from making the trip, my father even enlisted my grandfather who asked me not to go, but there was no turning back.
This was 1968 and San Francisco was the city of hippie dreams and flowers in your hair. We went to a Presidential campaign rally where we saw Robert Kennedy days before he was assassinated. When we left San Francisco we walked across the Golden Gate Bridge and stuck out our thumbs.
The trip north went pretty smoothly at first and we got to visit the Chandelier Redwood tree in Leggett, California, about half way between San Francisco and Eureka, that had a tunnel cut through its trunk large enough for a small truck to drive through. We had a close call when a motorcycle gang stopped to give us a lift but quizzed us to make sure we weren’t Jews. Under the circumstances, we said we weren’t.
The next step of the trip didn’t go as well as we made a serious miscalculation. Instead of hitching north to Eureka and then east to Willow Creek along Highway 299, we decided to hike inland along the Klamath River to where it intersected with Bluff Creek. There was neither a trail nor a road. Walking was difficult and one night our campsite was surrounded by black bears. We stayed in the tent but saw paw prints in the morning. We finally traded a day clearing a field in exchange for a boat ride to Willow Creek, unfortunately that got us both severe cases of poison ivy.
Willow Creek was Bigfoot heaven with a large wooden statue and plenty of tourist material. Before we left New York, I worked out with my parents that I would call home person-to-person collect to let them know we were okay. They were supposed to refuse to accept the call, long distance in those days was expensive, but my mother immediately accepted the call because they were worried.
Kenny and I purchased a week’s worth of supplies in Willow Creek and considered, and rejected, buying a shotgun or a 22-rifle. A firearm and licenses were beyond our budget. From Willow Creek we starting hiking north on a logging road but eventually got a ride in a pick-up truck to near the loggers base camp where we set up our own semi-permanent camp site. There was plenty of water and wood and we could get rides in and out of town when we needed food or other supplies.
From our base camp we hiked the logging roads deep into the interior of Six Rivers National Forest and then we hiked back along streambeds searching for footprints. We combed most of the area along Bluff Creek down to the Klamath River. We eventually found the location where Patterson claimed he had photographed Bigfoot. The streambed at this point was very muddy and a tall man with large feet taking long strides could have made the footprints. I was pretty convinced the Patterson photos were a fraud, but Kenny remained hopeful. We never did see Bigfoot but one night we did see a mountain lion.
In November 2002, Ray L. Wallace died in a nursing home in Centralia, Washington. After his death, his children announced that Wallace had started the modern Bigfoot craze in 1958 as a joke when he used a pair of carved wooden feet to plant oversized footprints in a Northern California logging camp.
In our month on Bluff Creek we met interesting characters from the logging camp that were willing to share beer and rides including members of a local Native American tribe. On one trip into Willow Creek we decided to hitch into Eureka to look through the local newspaper archive. We got a ride with two young women and spent the night with them on a beach overlooking the Pacific, until about 4 AM when the local police rousted out the beach dwellers.
We didn’t find anything new in the Times-Standard archives but we did get interviewed for an article “New Yorkers Hunt for Bigfoot.” At that point we had been “on the trail searching for Bigfoot for 20 days with no luck . . . When asked why they are searching for Bigfoot, they answered in a way that seems to reflect the ideas of many young Americans. ‘We would like to see Bigfoot because it signifies the dream that there are things possible in this world that people don’t recognize.’”
The “dream” and the adventure were more important than finding Bigfoot. I will write you more about our trip in future letters.
Hard copies of these typed letters were discovered in an old camp trunk in the basement storage facility of one of the few buildings that remain standing in this Brooklyn neighborhood. The building is quite decrepit and is scheduled for demolition. The letters were found in November 2048 by a teenager who believes they were written by his great-grandfather. The letters are addressed to Mendel, the letter writer’s father, who appears to have been dead for at least six years when his son, whose name we are unsure of, started to write him. The son appears very agitated in some of the letters. With permission from the family, we are publishing them on the date they were written, only 28 years later.
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