In Australia, it's called the Yowie. In the Himalayas, natives speak of the Yeti. The Mapinguari roams the Amazon Basin. And in North America, tales persist of a giant, ape-like being known as Sasquatch, or Bigfoot. The mystique of this legend has endured for centuries, and a California-based group has just completed yet another leg of a cross-country expedition for the mysterious - and controversial - creature.
Behind his home in the rural town of Phillips, Wisconsin, field guide Don Young shows where he says he first spotted a tall, ape-like creature in 2002, on a gravel road near some sinkholes. "From this side of the road, it looked at me, stood up, and with three bounds took its leap," he recalls. "And when I came down here, I expected to find some guy in a monkey suit, drowning and pleading with me, 'Help me!' Instead I found no trace of anything except around the other side, where something had just touched the water." He admits he was scared.
Young says he's had other encounters with what he says is Bigfoot, but he's reluctant to talk because of ridicule from townsfolk. That's something he knows a bit about. "When someone in the past would talk of Bigfoot, I myself would make jokes about it. And unless a person sees it, it's the center of a joke. Because people are most likely to think, 'Something that big, how can it hide?'"
Easily, says Matthew Moneymaker, President of the . One, recorded in 1994 in Ohio, includes echoing weird howls and the frantic barking of a dog.
In June, BFRO coordinators brought 60 recruits from across the country and beyond to Price County's woodlands. Besides camping gear, they packed night-vision goggles, infrared cameras, and motion-detection devices.
Luke Molloy is a Bigfoot researcher from Ireland. He says the previous night, he had a close encounter with a potential Bigfoot stalking his campsite. "I got the full range of intimidatory behaviors. It did come up to the tent and it did break a lot of tree limbs and banged trees, and moved around without making any noise, which is a characteristic you're not dealing with [with] a lonely hermit or hunter."
Despite such eloquent descriptions and continuing eyewitness accounts, there are skeptics galore to challenge or ridicule Bigfoot claims. Back in Phillips, one diner advertises Bigfoot Burgers, while a sausage store offers to buy Sasquatch hides. Believers dismiss these as more mean-spirited ridicule, or attempts to make a fast buck.
Others, like John Bindernagel, welcome challenges to the Sasquatch legend, within reason. "There's good reasons to be skeptical, and we should be skeptical," the California wildlife biologist says. "But that doesn't mean being close-minded." He often tries to convince his scientific colleagues to explore the Bigfoot phenomenon more seriously. He says his arguments are only as good as the evidence from witnesses. "We need that evidence for scrutiny," he explains. "Someone tells me a very convincing story, I now want to take that to my professional colleagues, and they're gonna raise all these objections, all the possible alternatives - which is fine - which is why we need documentation, like tape recordings."
Even then, the winning argument may be the most elusive: the actual capture of such a creature.
But for field guide Don Young, it's enough to know that he's not alone when it comes to believing in the shadowy Sasquatch. Though, since his run-in with it, he says there are times he wishes he felt more alone. "At night, you're constantly looking out a window, if the dogs are barking outside you're constantly peeking around everything, walking through the woods you're peeking around every corner. It almost seems like he's given me a gift, to be more aware and looking at everything, but at the same time he's given me a nightmare. He's given me fear that I didn't want."
There's an old Himalayan saying, 'There is a Yeti in the back of everyone's mind; only the blessed are not haunted by it.' For Young and others searching for Yeti's North American cousin, that's just the price of their belief.