June 27, 2022

Looking for Monkey Creek, Part 6: What We Found

Part 1: "What Monkey?"
Part 2: "The First Hike"
Part 3: "Flesh and Blood"
Part 4: "Paranormal Bigfoot"
Part 5: "Tree Structures"

Saw a sticker like this
on a car in Pueblo last week

All morning on the way to Monkey Creek, I had seen the humor in the situation.

I am not a "Bigfoot guy" in any real way. It's more like I am up in the cheap seats, listening to some podcasts (notably Timothy Renner's Strange Familiars), looking at a few websites, and that is about all. I don't have a "Gone Squatchin'" bumper sticker or even a Colorado-flag Bigfoot decal on the rear window as a symbol of wildness.

Yes, the "Monkey Creek" name was intriguing, and I plan to try again to find a source for it. But this was just a day trip, with some post-hike fishing planned on the South Platte River.

Then I looked up into the old burn.

Note that branches are laid on both sides of the fallen tree trunk in the foreground,
whereas the stacks further away are more conical. None have room for anyone insde them.

My eye was caught by multiple stacks of wood. At first I thought, "Slash piles." But that could not be right.

When forests are thinned for fire mitigation, large logs are hauled away while saplings, tree tips, and branches (collectively, "slash") are stacked, allowed to dry, and then burned when there is snow on the ground. This is a labor-intensive process, and where conditions permit, contractors will sometimes use large machines (masticators) that just chew smaller trees into wood chips and spray those out.

But this was not mitigation, this was a wildland fire from decades ago. Firefighters building a line may toss chunks of burning wood into "bone piles," so that they will burn up and not be a problem, but they do not leave slash piles for later.

And who would build a slash pile over a fallen trunk that would smoulder on indefinitely?

Close-up of the foreground "pup tent" stack. There is no room inside—it's all sticks.

The piles were clearly built some time after the burned trunks had fallen, using a mixture of charred and unburnt wood. They could not be shelters — there was no room inside, not even for a little kid. Therefore, I ruled out any kind of survival training, like Boy Scouts or US Air Force Academy cadets learning "escape and evasion" tactics. (They do that, but usually in the Rampart Range closer to the Academy, I think.)

So not slash piles for later burning and not shelters either. What does that leave?

Two of several conical stacks of wood.

Note that the pile in the shade is laid against a log —
not how you build a slash pile for burning.

Unlike some of the claimed "tree structures" that might be the result of wind + gravity, these structures were definitely created deliberately. They would not work as shelters, and they do not seem to be connected to forestry practice as I know it — and I grew up with that stuff. I do not read them as created for wildlife habitat either, not at 10,500 feet (3200 m.) in an Englemann spruce-dominated forest.

An ambitious person could have built them all in a morning's work, but why? For future pyromania? Just to mess with people coming up a lightly used trail who have Bigfoot on the brain? 

I saw two "pup tent" structures laid against logs and at least six "tipi" structures scattered up the ridge. So that was a fair amount of work if it was just for fun.

Or what? I have admit that I started feeling a little strange, like that was enough for one day and now it was time to drive out, stop in Fairplay for a burrito, and then go fishing. If the structures were kind of a prank, well, it worked. If not a prank, then it is a mystery to me.

June 26, 2022

Looking for Monkey Creek, Part 5: Tree Structures

This is not a "tree structure" but a stack of saplings cut by
a trail crew in the San Isabel NF. But it could pass for one
if you ignore the saw cuts on the butt ends.

Part 1: "What Monkey?"
Part 2: "The First Hike"
Part 3: "Flesh and Blood"
Part 4: "Paranormal Bigfoot"

Search YouTube for "Bigfoot tree structures," and you will get dozens of hits with titles like "My Bigfoot Story Ep. 48 - Stick Structures and Other Signs" and "Team Finds Multiple Unexplainable Tree Structures." (Just click here for a bigger sample.)

What is a "tree structure"? The definition is pretty loose. Apparently any two or three or four (usually) smaller-diameter trunks lying against each other in a vaguely tipi-shaped way is a "structure." Some people talk about "stick structures": broken or leaning sticks, particularly if they seemed to be arranged in some non-random way.

There are also "tree breaks," for Bigfoot is often thought to snap trees by brute force as a way of scaring off intruders.

