If you’ve read any of the first three posts in the Squatchin with the daughter series, you may be wondering just what this “Patterson/Gimlin film” thing is.
Here is a fairly compressed version of the story:
The mid 1960’s were a very active and interesting time for those on the hunt for Bigfoot. One of those hunters was a man from Yakima, Washington named Roger Patterson. Patterson was what would nowadays be called a “Character”. He wasn’t the type of person to work at a “regular” job, but rather a dreamer who was sure that he was always just one invention away from fame and fortune. Early on, Patterson caught Bigfoot Fever, going so far as two write a book, Do Abominable Snowmen of America Really Exist?, which was published in 1966.
By the fall of 1967, Patterson had managed to generate some funding, and was in the Six Rivers national forest area with a couple of horses, a 16mm movie camera, and Yakima cowboy Bob Gimlin.
Patterson and Gimlin were in the woods for the purpose of making a documentary on – what else – Bigfoot.
On the afternoon of October 20th, as the story goes, the filmmakers, on horseback, were riding along Bluff Creek. They rounded a bend, and there, squatting near the water, was a female sasquatch. Patterson’s horse spooked and reared, depositing the filmmaker unceremoniously onto the ground. Gimlin managed to stay on his horse, and withdrew his rifle from its sheath, in case the creature turned on them. Somehow Patterson managed to get his camera pointed at the creature and got this:
In the 45 years since the film was shot, there has been no shortage of controversy. The subject of the film has been called an obvious guy in a suit, and it has also been pronounced as having been impossible to fake given the state of the art of costume technology in 1967. The questions surrounding the nature of the subject have never subsided, although there are some facts about the film that have never been in dispute: The actual film stock was exposed in a camera, and is an accurate representation of what was actually seen through the lens. In other words, there was no in-camera fakery. Any hoaxing occurred “on the set”.
To my mind, regardless of whether the film actually shows a living bigfoot or a human in a suit, the “set” -the film site – is undeniably an important location in the lore and history of sasquatchery, and someplace I really wanted to see.
After a fantastic first day of our second Squatchin’ adventure, Maile and I awoke (relatively) early, eager to finally make it to the Patterson/Gimlin film site, then start our journey home. On the way out of Willow Creek, we stopped back by the Bigfoot Restaurant, which was, once again, open, and had a lovely breakfast. I had some very nice potatoes, and Maile had what she described simply as “The best pancakes I’ve ever had!”. I suggested that Maile should pass that on to the staff, which she did. That got a nice smile out of the young woman who was working our table. We then drove across the street and fueled up the truck, and bought some bottled water for the hike ahead, and a cup of coffee for me. There was also one major Bigfoot statue in Willow Creek that we hadn’t photographed, so we took care of that as well.
Just outside of Willow Creek is a US Forest Service ranger station. Steve at Bigfoot Books had informed me that the USFS produces a topographical atlas of the area, and that it is available there. I figured this would be a worthwhile investment, as just a general addition to my Bigfoot/Sasquatch library as well as a good way to figure out just where I was going. I decided to leave my cap, which bears a patch with a picture of an oversized footprint and the word “Squatchy” in the truck. I don’t know why i got self-conscious about it now, but there it is. Maile, however, boldly wore her own “Gone Squatchin'” cap. We went inside, and sure enough, they had a few copies of the atlas. Steve had warned us that it was expensive, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had feared. I asked the ranger about the smoke we’d experienced the day before. He confirmed that there had been a fire, but it was significantly north of where we were, and wasn’t going to be a problem anywhere in the Bluff Creek area.
Before long, we were on our way back up 96 to the Go Road.
The drive between Willow Creek and Orleans was actually starting get quite familiar to me, and I found myself growing significantly more comfortable driving a little bit faster on the way North. We made it to the Go Road, 12n12, through the Green Gate to 12n13, but this time, about a mile or so down the road, we forked off onto 12n13h, which is a tiny spur opposite a log landing. If it’s possible, 12n13h was even less well-maintained than 12n13.
