Tag: Non-fiction

My Encounter

forest_by_YassmineLocation: Sespe Wilderness Area of Los Padres National Forest; GPS coordinates 34 deg, 32’.36” North; 118 deg, 52’.42” West

Nearest Town: Fillmore, California

Time: Spring, 2004

Event: Bigfoot Encounter


The Sespe is the longest remaining undammed river in California. It’s also home to the endangered California Condor. The condor’s Sanctuary lies within the Sespe Wilderness Area, which lies within Los Padres National Forest.

Sespe_Wilderness_in_the_Los_Padres_National_ForestAlthough the Wilderness lies at the edge of modern civilization – the coastal mountains it protects stretch from Los Angeles to Monterey – it is the fourth largest acreage of roadless Wilderness Area in the lower 48 states. Within the Wilderness Area, no roads, or vehicles are allowed. Within the Sanctuary, additional protections apply for the condors. It’s one of the most protected pieces of land on the planet.

Fillmore sits at the edge of the National Forest, at the mouth of Sespe Canyon. East of town, a rugged forest road leads 20 miles to a place called Doughnut Flat. At Doughnut Flat, the road ends on the edge of the Wilderness Area, and it’s the beginning of the Alder Trail. There were no other cars at the trail-head when I arrived.

At the time, I lived in Fillmore. This is an area I’d been to before, since it’s almost my old backyard. From Doughnut Flat, Alder trail follows a meandering creek at an elevation of about 4,000 feet, before it drops down a steep canyon to join with a longer trail that follows the upper reaches of the river.

Sespe_Wilderness_Topography_4A mile in, the trail passes a cluster of trees. A big oak in the center has a campsite beneath. I hiked alone this day, and didn’t intend to go far, carrying only water and a walking stick. I stopped to survey the campsite thinking I might one day bring the kids, since it’s such an easy hike from the car.

I was disappointed to find the site trashy with beer cans and broken glass – being a mile from the trail-head, it evidently got heavy use.

As I poked around beneath the oaks, I heard heavy steps, and glimpsed the knee and lower leg of a man bolting from a brush-filled ravine not twenty yards away.

The knee and leg thrust forward in a run. The foot was obscured by grass, and the body was obscured by the branches of the tree I stood beneath. The leg was a uniform, dark grey color. I saw no cuff, or sock, or other feature, and he was gone up the canyon before I could think to move.

This disturbed me. He apparently bolted because I was there. Why was he hiding? I concluded the man must have an illegal camp, or pot growing back in the canyon – up to something he didn’t want known.  I immediately gathered my things and left, hiking to my truck.

ManzanaI returned a week later. Again, by myself, thinking whoever lurked in that canyon ought to be gone. I wanted to survey the situation – like I said, this is a trail I used a lot, a place I wanted to bring the kids. I might add, I am always very aware in the wild, especially by myself. But on this occasion, I half expected to run into someone, so was particularly aware. That’s one reason my memory is clear.

I walked beyond the trees to where I saw the man run and found a path. The path led up the shallow canyon towards an unusual blue-gray cut in the mountain that looked like a small mining operation from a time in the past. I found an old fallen windmill near the cut, and some rusted sections of a water tank confirming my suspicion.

I found no campsite, or trash, or other evidence of recent activity. I explored the artifacts and then continued up the draw, which led to a shallow saddle on a ridge. I had to scrabble up a rocky cleft to gain the ridge.

When I topped the ridge, I looked down into a lush green pocket valley, enclosed by cliffs on the opposite side; and on my side, a sandy slope covered in Manzanita. This verdant valley looked untouched and inviting – I could see no roads, or trails. The slope into it was bowl-like and negotiable, so I continued on, skirting the hillside looking for the best way down.

The path ended at the ridge, so I continued on game trails that wove through the chaparral. The Manzanita grew five feet tall, spaced such that I could wend my way through it, but not in a straight line. I could see over the top, but I couldn’t see through. The day was calm, clear, sunny and warm. I’d worked-up a good sweat climbing the ridge, hearing nothing but the sound of my own heavy breathing.

IMG_0581“EEAAAAAAHHHH” – a shriek filled the valley – I stopped in my tracks. The sound came from below, and was directed right at me. So sudden, so loud, and so…unknown was this sound that it startled me witless.

