Posted by: Loren Coleman on November 7th, 2008
Bill Heicher checks the track impression left after more than 800 pounds of weight was piled on the machine. Eric Eves holds back to the top of the contraption, while cameraman Jim Tittle captures the moment. Photo by Kathy Heicher
It was mere coincidence that the production crew from the History Channel’s “Monster Quest” series set up in Eagle [Colorado] on Halloween. But it was an appropriate day to investigate monsters.
And that was exactly the purpose of the visit: Production of a documentary piece investigating the possibility of a sasquatch or bigfoot presence in Colorado. Rumors of huge, “monkey-men” creatures have been reported since the late 1800s. The sasquatch or bigfoot became more famous in the early 1950s, following publication of an out-of-focus photo of a huge, ape-like creature.
Minneapolis-based producer Liz Pollock and her crew were drawn to Eagle by a couple of incidents reported in the spring of 2000. Within a three week period that year, two fishermen reported separate instances of finding huge, human-like footprints (18-20 inches long) alongside the Eagle River. One sighting was below Gypsum, and the second was just above Eagle. At the time, wildlife experts and law enforcement officers filed reports and studied the photos, but couldn’t explain what had made the tracks.
The popular Monster Quest show is a documentary television series that examines monster sightings around the world. Each episode is a mix of scientific examination evidence, eyewitness reports, and observations from informed skeptics. It’s a science known as “cryptozoology” — the study of animals that fall outside of contemporary zoological catalogs.
“Our main goal is to keep it as credible as possible,” says Pollock, “We try to get unbiased experts to look at people’s physical evidence.” The documentary, tentatively slated to run this spring, will mark the first time a Monster Quest bigfoot story has centered on Colorado.
Pollack’s research turned up 100 reported bigfoot “encounters” (including track sightings and vocalizations as well as physical sightings) reported in the state.
The completed program will include a mix of interviews, a scientific experiment (more on that later), and an “expedition.” Pollack said that the approximate 15 full days of filming will include a couple of days on horseback and two days of helicopter flights over the Pikes Peak area (where the most recent sasquatch sighting was reported) with a representative of the Colorado Bigfoot Organization.
Informed skeptics’ and the scientific method
The Eagle segment features a scientific experiment; and interviews with several locals who were involved in the track sightings.
Pollack tapped retired Division of Wildlife Officer Bill Heicher as the program’s “informed skeptic.” A wildlife biologist, Heicher makes it clear he’s not a bigfoot believer.
“If bigfoot were out there, somebody would have found signs, like scat, or fur samples that could be used for DNA tests,” he says. Still, after talking with one of the men who found the tracks eight years ago, and examining the photographs, Heicher says he can’t explain what left the track near the river.
“I don’t think it was human. I ruled out wildlife tracks. I don’t know what it was,” said Heicher.
Bill Kaufman, now a captain with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, was one of the officers who looked into the incident at the time. Pollock’s crew filmed Kaufman discussing what he described as a credible witness, and the mysterious tracks. Kaufman is not a bigfoot believer, but he noted law enforcement officers at the time could not determine what animal made the large, human- like tracks. Although the hind feet of bears make somewhat human-like tracks, the size was way beyond any local bear track.
“I can’t explain it. The track was bigger than what I can explain. It’s that simple,” Kaufman says.
The Monster Quest crew, in an effort to get a feel for the size of a creature that would leave footprints the length and depth of those found in 2008, decided to organize an experiment. A hinged plywood “sasquatch machine” was constructed and equipped with the molds of sasquatch footprints. The contraption was set up near the Eagle River. Cameraman Jim Tittle captured the action as Heicher and volunteer Eric Eves loaded sandbags onto the machine, then checked the depth of the resulting footprint. The conclusion: Well over 800 pounds of weight was needed to leave a track in the hard-packed gravel bed. That’s considerably bigger than any local bear or moose.
Putting it all together
The film crew also spent some time at the Eagle County Historical Society Museum in Chambers Park. Historical archives include persistent reports of mysterious ape-like creatures encountered in the woods. A report in an 1881 Leadville newspaper told of local residents seeing a “man with long arms and a long shaggy fur covered body in the Lake Creek area.” (Lake Creek is a common stream name in Colorado, and the Eagle Valley does have a Lake Creek.)
A tale of Leadville-area miners encountering a strange, hairy, man-like creature with extraordinarily long arms is chronicled in Percy Eberhardt’s book “Treasure Tales of the Rockies.” The Monster Quest crew plans to film a reenactment of that story.
Historically, a story about a sasquatch-like creature in the Pearl Creek area of Camp Hale circulates ever couple of decades or so. The accounts, typically of the friend-of-a-friend-told-me variety, typically involve the sighting of a huge, shadowy form in the trees, big footprints, and the disappearance of some hapless person (a soldier form Camp Hale, a hunter, or somebody’s spouse).
Pollock said once the filming is done, the writing of the show takes about two weeks, then the editing of the film involves another month of work. The program is scheduled to air in Monster Quests’ third season, probably in February or March.
(P.S. I’ll be in Colorado this coming weekend, and you can find more about that here.)