At times the double-track wasn’t even all that well-defined. This little spur descended very steeply down the side of the hill, which could fairly be called a cliff just past the edge of the road. It would be hard to imagine the truck doing anything except rolling if it should slip off the shoulder. At least, it would roll until it was caught by the thick growth of the forest. In any case, we’d be making sure to stay on the road. There were a number of drainage berms that cut across the surface of the road that actually made significant obstacles. My truck is a high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle, and we really needed it here. Our other ride, a Subaru Forester, would certainly have gotten high-centered and stuck. I was glad I had had the foresight earlier to lock the hubs and engage the 4WD mode. Finally, we reached the literal end of the road. This was where a large ditch had been cut across the roadway, and an equally large berm built up just in front of it. I admit that I entertained the thought of trying to get the truck over the berm, but a quick look down the total of ten feet or so from the top of the berm to the bottom of the ditch quickly erased the notion entirely. We’d be walking from here. As we had the previous day, Maile and I had worn regular shoes for the drive up, so we changed into our hiking boots. We also spent a few minutes making sure we had all of our camera equipment, and I slipped my lock blade into my back pocket, where I could get to it quickly in the case of any encounters with aggressive local wildlife. We found some walking sticks, pre-hydrated and headed out on our final assault on the film site.
We passed the berm and the ditch, and quickly discovered why the road had been closed in such a permanent fashion.
The steep side of the hill that the road cut across had fallen, and it was obvious just by looking that any attempt to clear the slide from the road would last about ten minutes, before some more of the hill came tumbling down to replace it. It’s hard to see in the images, but the dropoff on the downhill side of the slide is really , really steep. There is a small path, maybe 18 inches wide, through the far right side of the debris pile. Yes, that is basically on the side of the cliff.
Maile was a little hesitant, but she troopered through, like she always does. After the slide, the way was generally clear, and the trail was easy (it was, after all, an overgrown roadbed), although I couldn’t help but notice that we were descending pretty steeply, which meant that we would climbing just as steeply on the way out. The forest was extremely lush down here, with lots of ferns, tiny fir saplings, and some absolutely beautiful forest grasses. I also noticed just how much cover there would be for any predator that might want to size us up.
After around a half mile of hiking, which involved climbing over a small stream that had carved a little canyon for itself, we came across our first historical prize of the afternoon – the famous bat boxes!
To be honest, I have no real idea why there are there, but they are an important milepost to anyone looking to find the PG film site. Allow me to digress for just a moment: Back in 1967, when Patterson and Gimlin first made their film, several investigators showed up on the scene within a few days. Over the next few years, the site was carefully surveyed and photographed, and the Bigfoot lore and literature is full of analyses of the landscape, and just how the creature made its way across it. This included a number of recreations, using human models of known size to illustrate the creature’s path, and give a sense of scale to the subject and her movements. Sometime in the last 40 or so years, however, the exact spot where the film was shot seems to have been lost to time. Many of the surviving old guard investigators discovered that their memories had faded, and since the site is in a dynamic, living forest, the terrain itself had changed, sometime dramatically.
All hope was not lost however. Over the last couple of years, a small group of investigators were able to identify salient features of the landscape of the film, several of which were still present, and largely unchanged. By finding those features in the terrain along Bluff Creek, the Bluff Creek Film Site Project was able to, for all intents and purposes, verify the exact spot along the creek where the film was taken.
That spot was a couple hundred yards upstream from the bat boxes, which was where we now stood.
Once again, we were at Bluff Creek, and once again, walking in the water turned out to be the most expedient way to get where we wanted to go. This part of the creek, which was about 3 miles upstream from where had been the day before, was a little more challenging. There were more deep spots, the water was running a little faster, and there were a lot more fallen trees and other obstacles in our way. We climbed under things, over things, and slowly wended our way upstream. I couldn’t help but recall Bob Gimlin’s account of poking along the very path we were finding now, and remembering his description of passing some huge root balls from fallen trees, and coming around a bend in the creek to find the creature.
It took us around 45 minutes of scrambling, climbing and slogging, but suddenly, finally, there it was, the PG film site!
Back at Bigfoot Books, Steve Streufert had said that we’d know we were in the right spot because he and the other members of the Bluff Creek Film Site Project had planted some surveyor’s flags and stacked some rocks to mark various positions shown in the P/G film. As it turns out, these flags were quite obvious, and confirmed beyond all doubt that we were in fact in the right place. Based on the markers, I was able to stand where Roger Patterson stood, walk where Patty (the nickname for the creature in the film) walked, and just generally soak in the feeling that I was standing where it happened. For a moment, I was that kid again, playing in the mountains, listening raptly to the stories my older cousin was telling about monsters that were for real.
As I was standing there, pondering the reality of my surroundings, I noticed something on a rock not too far from the water; Four fresh apples that appeared to be no more than a couple of days old. Someone had baited the film site!