It’s perplexing to hear something you can’t identify – especially in the wild, without warning, where there shouldn’t be such a sound.

No living thing I know in those woods could make that ripping scream; no lion, bobcat, or condor could have carried that volume, or pitch. What entered my mind was T-Rex … from “Jurassic Park.”

The shriek gave me chills, but I knew there had to be a rational answer. My mind ticked through possibilities and came up with the best similarity – there must be heavy equipment in the canyon. Only the screech of metal-on-metal made any sense. I imagined a giant, rusty gate hinge. Only it wasn’t quite like that.

I listened for other sounds. I looked. Nothing moved. There was no sound, or sight of anything – nothing but a pristine valley overgrown with oak and pine along the narrow stream below. There were not supposed to be machines in the Wilderness Area.

The sound didn’t waft up to me, bouncing and distorting off the canyon walls. It hit my face, so to speak, like standing in front of a loudspeaker. Nevertheless, I rationalized the sound must have come from somewhere around a dog-leg in the canyon where I could not see. If I could see down there, I was sure there would be a backhoe, or bulldozer doing heavy work.

I continued across the slope to a rise that promised a view past the dog-leg. As I topped the rise the ground became steep and sandy and I had to dig in my boots to get a stance, which occupied my attention. When I looked – I had a perfect view. I saw the entire length past the dog-leg and the slopes all around. There was nothing there.

I stood for only a moment surveying the scene. Not a fly buzzed it was so still. And then a feeling came over me – I did not belong there.

IMG_0023This was far more than a feeling of being watched, or a case of heebie-jeebies – I’ve had those before. Some thing didn’t want me there. I struggled with this feeling – trying to swallow it. It made no sense, but it kept building almost to a feeling of panic. I turned and retraced my steps towards the ridge.

As I neared the ridge, I heard what sounded like footfalls behind me, in time with my own. I told myself it was my imagination, until I stopped at the ridge top, where I had to climb down the cleft, and I heard one more footfall that wasn’t mine.

I hurtled down the cleft in two bounds, and ran a good fifty yards. Then I heard another sound. It came from the ridge. I turned, thinking I would see whatever was coming down the cleft. There was nothing, except one branch swaying among some brush below the cleft. Just one branch.

I turned and made double time all the way to the Land Rover, roughly three miles, got in and locked the doors. Even inside, with the doors locked, I had the willies driving down the long road.

About five miles from Doughnut Flat, outside the wilderness area at a considerably lower elevation, there is an oilfield with active drilling and production work. As I passed through this area, I thought, what I heard was oil-field equipment. They must be drilling near the Wilderness close to where I was. Convinced I’d found the answer, I forgot about the incident … for ten years.

BF2I am not prone to apprehension in the wilderness. I generally feel quite safe and competent on my own. I’ve spent many days and nights backpacking alone in remote areas, including several trips in this Wilderness. I have experienced weird feelings, like being watched, or that a place feels spooky on occasion. It isn’t unusual in lonely, remote places where creatures roam. But I have never been scared, even confronted by bears, and I’ve never felt compelled to leave a place before, or since this experience.

I never connected the sound with Bigfoot. In my mind Bigfoot – well, if he even exists – lives in rainforests far north, not down in the coastal mountains fifty miles from LA. It wasn’t until my interest in Bigfoot got sparked by someone I admire that the connection finally came.

I’m a fan of Survivorman, and think Les Stroud is an honest, sober guy with a whole lot of back country experience. So when he started looking for Bigfoot, I took it seriously.

Intrigued by his show, I looked through You-Tube for other info, where I ran across various alleged recordings of Bigfoot vocals. That’s when I recognized the sound.

I heard the same blood curdling screech of a rusty hinge, chorused with a resonant, guttural growl. It’s been described as many voices screaming, or many dogs barking in unison. Bigfoot researchers speculate it is a warning.

IMG_1683That is certainly what I felt. The memory of the event is quite clear. I had to look for one more thing.

I found the place on Google Earth. I found views from the same time frame. There is no road, no nearby oil field. Not even a trail in that canyon, or anywhere for miles around. I looked up sightings for the area on the BFRO web-site. There have been several in the Sespe, going back decades.