What do tree structures mean? Here is some typical speculation:

As for why Bigfoot might engage in such curious behavior, the theories are several. At first glance, one might assume they have been constructed to offer the beasts a degree of shelter, and particularly so during the cold, winter months. In many cases, however, there does not appear to have been any attempt made to create a canopy or walls. In other words, the structures are open to the environment and all of its attendant harshness.  Other theories are more intriguing: it has been speculated that, perhaps, the teepees represent territorial markers, created by Bigfoot creatures to alert others of their kind that they are present in the area. They may also be a warning to man, to stay firmly away – although, of course, the obscure nature of the formations effectively means that very few are of us are likely to understand such a warning, never mind act upon it.
Meanwhile, back on Monkey Creek, June 20, 2022,  having had our first short walk, I looked at the map and saw that a rough Forest Service road (dashed lines), climbing toward Topaz Mountain, crossed Monkey Creek higher up. Back in the Jeep, Marco and I headed that way.

Aside from some protruding rocks, the road was in good shape. No one else appeared to be up there. We drove down into one drainage (yet another "Beaver Creek") then up and along to where it crossed Monkey Creek.

There we found a small parking lot (probably a former loggers' "landing") and signage for the Nate Stulz Trail, which runs from Lost Park (where we had come in from South Park) up and over the Tarryalls to another trailhead near Tarryall Reservoir.

After investigating the creek, which seemed to lack little brookies, we followed the trail upstream, but ended up losing it, because a creek crossing was obscured by brush. 

We went on fifty yards or so on the "wrong" side of the creek, and then I spotted what looked like a road further up — it was an old logging road, full of sapling spruces, and we followed it ten minutes or so until it crossed the creek and intersected the official trail.

The trail led up through an old forest fire burn.

There had been a forest fire up there, probably a lightning strike since we were on a ridge, and I guess-timated that it was more than twenty years in the past. What had been standing dead spruce had rotted at the roots and fallen to the winter winds, mostly all pointing the same direction. 

I whistled for Marco and started on up the trail. I could see more open views in the near distance, and it was a great day for a hike in the Tarryalls.

And then something else caught my eye. 

Part 6: "What We Found"

June 25, 2022

Looking for Monkey Creek, Part 4: Paranormal Bigfoot

Part 1: What Monkey?
Part 2: The First Hike
Part 3: Flesh and Blood

A claimed 1988 Bigfoot sighting in Green Mountain Falls, Colorado, led to the placing
of this humorous Bigfoot Crossing sign on the Pike's Peak Highway above the town.

Bigfoot researchers split into two main groups, "flesh-and-blood" and "paranormal," for lack of better terms. Anthropologist Grover Krantz, who typified the flesh-and-blood contingent, referred to the latter in his 1992 book Big Footprints: A Scientific Inquiry into the Reality of Sasquatch as "the lunatic fringe":

There is little need to specifically address the claims of any particular paranoromalist . . . . It is more effective simply to promote what we do know and to ignore as much as possible, and avoid any association with, those people who are making the investigation appear ridiculous. (256)

In 1988, I was a reporter at the Cañon City Daily Record. Dan Masias, a resident of Green Mountain Falls, west of Colorado Springs, claimed that he and his young son had looked out from their house one winter day and seen two "creatures" walking past in shallow snow. He got no photos of them, but he did photograph the tracks in the fresh powder snow. (Some neighbors had also reported odd sightings.) 

The large tracks had three toes and — important detail — went on for a few yards and then simply stopped. By the time we visited, Masias had constructed what amounted to a Bigfoot shrine in one room of his home, with the photos, news clippings, and other memorabilia.

Some readers contacted me afterwards with reports of other strangeness in the Pike's Peak area, including combination UFO-bigfoot sightings. I had never heard of the two being grouped together before, but as I said, I had not paid much attention to bigfoot stuff before, even when living in western Oregon.

"Paranormalists" see Bigfoot encounters as part of a broad spectrum of events that intrude into normal reality. You often hear the source for these intrusions described as The Other. The creatures are sometimes physical (and obey physical laws) and at other times are not. The footprints end.