I walked over to investigate further, and saw something else interesting. In the two days we spent hiking in and around Bluff Creek, Maile and I had spotted three or four deer tracks, and one track that looked like it was left by a canid, probably a small coyote. The film site, however, was absolutely covered in tracks that had certainly been left by bipedal creatures. I’m not a tracking expert by any means, but I know a hiking boot print when I see one, and for that matter, I know one when I see a couple hundred. It appears someone else had been here, and not long ago. It occurred to me that we might at that very moment be tripping someone’s trail cam, so I gave a friendly wave to the woods.
I collected a baggie full of sand from the banks of the creek, it seemed the thing to do.
It had taken us a good chunk of time to get here, and we had a very long drive ahead of us, so we had to start thinking about heading back. Of course, there was one thing we absolutely had to do before we could even think about leaving:
As we started away from the film site, I felt very, very good. I was feeling like I was able to share a truly grand and educational adventure with my daughter, and show her some things that I am quite sure none of her friends at school would have gotten to see during their summer vacations. I was feeling like the greatest dad in the world…
It still strikes me as ironic that it wasn’t until we were on our way out of the area that it occurred to me just what I had done; I had taken my seven year-old daughter deep into the wilderness in Northern California, miles and miles from the nearest town (which would have been Orleans) , and just as far from any potential help if she were to say, fall in the creek and break an ankle. Of course, it also occurred to me that if she were to get hurt, I would just pick her up, throw her over my shoulder, pack her back to the truck, and drive like hell to the emergency room.
Then I had another thought:
What would happen ifIfell and broke my ankle???
It’s not like Maile could have dragged me up to the truck, or that I could even have just tossed her the keys and sent her off to safety. I was suddenly met with a vision of lying in the creek, unable to walk while my daughter cried, and we both realized the depths of the predicament we would be in as we waited for nightfall, knowing we would very soon be food for the local fauna.
Then I remembered the apples.
I also remembered that Willow Creek has an annual celebration called Bigfoot Daze, which started the next day. I revisited that vision of the two of us huddling together awaiting the darkness. This time, we waited around for a couple of hours until some other crazy Bigfoot people came by and rescued us.
Perspective quickly returned.
The hike back up the hill to the truck was as strenuous as I had figured it would be, and Maile needed a little encouragement to get back to the truck, but we made it, changed out of our wet boots and socks, then made our way out of Bigfoot country for the final time in the summer of 2012. That was August 30th, and in the months since then, I’ve started to look at our expeditions to Bluff Creek as sort of our own personal Apollo project. Our first trip was not unlike Apollo 8, where the idea was to prove that we could actually go that far and make it back safely. Our second trip, where we actually reached the film site, was like Apollo 11, the purpose of which was to accomplish an actual landing on the moon, and safe return. That’s what we accomplished on day two. Next time we go, which will almost certainly be next summer, we will return to the film site and actually do some work there. I would like to spend the better part of a day or two there, and actually trace the route that Patty walked, hike upstream for a few miles, maybe spend the night at Louse Camp. Perhaps we’ll set our own game cameras and see what we can see.
After our first epic Squatchin’ adventure, Maile and I couldn’t wait to get back to Bigfoot Country. Late in August, as the dust was settling from her birthday revelries, we once again loaded up the truck and headed south. This time, however, we were much better prepared. Rather than camp near Orleans, we decided it would be a better idea to just head straight to Willow Creek, stay in the Bigfoot Motel for two nights, which put us right by all the food, gas and other supplies we would be needing. From there, we would launch our daily expeditions to the Patterson/Gimlin film site, and other areas of historical sasquatch importance along Bluff Creek.