I also discovered a wealth of information about that one credible Patterson-Gimlin film that has been enhanced and analyzed with digital technology not available at the time it was filmed. There is incredible detail of body proportion and movement that cannot be human.

Whatever drove me out of that canyon made a hell of a noise I cannot associate with anything but a Bigfoot vocalization. Now that I’ve heard it, I can’t ignore it. I’m going back to that canyon, once I find somebody who’ll go with me..

The Galapagos of the Southwest

North America’s Western Cordillera, from Alaska to Southern Mexico, is a wall of mountain. Except for a low point called the Deming gap, between the Rocky Mountain’s end at the Mogollon Rim, and the Sierra Madre Occidental in Mexico.

Chihuahua Desert grasslands spill west through the gap to mingle with cactus in the Sonora Desert. Both deserts span the area between Rockies and Sierra Madres, including southeast Arizona and northern Mexico.

nitro.biosci.arizona.eduPuncturing the desert are mountains ten thousand feet high, where rainfall doubles, snow falls in winter, and alpine forests thrive. This confluence of temperate and tropic, grassland and cactus, dry desert and pine-capped mountain creates one of the most amazing places on the planet.

It is the Madrean Archipelago. ‘Madrean’ is the floristic region’s name, derived from Sierra Madre. ‘Archipelago’ because forty distinct mountains poke through a sea of desert, each an environment of unique complexity. These are the Sky Islands of the Madrean Archipelago. Here’s ten amazing facts.

Northern Canada’s Southern Border

Their names, Penaleño, Galieuro, Huachuca, Chiricahua, Santa Catalina, Rincon and Santa Rita evoke the Spanish influence on the region. They rise abruptly from the valley floor. Piles of granite extrusion, caverned limestone and volcanic flow – wrinkled, faulted, folded earth. Each is an ecology of it’s own, or more precisely, several.

saguarosDrive Mount Lemmon Highway to the 9,157-foot summit of the Santa Catalina’s for a bio-tour from Mexico to Northern Canada – in just twenty-five miles.

Leaving Tucson, you begin in creosote chaparral, typical of Sonora. It’s so dense with plants you wouldn’t think desert if there weren’t needles to remind you. Barrel cactus, prickly pear and cholla grow thick, and thermometers read triple digits the entire summer.

A forest of Saguaro and occotillo blanket the slopes as you begin to climb. Within minutes, these yield to grasses, juniper, yucca and cooler breeze. It’s like Chihuahua.

A few miles farther are pine-oak woodlands. Pine-oak woodlands cover every Sky Island in the Madrean Archipelago; they come from Mexico’s Sierra Madre.

Above seven thousand feet are forests of ponderosa pine, denizens of the Colorado Plateau that marched down the Continental Divide.

Chiricahua

On the tallest sky islands are glades of fern, forests of aspen, spruce and fir, and temperatures thirty degrees cooler than the desert below – just like Canada.

Steeply gorged canyons collect snowmelt and rain into riparian ecosystems. Sycamore, willow and cottonwood fill the lower reaches, and streams tumble down cataracts to pool in box canyons, creating enchanting microclimates.

One can experience eight of the worlds twelve bioregions in a single day’s hike, and walk past a thousand different plants. This vertical variety of ecosystems is compared to the Galapagos Islands for its diversity.

The Most Critters In The U.S.

Twice as many mammal species than Yellowstone Park inhabit the region – 104 at last count. From common black bear to boar-like javalina, black-tailed prairie dog to tropical coati mundi, the region is one of the most diverse in the world.

There are 29 species of bat, alone. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recognizes the Sierra Madre and Madrean Archipelago as one of three biological “mega diversity” centers on the planet.

jaguarMany species are threatened. One hundred and fifty-three are listed as vulnerable. Man eradicated grizzly bear, but Mexican grey wolf, reintroduced decades ago has returned to some Sky Islands. Bighorn sheep have also been reintroduced to replace lost herds.