So when I did think about Bigfoot, which is reported in the Western Hemiphere from Chile to Ontario, the flesh-and-blood explanation broke down over simple zoological questions: What does this "wood ape" eat in wintertime when the black bears, by comparison, are hibernating? (No known ape hibernates) How many must there be in X square miles to support a breeding population with sufficient genetic variety? How do they raise the young wood apes successfully while staying hidden 99.99 percent of the time? 

The paranormalists' answer is simple but incredibly mysterious. Timothy Renner and Joshua Cutchin, authors of the two-book series Where the Footprints End, conceptualize it this way:
Flesh-and-blood apes seem to dematerialize and slip through our fingers like wisps of smoke. Nuts-and-bolts UFOS refuse to land on the White House lawn but shoot away at impossible speeds. Clinging to one side of the Möbius strip, we may not notice the twist, but viewed from afar we see the very twist itself allows things to walk on both sides of the loop.
    The idea that something can be real — in that most Materialist definition of reality, i.e., it is physically here (in terms of sasquatch, for example, able to leave footprints and move things) — and yet completely ephemeral has led to even more "science-fiction thinking." Desparately trying to prove the physical reality of bigfoot, yet faced with all the attendant problems of proving a breeding population exists, bigfoot enthusiasts have tured to explanations as varied as quantum physics, interdimensional travel, or even that bigfoot may themselves be aliens, brought here by the Ufonauts. (vol 2, 38, italics in the original)

They add, "When [bigfoot and UFOs] appear together the mystery deepens, but becomes more wondrous at the same time."

Thus, the paranormalists accuse the Grover Krantzes of this world of editing out "strangeness" from Bigfoot sightings (concurrent appearsances of odd lights, UFOs, or strange noises such as loud buzzing or metallic crashing) and also of editing out "sighting" locations that don't look like hypothetical Bigfoot habitat, such as Midwestern golf courses or Texas suburban cul-de-sacs.

There is one point, however, on which many flesh-and-blood and paranormal Bigfoot enthusiast do agree, and that is that the creatures are fond of building "tree structures."  Let's examine that term next before returning to Monkey Creek.

June 23, 2022

Looking for Monkey Creek, Part 3: Flesh and Blood

Part 1: "What Monkey?" 

Part 2: "The First Hike

Anthropologist Grover Krantz poses with his skulls. Image credit: AlchetronCC BY-SA

Grover Krantz (1931–2002) was a respected physical anthropologist teaching at Washington State University — but not always respected. His longtime advocacy for the existence of a giant primate (Bigfoot, Sasquatch) in the Pacific Northwest cost him professionally. with other anthropologists calling his interest in Sasquatch "fringe science."

A WSU colleague recalled

"He couldn't publish his articles on Bigfoot in peer-reviewed journals, and he didn't seek the research grants," [Professor Bill] Lipe said. Because of all the time he devoted to Bigfoot, he said, Krantz wasn't as able to do what he needed to secure promotions and tenure.

"The evidence never got any better," Lipe said. "Grover, to his credit, always approached this as a scientist. He wanted to make sure this theory, however unpopular, got a hearing. In taking on this role, I think he lost his skepticism. . . .

"Within the established academic community, Grover was the first one to stick his neck out," said Loren Coleman, a cryptozoologist (one who studies creatures not yet officially identified) at the University of Southern Maine in Portland.

Krantz had two degrees from UC-Berkeley, and its alumni magazine published a lengthy profile in 2018: "The Man, the Myth, and the Legend of Grover Krantz."

Though Krantz never found a Bigfoot dead or alive, he had what he thought were close calls. Once, returning from an expedition with students in central Washington, Krantz was driving through a snowstorm when something large and brown loped quickly across the road, causing Krantz to slam on the brakes, said Krantz’s former student, archeologist and physical anthropologist Gary Breschini.

In 1992, Krantz published a book, Big Footprints: A Scientific Inquiry into the Reality of Sasquatch with a Colorado publisher, Johnson Books of Boulder, which offers mainly Western regional history, natural history, archaeology, and outdoor recreation (now an imprint of Denver-based Bower House).

In other words, this was an extended middle finger to academia, making his case (based on footprint analysis and other physical data) for the existence of a flesh-and-blood primate that occupied  a niche something like black bears in the cool rain forests of the Northwest.

"We have no indication that sasquatch is an endangered species. Its population probably numbers in the thousands and maybe tens of thousands," he asserted."It is a legitimate subject of scientific investigation."

