Frozen in mid-stride, the Bigfoot gazed at us with wide curious eyes. Dan and I weren’t at all afraid. Despite its towering height and gorilla-thick bulk, there was an intelligence in its expression, a human softness beneath the ridges of its ape-like forehead. Coarse brown hair covered the rest of its body; a reminder that however much we wish to see of ourselves in an animal’s eyes, we lost that fur and that wildness long ago. We both knew it wouldn’t be wise to get much closer. Plus, we couldn’t. The doors of what until recently was Denver’s Premier (and only) Bigfoot Museum and Gift Shop were chained shut, decorated with a hand-written “Going Out of Business.”
All that remained of what must have been shelves upon shelves of irrefutable North American forest ape evidence was the Bigfoot statue posed on an AstroTurf box facing the entrance, made by whomever mass produces life-sized novelty plastic sasquatches. I rattled the locked doors.
“Much like the beast itself,” Dan lamented “The Bigfoot Museum can only be seen by the traces it leaves behind.”
I rattled the locked doors again. Nothing had changed in the last fifteen seconds. Shit. Visiting this museum had been on my to-do list for months. I should have come sooner.
I’d heard about the Bigfoot Museum a couple months back when I’d returned to the pot shop after my lunch break. My co-worker Matt, who looks like a rabbi that left to start a punk band, rushed up to me the moment I stepped in the door. Once he stopped laughing, he explained that just minutes before, one of Denver’s top-ten Bigfoot experts had sidled up to his register dressed in American flag pajama pants and a sleeveless undershirt. As proof of his esteemed position in this field of research, he handed Matt a Bigfoot Museum and Gift Shop business card.
While buying a strain that “Puts the lead straight into my pencil,” the expert leaned across the counter, too excited to keep his secret any longer. On his last Bigfoot hunt, his group of experts had discovered something monumental.
“We were following behind him a ways not to spook him, and he led us right into this clearing. There were these two trees that had fallen onto the ground, one on top of the other, and guess what? It looked like he’d put them like that on purpose to form the shape of a cross. Now, I’m not saying…but I think he led us there because he wanted us to know; he’s heard the Good Word.”
This, of course, raised many questions.
“Do I need to go to the Bigfoot Museum and ask about born-again Christian Sasquatches?” was not one of them.
From that day The Bigfoot Museum and Gift Shop became as legendary and ethereal in my mind as the beast itself, but with the added benefit of the museum actually existing. I’d get to walk through a real-life version of one of the Unsolved Mysteries episodes I devoured as a kid while in my favorite pajamas.
However, I hadn’t found the time to go until my friend Dan came into town. Tall with long, wavy, greying hair and owlish glasses, Dan’s overall black-clad appearance could be summed up as “Professor of Heavy Metal Studies.” He was in town to perform on some comedy shows that night and had a day to kill. Upon hearing of Sasquatch’s spiritual conversion, he cut me off.
“So we’re going to the Bigfoot Museum now,” he declared, ordering us a Lyft.
A short ride brought us to a mini-mall, where the Bigfoot Museum stood between a decaying Orange Julius and a dry cleaners that clearly laundered money. Only upon arrival did we discover that our destination had become yet another victim of the Darwinian economy for cryptozoological-themed museums and gift shops in major American cities.
I rattled the doors one last time and turned away, lamenting what could have been.
“Sorry man,” I shrugged. “Google said it was open.” Only later would I realize that a Bigfoot Museum in the middle of Denver not being open was far more predictable.
Dan shrugged back, pulling up the next destination on our Denver tour: a comic book shop.
“What do you think it takes to become one of the top-ten Bigfoot experts?” Dan mused as the Lyft icon slowly navigated toward us across his phone screen.
“Saying you are.” I replied. “But, like, with a lot of confidence. Especially if you’re claiming top-ten.”
A red pickup truck glided into the museum’s parking spot. A tan, round-faced man with a trim, grey goatee and brushed back hair hopped out with a fast-food bag swinging from his fist. A red sleeveless undershirt stretched over his barrel chest and belly with the acronym “S.I.R” emblazoned on the chest in black.
“Sorry guys. The Bigfoot Museum’s closed down.”
“Are you the owner?” I asked, a spring of hope welling up.
“Yes…” He replied with the caution of a man who hadn’t fully paid back a business loan.
“Can we go inside and you tell us about the Bigfoots?”
“Well sure!” He perked up, retrieving the shop keys from his jean shorts.
