Your Friendly Neighborhood Sasquatch
About two miles into the drive up Pikes Peak, there’s an official-looking brown highway sign alerting drivers to the crossing of a looming, hulk-like figure. With legs as thick as its waist and feet larger than its head, it’s unmistakably the infamous Bigfoot.
Underneath the figure reads, “Due to sightings in the area of a creature resembling ‘big foot,’ this sign has been posted for your safety.”
While the warning appeared over two decades ago, locals continue to debate the rangers’ sincerity. Some argue that by saying, “creature resembling big foot,” the state is unwilling to openly acknowledge the creature’s existence. Others believe that the reported sightings over the years warrant legitimate signage. Unfortunately, even the Parks Operations Administrator was unable to help settle the debate, saying, “This sign has been up for a long time, and the staff at the time has since retired.”
Despite this unsolved mystery, interest in the topic remains strong. The hashtag #BFFCOS presents Bigfoot as a friend of Colorado Springs, a gentle giant. While there are no actual Bigfoot sightings in the Twitter tag, the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau posted a video of a costumed Sasquatch enjoying the park. The caption reads, “Even #Bigfoot can learn to ride a #Segway.” Below this gem is another video of the costumed biped twerking in front of the highway sign.
That said, could it still be possible that a real, hairy hominid is nearby, watching from the Pikes Peak tree line? How did this lore even arise?
One theory takes us back over 100,000 years, when giants still roamed the Earth. Following the extinction of the dinosaurs, megafauna flourished in North America. Roughly half the size of today’s African elephants, the ground sloth had powerful legs and claws. Less fearsome, but slightly more unnerving, were giant otters the size of wolves. 200-pound beavers ran from short-faced bears, which resembled grizzlies on stilts.
And then there was Gigantopithecus. Standing as tall as 10 feet and weighing up to 1,100 pounds, this prehistoric creature looked like a massive orangutan. Before modern humans evolved, this giant thrived in Asia’s tropical forests for six to nine million years.
But bigger is not always better. During the last Pleistocene ice age, Gigantopithecus’s size prevented it from adapting to the changing environment. As savannas replaced forests, the giant apes starved to death, and the species went extinct, leaving behind our smaller relatives. Even so, its untimely demise did not stop a legend from forming.
“It may have gone extinct as recently as 100,000 years ago,” visiting professor of anthropology at Colorado College, Jennifer Leichliter, says. “Thus, [it could have] temporally overlapped with Homo erectus, and even Homo sapiens.” Leichliter and other biological anthropologists cite this overlap as a potential origin of the Bigfoot myth.
However, Leichliter makes an important distinction: “Such a large primate would likely not have been bipedal.” Based on the few bones recovered from the species, it probably would have walked more like a gorilla than a modern human. Even if the creature that some claim to observe on Pikes Peak is not a surviving relative of Gigantopithecus (already a stretch), it would likely still favor quadrupedal locomotion. This image distinctly diverges from the upright, hulking individual on the highway sign.
For Leichliter, this contradiction is one of the myth’s main flaws.
“I suppose it could have evolved,” she says. “Several taxa of bipedal ape have evolved over the course of the last few million years. But I am not convinced by the data (or lack thereof) out there for this particular version of Bigfoot—the nine-foot-tall hairy creature wandering around in North American forests.”
Dr. Nick Brandley, visiting professor of organismal biology and ecology at CC, also remains skeptical. Brandley questions such a large ape’s ability to go undetected. “Maybe it developed a sweet invisibility cloak to counteract increases in human photography and video quality,” he jokes.
“Or maybe,” he says, “it is more of a cave dweller that only rarely ventures out.” While he is only half-serious, this idea isn’t too outlandish. Lemurs, baboons, chimpanzees and even early humans occasionally live in caves. Hypothetically, if Gigantopithecus hasn’t gone extinct, it might exhibit similar behaviors.
Even so, Bigfoot’s large size remains problematic. If the creature evolved to have a carnivorous diet, it would likely not be able to find enough food to survive. Especially in inhabited areas like Colorado Springs, a solely carnivorous diet would likely prove unsustainable. However, Dr. Brandley notes, “If it is more of a generalist or scavenger, maybe it would have more of a chance.”
In addition to imagining Bigfoot’s diet, in 2009, biologists analyzed the reported Bigfoot sightings in order to map the animal’s supposed range. They predicted that with rising temperatures, the creatures would abandon lower altitudes in exchange for cooler areas like Pikes Peak. Based on this observation, they expect an increased number of sightings at higher elevations in the near future.
While the study did not support or disprove the existence of such a creature, the researchers found that Bigfoot’s range correlated almost exactly with that of the American black bear. Standing over six feet tall when upright, the black bear has been responsible for numerous false sightings. Bigfoot skeptics often blame the enduring myth on this species.
However, Bill Laurance, a biologist at James Cook University, warns against completely disregarding the sightings.
“You learn in science to never say never, [because] every time we think we know everything, it turns around and bites us on the backside,” Laurance told ABC News.
He cites the example of the Tasmanian tiger. Thought to be extinct by the time European settlers arrived in Australia, this species has been the star of recent news. Reported sightings of the carnivorous marsupial raise questions about its supposed extinction. While these sightings have remained inconclusive so far, they fuel speculation about the persistence of Gigantopithecus as well.
Ultimately, Laurance says that the existence of a species with such a small population density “stretches the realm of what a mainstream biologist would call highly plausible.” But implausible does not mean impossible, and that’s good enough for the Bigfoot enthusiasts, who have grown in number.
Two of these enthusiasts, Jim and Daphne Meyers, own the Sasquatch Outpost in Bailey, Colorado. The Outpost features Bigfoot merchandise and, more recently, a “Sasquatch Encounter Discovery Museum.” One of the museum’s main attractions is a four-foot map of Colorado. Every time someone reports a Sasquatch sighting at the Outpost, the couple adds a pin. Currently, there are over 200 pins on the map, and that number only includes the reports Mr. and Mrs. Meyers deem legitimate.
“Across the United States, there have probably been 20,000 to 30,000 sightings,” says Mr. Meyers. “Maybe twice that many, but a lot of people aren’t willing to talk about their experiences, because they’re afraid of being ridiculed.”
There is certainly a potential for the ridiculous; remember Bigfoot twerking and riding a segway. But Mr. Meyers assures customers that he takes their stories seriously. And he does. After conducting what he deems “serious research” for nearly a century, Mr. Meyers has compiled a slew of evidence. He lists sightings as the most common finding, then Bigfoot prints, vocalizations and tree configurations. He describes trees that have been manipulated, flipped upside down and arranged into tipi formations.
“Most hikers walk right past the trees and never even put two and two together,” he says. “We look for those, more than anything, to tell us that Bigfoot is in the area. And we find this stuff way off the trail. There’d be no reason to try and create a hoax where you think no one’s ever going to go.”
Mr. Meyers’ defensive comments illustrate the kind of constant skepticism he and other Bigfoot believers face.
“Some people don’t even want to talk about it. They don’t even want to acknowledge that there could be something out there,” he says. Ultimately, he recognizes that the most persuasive evidence is seeing the giant hominid with your own eyes.
“We have a shirt in our store that says, ‘I don’t not believe it’ … but no one who’s ever seen a Sasquatch remains a skeptic.”
Part of the Obvious issue