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Legends Looking for L.A.’s Bigfoot 

Wednesday, Dec 18 2002
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THE NATION WAS SHOCKED TO DISCOVER THAT RAY WALLACE, THE MAN who owned the construction company in Northern California where the tracks that sparked the 20th-century Bigfoot frenzy — well, he seems to have made the prints himself. Wallace died three weeks ago, and his family announced that he had used carvings to create the impressions, letting one of his workers "discover" them later. It was 1958, and the country was apparently ready to take hold of the idea that a clandestine group of hirsute giants lived in its woods. The Humboldt Times article that followed coined the term Bigfoot and set the modern phenomenon in motion. Wallace then kicked off a cottage industry of Bigfoot forgery, faking photos, recording phony Bigfoot calls, and staging films in which, his wife also admitted, she was sometimes dressed up as the creature.

In some circles, this news, which is appearing in the papers as the death of the "man who invented Bigfoot," is a big story. It challenges the sacred texts of Bigfoot enthusiasm, because the confession not only calls into doubt so many early sightings and prints, but discredits once and for all the famed Roger Patterson film from 1967 — the grainy footage we've all seen in documentaries with Bigfoot walking across a clearing until now was considered some of the best proof of the creature's authenticity. But it turns out that it was Wallace who told Patterson where exactly he might find the creature, which means that the celebrated image is probably one of Wallace's family members in a fur suit. Case closed.

Or is it? Among the faithful, Bigfoot is alive and well. There's plenty of other proof, say true-believing amateurs and bona fide cryptozoologists. And so, not too long ago, I mounted an expedition to hunt for Bigfoot myself. I got to thinking: Every part of the country has its own Bigfoot, right? There's classic Bigfoot up north, the Swamp Goblin in the South, the Red-haired Mountain Man back east and, of course, the Florida Skunk Ape, a creature who by different accounts either looks and/or smells like its black and white namesake and whose sightings were frequent enough in the early '70s to cause schools to shut down. So where, I wanted to know, is the SoCal Sasquatch?

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Preliminary research revealed that there have been some encounters in the general area, but they're often far (Antelope Valley, Anza Borrego), and few are recent. I did discover, however, that the last sighting in real proximity to Los Angeles proper occurred just near my house, at the top of Lake Avenue in Altadena. Diane Vaughan was hiking up there in 1989 when she made contact with a "hairy one," whom she observed skipping down the mountain. According to Vaughan, Bigfoot was last seen prancing around practically in my own back yard.

I assembled a crackerjack team to retrace Vaughan's steps and see if we couldn't find any evidence or even get a glimpse of the jolly cryptid. Brad, an artist, is well-versed in cryptozoology, and he's really tall, so in case of contact he was assigned to communication and, if necessary, combat. Todd is a collectibles dealer, so he's good at finding rare things, and moreover he always has the right supplies. He brought a camera, two-way radios, some rope, a U.S. Geological Survey map and, incredibly enough, a Milton Bradley board game called Bigfoot: The Abominable Snowman, which he found that very day at a yard sale on the way to meet us. I wore my old Journey T-shirt, so the three-quarter-length sleeves would protect against poison oak, and carried a Marantz field recorder, to tape our observations and any "vocalizations." After a satisfying pancake breakfast at Julienne, our crew set out into the chaparral.

We used Vaughan's detailed description to follow her exact route through some very rough terrain. We found our way to the clearing with the stream, the wash, the overhanging tree, the ridge with the brambles. At one point, we found a spooky cave not mentioned in the account and Todd got excited. At 37 minutes and 42 seconds on the tape, the following exchange can be heard: "Could be a temporary dwelling of a Bigfoot." "Could be a baby Bigfoot in there right now." "Waiting for Mama." [Silence.] "Go check it out." "You go." "No, you go." "You go." "OK." Todd peers in. "See anything?" "Just an empty twelver of Pabst."

Eventually we made it to the exact spot where Vaughan saw her specimen. It was far up the mountain, halfway to Mt. Lowe, near some power poles. Still no luck. I'd love to say we ran across an entire Bigfoot brood just after our tape and film ran out, but we didn't. No sightings, or even a near-sighting.

Were we disappointed? Not really. I don't believe in Bigfoot, but I do believe in the idea of Bigfoot. Mystery is fun. That's why we have myths and ghost stories — and there will always be folders with rainbows and unicorns on them. As Todd pointed out, "It's like Journey said, bro: Don't stop believin'!"

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