Often called the "flesh and blood" position, Krantz's take on Bigfoot was the original "mainstream" perspective. It is still followed by "citizen science" groups like the North American Wood Ape Conservancy, which agrees with Krantz's position that "Proper scientific study and possible protection will occur only when a type speciman is obtained." In other words, Sasquatch in a cage or on a mortuary table. (They have a new book out on their research.)

The Olympic Project is another organized and persevering research group. Their website states,

The Olympic Project is an association of dedicated researchers, investigators, biologists and trackers committed to documenting the existence of Sasquatch through science and education. Through comprehensive habitat study, DNA analysis and game camera deployment, our goal is to obtain as much information and empirical evidence as we can, with hopes of being as prepared as possible when and if species verification comes to fruition.

While it is possible to envision Krantz's proposed non-hibernating giant primate in the thick forests of the Olympic Peninsula or other Pacific Northwest locations — or even in the dense woods of the Ouachita Mountains where the NAWAC works, Bigfoot sightings are not limited to those places.

They occur in small-town Ohio cemeteries, in Texas suburbs, all sort of places. Usually woodlands are present, but sometimes only a few acres, not a vast and little-visited area.

The Olympic Project makes an appearance in Laura Krantz's excellent podcast mini-series on Bigfoot research, Wild Thing. Krantz? Yes, Grover was a great-uncle. She is a professional radio journalist and producer, so the technical quality of the podcast is superior to most.

A 2018 article on Vox.com notes,

Krantz walks the line between the facts (which aren’t always on the side of Bigfoot researchers) and our raw hunger to believe in some big missing link out in the woods (bolstered by a surprisingly large number of surprisingly credible eyewitness accounts, some of which she captures on tape in the series’ most memorable episode). It’s smart, well produced, well written, and intelligently structured.

I was always "on the bubble" about Bigfoot, neither "believer" nor "skeptic."  Despite attending college in the Pacific Northwest and spending some time backpacking, mountain-climbing, and camping, I never gave the question much thought, and if I did, it was just to assume that Bigfoot was somewhere else.

It was not until later that I was introduced to the concept of "paranormal Bigfoot," which I will deal with next. 

Part 4: "Paranormal Bigoot"

June 22, 2022

Looking for Monkey Creek Part 2: The First Hike

Part 1: "What Monkey?"

Park County Road 56 — was I ever here before?

After three hours behind the wheel (two of them spent crossing Park County, which is large), I was on a county road in the Pike National Forest, the Kenosha Mountains on my left and the Tarryalls on my right. I might last have been on this road in high school or as a college freshman, going up with Dad to pack out a big buck mule deer he had shot the day bfore. If this is where we were. It felt like new county to me now.

I found the little two-track Forest Service road at the mouth of Monkey Creek and eased the Jeep over some monumental water bars to a spot where a stone fire ring and a couple of sittin' logs marked a favored camping spot. I put on my day pack, whistled Marco away from some interesting old bones, and started upstream, walking between the spruce forest and the willow bog where the creek lay gurgling — somewhere.

The trail looked like the bank of an abandoned irrigation ditch to me.

A trail presented itself. It looked to me like the bank of a long-gone irrigation ditch, where some early homesteader or rancher had dug from a higher spot on the creek to bring water to a . . . hay meadow? Whatever it was, there is no sign of it now, and soil washing down the mountainside has filled in most of the dish.  

We crossed a little tributary. I looked for tracks. There was one — it had a waffle pattern and looked like a fat-tire mountain bike. And elk droppings. 

The willow bog — no point in trying to fish this.

Then we walked out into the bog where multiple rivulets ran, with the biggest gurgling hidden under scrubby willows. There was no point in coming back with the fly rod.

We started back back to the Jeep. Suddenly, Marco went on full alert — body tense, head and tail high, looking over the expanse of willows.

"Please, let it not be a moose!" I thought. I didn't like the idea of playing Dodge 'em Moose among the spruce trees if there was a cow moose with a calf out there, because Moose Mom will chase a dog. And the dog will run to its owner, and then you have a problem, as in this video: 


I looked but could not see one, so with Marco on-lead we headed down to the road, having walked problably less than a mile. (Big, check. Hairy, check. Scary, check. Upright biped, no check.)