In 2013, a jaguar, largest cat of the America’s, and third largest of the worlds big cats, was photographed in Arizona’s Santa Rita’s. Ocelots have been photographed in Arizona, too. Both cats retreated far into Mexico, it was thought. These have come back, or perhaps they never left.

ocelotWhich raises a significant issue with a border fence. Many Sky Islands are in Mexico. The greatest diversity of creatures on the continent migrate hopscotch between them, and the border cuts their path. It is a significant issue in debate about the border to ensure protection of their migratory routes. The critters can’t apply for visas.

But Even More Birds

There are places on every birder’s bucket list. The Chiricahua Mountains are at the top, because half of all avian species in North America are found there.

The San Pedro River flows north from Mexico, to join the Gila. It is the most significant free flowing stream in the southwest. Flanked by the Dragoon’s and Chiricahua’s on the east, and the Huachuca’s on the west, it forms a corridor birds fly in migration, which makes the Dragoons, Huachuca’s, Chiricahuas, and the valleys between, their home every year.

Arizona-Sonoran-Desert-Museum-BirdSome birding hot spots:

  • Miller, Carr and Ramsey Canyons in the Huachuca’s. Thirteen species of Hummingbird are documented every year inRamsey Canyon. Birders can witness the Elegant Tanager, Eared Quetzal, Rufus-capped Warbler, Aztec Thrush, Brown-backed Solitaire, and others rarely, if ever seen elsewhere in the U.S.
  • Cave Creek Canyon in the Chiricahuas is famous the world over. Of special interest are wintering raptors. It is not uncommon to check 100 birds of prey off your list in a day, including the rare Ferruginous Hawk, Northern Harrier, Harris’s Hawk, Prairie Falcon, Bald Eagle, Golden Eagle, and Red-tailed Hawk.
  • The San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, managed by the Bureau of Land Management, is a 56,000-acre preserve along the upper San Pedro River. An estimated 4 million migrating birds travel there each year. It is home to over 100 indigenous species, including forty percent of all Gray Hawks in the U.S.

Needless To Say…

gila_thumb_0The area has the most reptiles, bees and ant species in the U.S. There are 135 types of snake, lizard, toad, and turtle living there.

The finest place to see and learn about the diversity and splendor of plants, reptiles, birds, mammals and insects that inhabit the region, is the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. It’s located in the natural desert environment, next to Saguaro National Park, west of Tucson.

It’s ranked one of the Top 10 Museums in the country by TripAdvisor.com and contains 98 acres of zoo, aquarium, aviary, botanical garden, art gallery, mineral exhibit, and natural history museum.

Famous For Rocks

It’s not just plants and animals that define Madrean diversity; it’s the rocks too. The Sky Islands exhibit more mixed geological composition than any other place on the planet. Formed 13 million years ago from continental rifting, the mountains did not rise so much as the valleys sank away, leaving the hard rock standing.

roock The Chiricahua Range is a single massive volcano, whereas the Santa Catalina’s, Rincon’s, Penaleño’s and Dragoon’s have metamorphic cores of gneiss and granite. The other Sky islands are predominately limestone. This mixed composition presents a variety of soils types, which contributes to the wide diversity in plants.

No wonder Tucson is home to the largest Gem and Mineral convention in the world, with over forty show arenas throughout town, anchored by the prestigious Tucson Gem and Mineral Show held each year in February.

Its Where The Anasazi Disappeared.

The region is a crossroads for people as well as flora and fauna. It is the scene of one of the greatest mysteries of antiquity – the Anasazi, who left castles and cliff dwellings, roads, farms and kivas in the Four Corners area in apparent hurry in 1,300 A.D.

We may not know why they left, but we know where they went. They came here.

The Anasazi were only one group of Pueblo Indian. Puebloan culture extended from southern Utah and Colorado, throughout Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico. Cultural cousins to the Anasazi were the Mogollon, Salado, Paquime, Hohokam and other Puebloan people.

When the Anasazi departed Mesa Verde, Kayenta, Canyon de Chelly and other Four Corners pueblos, they fled south and joined these groups. Some followed the Rio Grande, or joined clans on the Mogollon Rim. Others passed through and found a home in Paquime, in Mexico. But many came to reside with the Hohokam, who lived along the rich riparian canyons of Sky Islands, and built sophisticated catchments and irrigation canals to water their crops.

