(If you’re unfamiliar with what this Patterson/Gimlin film thing is that I keep talking about, here is a brief explanation)
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:
With that done, now we could head home.
View Bluff Creek – PGF Site 8/30/2012 13:43 in a larger map
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 if I fell 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.
I doubt I’ll bait the film site, though…