It was time to come at Monkey Creek another way, whereupon things would become more interesting.

Part 3: "Flesh and Blood"

June 21, 2022

Looking for Monkey Creek, Part 1: What Monkey?

It was a 2.5-hour drive just to get somewhere near Monkey Creek.
Here we are entering South Park on Colorado 9 – too late for the auction.
(Click photos to enlarge.)

Goin' up to Monkey Creek, goin' on the run
Goin' up to Monkey Creek to have a little fun*

About twenty years ago, I was looking at a some now-vanished Rocky Mountain Bigfoot research website, where someone posted a question about Monkey Creek, on the Pike National Forest in the Tarryall Mountains.

It was like, "Monkey?? Did a Bigfoot sighting inspire that name?" No one seemed to know.

Dad's US Forest Service career had him moving in and out of that general area several times between the late 1930s and about 1970. I asked him about the name. He knew where Monkey Creek was, but he had no clue how it got its name.

I am not a "Squatcher" or Bigfoot researcher, or it would not have taken me twenty years to follow up. I have my thoughts on the issue of large hairy critters, and I will get to them eventually in this blog post series.

But yes, it's an unusual name. Colorado (and the Rockies in general) is full of streams named for their characteristics — Swift Creek, Rock Creek, Sand Creek, Hardscrabble Creek, Troublesome Creek. For plants — Oak Creek, Cottonwood Creek, Spruce Creek, Pine Creek, Willow Creek. For animals — Bear Creek, Turkey Creek, Dove Creek, Beaver Creek, Elk Creek, Deer Creek, Trout Creek, Lion Creek, and of course the Conejos (Rabbits) River.

There are multiple Rock Creeks and Beaver Creeks and so on, but I have heard of only one Monkey Creek.

Still crossing South Park on Colorado 9 — I love how the ancient glacial morraines shaped
the valley floor,  giving hints of a more  northern, boreal landscape.

I had been feeling fidgety, and the forecast for Monday, June 20th, was mostly sunny, no rain. So I packed up Marco the dog and other essentials, even a 5-weight fly rod in case there were brook trout in Monkey Creek (none that I saw), folded a Pike National Forest map to show the area, and set off for what would be a 275-mile (440 km) round-trip drive.

Finally, we are approaching the lower end of Monkey Creek.

* With apologies to that prolific songwriter, Anonymous.

Part 2: The First Hike

June 14, 2022

Blog Stew—But You Had Better Bring a Gallon of Water

• The subtitle of Southwestern writer Craig Child's book The Secret Knowledge of Water is "There are Two Ways to Die in the Desert: Thirst and Drowning."

For this Mesa County mountain biker, it was the former. And his would-be rescuers were not in much better shape.

• Wyoming sheep rancher and author Cat Urbigkit deals with a documentary film crew: 
The last time a film crew came to the ranch, a videographer tried to follow behind a guardian dog while holding a large piece of recording equipment low to the ground, getting a dog-level view. The dog, Panda, had barked and warned the guy to back off, but when he persisted, I had to quickly step in as the enraged dog wheeled around to take out the equipment.

This visit worked out better, with cameos by the livestock guardian dogs.

• Thanks to legislative changes, the medical (not recreational) cannabis market in Colorado is cratering, with businesses closing down.

Medical marijuana sales in Colorado are down by 43% in the first four months of 2022 compared to the same span in 2021 . . .  According to the state’s Department of Revenue, wholesale prices and overall sales volume have gone down and overall sales volume has declined for the 11th month in a row.

June 13, 2022

Oh Didn't He Ramble: The Ice Age Version

UC assistant professor of geology Joshua Miller examines a fossilized mastodon at the Cincinnati Museum Center. Miller found tooth marks on the skeleton's scapula suggesting a predator such as a dire wolf fed on the mastodon. Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Marketing + Brand

Not a Southern Rockies story, but I continue to be fascinated by the way that DNA analysis offers unimaged glimpses of the distant past:

Using isotopic analysis of the tusk of a male mastodon discovered on a peat farm in Fort Wayne, Indiana, researchers were able to track changes in landscape use between his teenage and adult years. During the mastodon’s early adolescence, he stuck to an area that included central Indiana and southwestern Ohio. After being kicked out of his maternal herd, his home range began to increase.

But then, things did not go so well for him. Read the whole thing.