Coronado’s Conquistadors Arrived

Portal_Peak_in_the_Chiricahua_MountainsThe San Pedro River Valley was a causeway for trade and travel to the Pueblo Indians, who traded with the Aztec. Artifacts spanning centuries from Chaco Canyon to Kayenta include Macaw feathers, obsidian mirrors and hammered copper that came from Aztec culture deep in Mexico.

When the Spanish arrived, they took the same trail. In 1540, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and his conquistadors entered what is now the United States in the San Pedro Valley, near the Huachuca Mountains. They traveled north in search of “seven cities of gold” and found one hundred Indian pueblos, the Grand Canyon and Kansas before giving up on gold.

Today, several Sky Islands compose the Coronado National Forest.

Home For Eskimos

Before Spaniards arrived, Eskimo’s came to the Sky Islands. Navajo and Apache are of Athabascan origin. They migrated from Canada, like the spruce and fir that populate the mountains, and are genetically linked to today’s Eskimo.

GeronimoBands collectively known as the Chiricahua Apache made the Sky Islands home, and fought 150 years of war to stay there. The most seminal event of the Apache Wars occurred when Mexicans killed the wife and children of a man named Goyathlay. Today we call him Geronimo.

The crime fostered his vicious guerilla approach to warfare that had Mexican and American soldiers scouring the entire region. The complexity of the geography aided Geronimo, making his renegade band impossible to find.

General Nelson Miles, who captured Geronimo in 1886, built a heliograph station in the Penaleño Mountains to signal troops in search of the Apache. The place is still called Heliograph Peak. At one time, 5,000 troops hunted Geronimo and his band of a few dozen warriors.

Geronimo lobbied to the end of his life to allow his people to return to the Chiricahuas. President Theodore Roosevelt denied him, saying it would raise fear in the “local” people.

Astronomy Capital Of The World

NOAO_AURA_NSF
Kitt Peak. Credit NOAO/AURA/NSF.

Today, Sky Islands are home to more peaceful pursuits. There are twenty-five active observatories located on their peaks. Clear, dry desert air, low light pollution and peaks that reach seven to eleven thousand feet above sea level make this place tops for astronomers. That’s why the University of Arizona in Tucson is a renowned institution for optics and astronomy.

The Santa Catalina Mountains, north of Tucson are home for the Mount Lemmon Observatory, and the Mount Lemmon Sky Center, affiliated with the University. South of Tucson, in the Santa Rita Mountains is 8,550-foot Mt. Hopkins and the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory, operated by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

Above the town of Safford brood the Penaleño range, tallest of the Sky Islands, where several observatories reside atop 10,720-foot Mt. Graham, including the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope, the Large Binocular Telescope and the Mount Graham International Observatory.

Most famous of all, and the largest collection of optical telescopes in the world, is Kitt Peak National Observatory, at 6,875 feet in the Quinlan Mountains southwest of Tucson.

These connect the Sky Islands with researchers around the world, bringing the entire universe into focus, making it the greatest crossroads on the planet.

Here are some handy links:

 http://www.terrain.org/articles/21/skroch.htm

[Ref 2] http://www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs_rm/rm_gtr264/rm_gtr264_006_018.pdf

[Ref 3] http://www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs_rm/rm_gtr264/rm_gtr264_036_059.pdf

[Ref 4] http://www.cbsnews.com/news/rare-jaguar-seen-roaming-southern-arizona-mountains/

[Ref 5] http://wildsonora.com/content/ocelots-arizona

[Ref 6] http://www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs_rm/rm_gtr264/rm_gtr264_036_059.pdf

[Ref 7] http://sabo.org/

[Ref 8] http://www.checklist.org.br/getpdf?SL122-08

[Ref 9] https://www.desertmuseum.org/about/

[Ref 10] http://www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs_rm/rm_gtr264/rm_gtr264_006_018.pdf

[Ref 11] http://www.tgms.org/show-2015/

[Ref 12] http://www.desertusa.com/ind1/ind_new/ind11.html

[Ref 13] http://arizonaexperience.org/remember/coronado-expedition

[Ref 14] http://www.indians.org/welker/geronimo.htm

[Ref 15] http://www.go-astronomy.com/observatories