At age 53, Michael has spent over 25 years investigating Bigfoots. Tired of paying out of pocket for his groundbreaking research, he opened the shop to fund his organization, the Sasquatch Investigations of the Rockies or S.I.R.
Coming into the shop, I knew only a few things about Bigfoots:
1. They are easily heartbroken by John Lithgow.
2. The famous Bigfoot video everyone has seen of him walking through the trees is known as the Patterson Footage, which was filmed in the woods around Bluff Creek in Northern California.
3. In the 1990s, Yakima, Washington resident Bob Hieronymus admitted to wearing a gorilla suit in the Patterson Footage. If you watch the stabilized video it looks exactly like that.
Michael immediately informed us that despite what we had heard, Bigfoots are not confined to the lush forests of the Pacific Northwest. They are native to all seven continents and can be found across America, especially around mountain peaks. That is where Michael had his first encounter one fateful day almost three decades ago.
On a crystal blue winter morning, Michael was driving with his brother 14,000 feet up on Pike’s Peak. Upon glimpsing some strange tracks in the snow leading across the road, he ordered his sibling to slam on the brakes. The truck skidded to a stop on the frozen ground. Michael leapt from the truck’s cab into the crisp, dry air to find that his initial suspicions were correct:
These footprints in the snow were much bigger than normal feet.
Following the peculiar tracks 800 feet down into a canyon, Michael heard some rocks slide behind him. Whipping his head to the origin of the sound, he beheld his very first male Bigfoot from the corner of his eye. The titanic man-ape quickly blended back into the forest.
On his next day off, Michael returned to Pike’s Peak with a rifle to investigate further into the ravine. He fell several times descending into the ravine, banging his knee on a rock. Undaunted, he limped on through the snowy forest in pursuit of the Bigfoots. But soon he grew weary from his frequent stumbles. Sitting alone on a log, knee swelling, breathing heavy from his pursuit of this shadow that he’d glimpsed for only a second a week ago, Michael had a profound realization:
Despite their enormous strength and superior numbers, these goliath primates weren’t attacking him. Instead, they’d chosen to accept this vulnerable interloper into their realm. From that day forward, Michael vowed that the only thing he would arm himself with in his quest was a camera, curiosity, and compassion.
As Dan and I processed this touching story of trust between man and man-ape, I began firing off questions. I needed to learn as much about Bigfoots as I could before our Lyft driver arrived, and to say the word “Bigfoot” or “Bigfoots” as many times as possible in ten minutes.
Michael credited his enviable Bigfoot encounter success rate to only searching for Bigfoots in places he’d seen them before. Unlike the globe-trotting ways of Matt Moneymaker, the founder of the Bigfoot Field Research Organization (BFRO) and star of Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot (On air for twelve seasons), Michael stayed mostly in Colorado. Thanks to this constrained geographic focus, the Bigfoots had become used to Michael’s benign presence.
In fact, they’d taken to staring at him through the windows of his truck as he approached their sites. Out in the forest, it was rare for Michael to not hear their telltale “wood knocks,” which is how they communicated with humans. That and stacking rocks, or leaving rocks on stumps or beside trails, as I would later find documented in the S.I.R website’s evidence page.
When I asked why no one’s been able to get a clear photo of them, I was informed that these nine-foot-tall forest apes could move out of your field of vision in exactly 1.5 seconds or less (or, in scientific notation: 1.5s/FoV). That’s why you could only see them out of the corner of your eye before they’d vanished. Despite the Bigfoots’ familiarity with Michael, they’d continued to dash away before he could take a clear photo. However, the S.I.R had still managed to snap some convincing evidence, such as a Bigfoot giving birth behind a grove of shadowy aspen trees.
In Michael’s most recent encounter, a juvenile Bigfoot punched the wall of his tent as Michael lay inside. He knew they’d been circling the perimeter of his campsite for a while. The thudding footfalls of these 300+ pound creatures were unmistakable. Later that night, he got out of his tent to take a leak. One snuck up behind him and hooted in his ear before bounding playfully into the undergrowth at speeds of 1.5s/FoV.
A creature this powerful and quick would need to supplement their diet with protein, so I followed up with the next obvious question: What do Bigfoots eat? Are they gentle herbivores like the lowland gorilla, or predatory omnivores like our closest relative: the chimpanzee?
As it turned out, Bigfoots use their incredible speed to hunt down and kill deer.
“If you’ve ever found a half-eaten deer in the woods…” Michael winked, “It was a Bigfoot.”
A tip for Bigfoot hunters that Michael then offered us free of charge is to listen for the birds.