We didn’t leave Portland as early as I’d hoped we would, but we still got out at a reasonable hour. We followed the same route we had on our previous adventure, and I was pleased to see that many of the examples of pareidolia and other optical illusions were still there. We made it to Willow Creek in time for pizza. I managed to exchange a couple of emails with our local contact, and nail down some details about exactly how to get from Highway
96 to the film site. Maile had lost a tooth during breakfast before we left Portland, and there was some discussion as to whether the Tooth Fairy would be able to find her on her Bigfoot expedition. (I will pause while the reality of considering the Tooth Fairy’s navigational abilities while on a Bigfoot expedition sinks in… Yeah, I know…) We actually ended up in the same room in the Bigfoot Motel that we stayed in on our first expedition. A good, comfy room, so no complaints. We walked across the main drag and had pizza for dinner, which was a nice treat. Exhausted from a day in the truck, we went back across the street, watched an episode of Finding Bigfoot, then turned in. It turns out the Tooth Fairy is quite resourceful, and managed to leave something under her pillow at the Bigfoot Motel. (I’ll wait again while you read over the whole Tooth Fairy thing one more time…)
Anyway, we slept in a little bit, and got rolling around 10:00. We drove back up highway 96 to Orleans, which was, by now, a very familiar stretch of scenic highway. Willow Creek to Orleans is around 40 miles, but the twisty nature of the Bigfoot Highway means it will take a good hour to make the journey. Just before Orleans is the turnoff to EyeSee road, which is also known as the G.O. Road, or the “Go Road” The Go Road was originally built to connect the booming metropolises of Gasquet and Orleans; two towns separated by very rough mountainous terrain. I stopped the truck at the turnoff, got my camera out, slung it over my neck, then took off the lens cap. There would be some great opportunities for photography, and I didn’t want to miss any of of them, especially if they involved rapidly moving wildlife. I was getting pretty excited at this point, knowing we were finally getting into the very heart of Bigfoot territory. The Go Road is a relatively well maintained mountain pass, but gets snowed over every year around mid-fall. I’m told October may be too late in the year to count on being able to get through, but this time, August was just fine. After a long and winding climb, we passed milepost 16, and started looking for the turnoff to Forest Service road 12n12.
The intersection isn’t exactly hidden, but it would also be pretty easy to blow by it without noticing. 12n12 was still paved, but this time it was only a single lane, with no shoulder. I’m not exactly sure how we might have negotiated a meetup with another vehicle coming the other direction. Luckily, in two days of driving around the woods, we saw exactly one other vehicle, a minivan driven by the NorCal version of a Soccer Mom bombing down the mountain at a speed that would only be dared by a local. Once on 12n12, we began to detect the unmistakable scent of wood smoke. Initially, I thought we might have driven by an unattended campfire, but as we continued, the scent grew quite a bit stronger. Eventually, we could see a haze of smoke as well. In a number of places, 12n12 affords majestic views of the forested slopes of the mountains below, and I could see that the source of the smoke was not immediately upwind or down-slope, so we pressed on.
The haze of smoke thickened quite a bit, and over the next six miles, we were treated to some truly spectacular views of sun-beams slicing through the forest canopy. Being a remote mountain road, 12n12 is not fast in any sense, but as we rolled along with the windows down, despite our excitement to get where we were going, we felt no need to be in a hurry. Even with the smoke, which thickened, and then eventually abated, the crisp aromatic air left no doubt that we were far, far off the beaten track.
We finally arrived at the “Green Gate”, which opens into Forest Service road 12n13, known locally as the “Bigfoot Road”. This unpaved double-track descends down the side of the hill , eventually crossing Bluff Creek twice, and passing by the entrance to Louse Camp before looping back. I thought this would be an ideal time to lock the hubs on the truck and select a 4-wheel drive mode. That actually turned out to be a pretty good idea later on. As we descended down the steep side of the hill, it became readily apparent just how far out in the woods we really were.
The forest canopy was quite dense, and the road got progressively rougher as we continued. At the bottom of the hill, we reached the famous Bluff Creek Bridge. The bridge’s roadbed was paved, naturally, and the concrete K-rail made it look somewhat out of place in its modernity.
It was a little reassuring, though, to know that we were still on an “official” road, and we had a good landmark. We decided this would be a good place to park the truck and take a look around. For the drive, we had just been wearing regular shoes, so we took a few minutes to lace up our boots. With the truck stopped, and both of us taking a well-needed stretch, the heavy quiet of the forest once again settled over us. We had been making no effort to stay silent, and our arrival by truck had certainly alerted any and all animals in the area to our presence, either by sound or the thick dusty contrail we’d been churning up behind us. That was fine with me, as the last thing I really wanted to do was sneak up on anything and give it a scare. Just in case, I made sure my lock blade knife was easily accessible. The bridge crosses Bluff Creek at a height of only about 10 feet or so, so it was a small little climb down to the creek itself. Since we still weren’t quite sure exactly where the film site would be from the bridge, we started upstream.
At this point, I was feeling like we were “close enough” to the actual film site that we had obtained the bragging rights, so I was pretty much just enjoying the feeling of being in such a “Squatchy” neighborhood. That said, I was still keeping my eyes peeled for any of the familiar PG film landmarks, including the famous Bat Boxes, the “Big Tree”, or any of the various fallen trees and stumps seen in the film. None of that was apparent, but since it had been nearly 45 years since the film was made, I would expect very little would look the same. It wasn’t long before it became apparent that walking upstream would be difficult. After only a hundred yards or so, the brush got very thick, and at this point, we hadn’t yet figured out that we would be getting wet, and walking right through the middle of the creek. So we decided to turn downstream. At this point, we realized that if we were to get anywhere at all on this Bluff Creek adventure, we would need to be getting our socks wet. What the hell, we both had real live hiking boots on, so we finally just gave up and tromped through the water.