“Crows and ravens follow Bigfoots around as they search for prey, ‘cause they know they’ll leave them plenty of meat on the carcass afterwards. You can tell when a Bigfoot’s on the hunt because the crows and the ravens make different noises.” Michael turned around to see if there was anyone in the shop to overhear, then leaned in “Personally, I think there’s some kind of primitive communication between the two of them, like they’re talking.”
This of course led to a quick tutorial on the similar dialects between East Coast and West Coast Bigfoots, which included Michael doing his impression of their low, gargling Wookiee growls and hoots.
“What do baby Bigfoots sound like?” Popped out of my mouth without a second thought.
I’m treated to an adorable, high-pitched guttural growl performed by Michael. It left no doubt in my mind that I was glad I asked.
“How do they raise the babies?” was the obvious follow-up question.
“In nests. Just like gorillas,” Michael smiled. He has found ample evidence of this, including Bigfoot nests with hair in them. “Once I get the funding, I can send those hairs in for gene sequencing. That’ll be all the proof the world needs, and it’ll be the S.I.R that gave it to the world.”
This reminded Michael of the last pregnant Bigfoot he saw, which had been walking with her mate through Box Canyon. “…but then there was that big fire and the government shut down access to the canyon. I haven’t been able to go back and see if there’s a baby yet.”
“Do you think the Bigfoots burned up in the fire?”
“Aw, man,” His eyes grew wide. “I hope not. I hadn’t even thought of that.”
The thought of losing a family of Bigfoots to the flames was clearly devastating. I regretted asking immediately.
“I bet they got away. You said yourself they can outrun deer,” I encouraged.
“Yeah, they must have gotten away.” Michael nodded; his voice tight. Then his spirits lifted. “Yeah…you’re right. Even pregnant they’re still so fast. I’ll find them again.”
This entire time, Dan had been wandering around the empty shop, trying not to crack up at Michael’s earnest answers. He found this especially hard upon discovering that one of the last products waiting to be packed into the moving truck was for some reason a cardboard cut-out of Chewbacca. I’d kept my composure, even if I sometimes had to cover my grin with my hand and cover by nodding thoughtfully. Michael was too into his Bigfoot stories to notice and I was way too engrossed to stop him.
However, my Bigfoot symposium had come to an end. Dan broke in to tell me the Lyft was pulling into the parking lot. I remembered the final question I wanted to ask.
“What religion are Bigfoots?”
Michael’s face scrunched in confusion. The shop’s other top-ten Bigfoot expert, a lankier man who’d been loading boxes into the moving truck the entire time, must be the one Matt spoke to in the pot shop. Apparently, Bigfoot’s conversion wasn’t the consensus view of the S.I.R leadership.
I thanked Michael for his time and he thanked me for all my questions, then directed me to the S.I.R website’s FAQ page. As he walked us out of the shop, Michael glanced over the signage that would soon be replaced by the next entrepreneur.
“This shop was just breaking even anyway. That’s not worth my time. Me, I gotta succeed.”
We shook hands on that hopeful note, then Dan and I hopped in the Lyft and sped off, Dan already sketching out notes to open his comedy show that night.
I would later go onto the S.I.R website, and hear clear audio evidence of people genuinely believing that tree branches in the wind or rocks falling onto other rocks were Bigfoots. I poured over photos of shadows in the underbrush where they’d drawn rushed yellow circles and arrows around what are clearly not the feet of a pregnant Bigfoot giving birth. I looked at multiple photos of branches that were broken, 100% not by a Sasquatch. And yet, an envy rose in me with every exclamation point at the end of every caption.
Michael’s been at this for over half his life. If hiking into the woods and taking photos of rocks stacked on top of other rocks offered a pension plan, he could retire by now. And honestly, having never spent a quarter of a century on any pursuit (and having a bank account balance reflecting that fact), I would kill for that level of commitment. Imagine what that kind of passion and dedication could achieve at any other career? And instead of money, Michael chose something that gave him purpose.
So what if Michael truly believes that recently, a nine-foot tall forest ape hooted in his ear one night while he was peeing before it bounded into the underbrush?
If there’s one thing that I truly believe, it’s that I would kill to have that much certainty about anything in my life right now.
Paul Barach’s work has been published previously in Creative Colloquy, Litro, The Trek, and in the forthcoming collection Inaka: Portraits of Life in Rural Japan. Fighting Monks and Burning Mountains: Misadventures on a Buddhist Pilgrimage is Barach’s first book. He currently lives in Tacoma, Washington with his wife, Michelle.