This turned out to be just about the best decision we were to make on the entire trip. Bluff Creek is not all that deep, fast, or otherwise scary, so we didn’t even end up getting wet above the knees. As it was late August, and pleasantly warm, this really wasn’t a problem, although I would think about some more serious preparations if I were planning another trip later in the year (Hip waders would probably solve the problem entirely). So down the creek we hiked, just enjoying being in Bigfoot’s backyard. We kept our eyes peeled for anything that looked like it was Patterson and Gimlin’s film site, or, for that matter, anything that might one day become known as the Zenner/Zenner film site. Alas, we saw no evidence of any cryptids.
At times, the creek did get a little challenging. We climbed over some fallen logs, and more than once had to create a plan to get around small rapids, deep pools or short waterfalls. Most of the plans involved me either carrying Maile or assisting her in jumping over something. During all of this, I noticed something else that added to the mystique of Bluff Creek. Something that was quite interesting and just a little spooky: The rocky bottom of the creek creates dozens of little eddies and odd currents, which gives rise to an acoustic effect that is kind of like the familiar “babbling brook”. However, the effect as it occurs on this particular creek is much more pronounced (pun). It sounds remarkably similar to human vocalizations, as if you’re hearing a conversation, but can’t quite make out the words.
There were a number of times where I actually looked around, expecting to see some other hikers. Of course, I never did, and since I was keeping an eagle eye on Maile, I knew it wasn’t her. I can imagine how camping overnight at somewhere like nearby Louse Camp could be downright unnerving! We ended up hiking about a mile and a half, then decided it was time to turn back. We probably had some more in us, but we wanted to make it back to Willow Creek in time to visit Bigfoot Books before owner Steve Streufert closed for the evening. So we turned around and headed back to the truck.
The trip back was mostly uneventful. While walking along one of the many gravel bars in the creek, my footing gave way and I ended up falling rather gracelessly onto my elbow. I was mainly concerned about keeping grit out of my camera, but Maile seemed surprisingly shaken by the whole thing. I assured her I was okay, and we hiked the rest of the way out without further incident. By the time we got back to the bridge, we were feeling like we’d spent a good day hiking in the woods. We were just the right amount of tired and hungry. We had a snack of energy bars, water and pretzels, then started up the truck. We continued on in the same direction along 12n13, as I had the impression that the road would eventually loop back around. On the way, we came to a fork, and heading off to the left, we followed a road which was almost entirely overgrown, with the canopy above actually joining, forming a closed ceiling over the road. It was a little spooky, even during the bright of the afternoon. The road finally emptied into a campground equipped with a porta-john, a couple of fire rings, and a couple of picnic tables. I would find out later that this was the famous Louse Camp, where many of the original Bigfoot expeditions camped and planned their searches. Next time we come down, I want to spend some time here, and maybe, if we’re feeling brave enough, camp here for a night. We got back onto 12n13, where we crossed the “Old” Bluff Creek bridge, which can be identified by the legend “1958” pressed into the concrete of the bridge railing. We then headed back to Willow Creek. We made it to Bigfoot Books before closing, and ended up having another very interesting and entertaining conversation with Steve, and I ended up with another armful of books. I was also able to get some more specific directions that would end up taking us directly to the actual film site. Being a member of of a bookstore family, I feel it is very important to support small, independent stores whenever possible. Even if you can get the book for less money at Amazon or Barnes and Noble, there are plenty of reasons why independent booksellers are important parts of their communities. Okay, that’s it for the rant, except to say that if you should happen by Bigfoot Books in Willow Creek, please support Steve! After Bigfoot Books, we discovered that the Bigfoot Restaurant was open. On our previous adventure, we had managed to miss out on the place entirely. Since it was dinner time, and we had the opportunity, we stopped in. Maile liked her hamburger much better than her previous Willow Creek hamburger experiences, and the BF had some fascinating decor and atmosphere. We had found our new favorite restaurant in Willow Creek!
We returned to the motel for more movies and, exhausted after our day of high adventure, passed out early.
So ended day one of our second epic Squatching trip to Northern California. Day two was also a truly amazing adventure; Will we make it to the film site? Will we find any evidence of the creature? Stay tuned for those answers and more in part 2!