Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Week in the Field

I have just returned from a week in the field. I was participating in the NAWAC’s long-term field study in the Ouachita Mountains. After a rather hectic last year in which I dealt with job changes, health issues and the preparation for my oldest daughter’s wedding, it was a much needed respite from the every day world. While I did not come away with definitive proof that a large, hirsute, bipedal ape inhabits the area, I, and my team, did experience some interesting things. I will share some of these things below. Please understand that I cannot, and will not, share sensitive details regarding the operation. The synopsis below is just an overview of some of what took place and my opinions regarding the events of last week.

To start, it was brutally hot during the week. Heat advisories were issued for each of the seven days I was present. The heat seemed to put a bit of a damper on wildlife activity during the bulk of the day. Not much was moving until the sun finally began weakening late in the afternoon/evening. That is not to say, however, that there was no activity during the week, not at all.

My team arrived on Saturday the 19th. We spent the remainder of the day setting up camp and getting organized. Once all of that was done, we walked out to inspect several string traps that had been set up in strategic choke points along game trails. String traps are a means to discern the direction wildlife is traveling and what trails/routes they are using to do so. The idea is simple, black thread is tied to a tree, post or other object at the desired height. The thread is then pulled taut and wrapped, not tied, to another tree or object. The height at which the thread is set depends on the animal you are attempting to get a read upon. Our string traps were set at six feet in height. We feel this height allows deer, black bear and other conventional wildlife to pass underneath the thread without disturbing it (While it is possible a deer could choose just that spot to leap or bound or a bear could choose to rear up on its hind legs, the chances of that are slim). When an animal walks into the thread, the wrapped end slides free and the thread is pulled forward with the animal (the tied end remains in place). The thread will cling to the animal until its length is exhausted. It will then lay on the ground or brush and allow you to discern which direction the animal was traveling when it came through. We found several of the string traps that had been placed last week had been walked through. We reset the thread on these traps and returned to camp. We heard a few odd noises and movement from time to time but nothing we could readily attribute to ape activity.


The second day was highlighted by several wood knocks and some possible rock on rock and rock on metal banging. I will be the first to admit to having been skeptical about the wood-knocking phenomenon when I first began seriously looking into the sasquatch mystery years ago. I am skeptical about it no longer. I have never seen an ape actually hit a tree with a branch or piece of wood but these knocks and bangs do take place. The reality of this phenomenon really struck home several years ago when NAWAC members located a piece of cut firewood at the base of a tree about ¼ mile from the area where we camp while in the study area. The tree had obvious damage from being struck and the piece of firewood showed telltale signs of having taken a beating as well. It seemed pretty clear that this piece of firewood had been used to strike this tree on multiple occasions. Members struck the tree with the firewood and it replicated perfectly the sounds several groups had heard from the area over the previous few weeks. Simply put, this firewood had to have been carried to this spot by someone/something. Once there, someone/something with hands had to pick it up and pound it against the tree. Bears cannot do this. Mountain lions cannot do this. No known wildlife native to the region can do this. This leaves only two possibilities, people or apes. I will not try to convince anyone as to how remote this location actually is, believe me or not. I will say only that the idea that some person would swipe a piece of firewood from our camp, carry it ¼ mile away and use it to periodically beat the crap out of a tree in order to get a group of armed men to race to the location is pretty outlandish.

The bulk of day three was spent still-hunting without any luck. I camouflaged up and took up a concealed position in an area we believe these animals travel through on a regular basis. I did not see anything, however, and returned to camp after several hours. I had not seen so much as a squirrel during the hunt. Again, I am sure the heat played into this and the wildlife was hunkered down in shady spots in the area. About 11:00 p.m. that night, shortly after our final team member arrived, a foul odor briefly filled our camp. It was the “sweaty horse smell” we have encountered so many times in the area before that, we believe, indicates an ape is in close proximity. The smell dissipated quickly, however, and no activity ensued.

Day four was fairly quiet. Several hours of hunting revealed nothing. We heard what might have been a faint wood knock around midday and something I can only describe as a “tok” sound coming from the woods near our camp. That evening we broadcast some ape and chimp sounds in the hopes of getting a reaction from the locals. One of our team members believed a large animal of some kind approached camp later that night but fled immediately when he rose to try and get a look at it.


The next day was spent placing some cameras in strategic spots around the area. The NAWAC has attempted to gain photographic evidence via game cameras in the past (See Operation Forest Vigil) without any luck; however, cameras have continued to get smaller and less obtrusive over the years. Since these cameras were not going to be in the field for months/years at a time, no bulky protective bear boxes were necessary. The combination of the small size of the cameras and the lack of bear boxes gave us hope that we might get lucky and they would go unnoticed. Several of the cameras were placed overlooking string traps that had been disturbed the week before. About 8:00 p.m. we heard the most interesting wood knock I have ever heard. I will not try to describe the cadence/rhythm here but will say that it was rhythmic, clear and unique. I have never heard anything like it and have no idea what could explain it (other than our quarry). One of the other members present immediately answered the knock using the same cadence but we heard nothing else. That night we played some more primate vocalizations but did not receive any discernible reply. After turning in, our nighttime visitor returned. Again, the animal fled the second we moved in an attempt to get a look at it.

Day six was fairly quiet with two notable exceptions. We had started by examining the area where the animal had approached the camp the last two nights. It was clear that something had been in the area as we found trampled vegetation and a faint game trail. No distinct prints, hair or other evidence was located. About 8:30 p.m. we heard what I can only describe as a very big noise. It sounded like a Volkswagen had been dropped off a three-story building. I have no idea what it could have been. Pondering what could be powerful enough to create such a noise sent a shiver up and down my spine. Later, we all heard another loud noise. This sounded much like a large tree falling. It was a loud, prolonged, bang and crash. We were unable to locate any fresh tree falls in the vicinity.

The next day was spent scouting out areas where the team following us will be attempting something new. To my knowledge, the experiment is something no bigfoot group has ever attempted before. I am very excited about this experiment and the possibilities it represents. It is not for me to discuss in any more detail than that here, however, as the details of the effort will be revealed by the NAWAC when the time is right.


The rest of my time in the study area was fairly peaceful but occasionally interrupted by wood knocks and rock on rock sounds. We also located what might be a nut crushing station similar to one located a couple of years ago in the area. Basically, hickory nut and/or black walnut shells are found smashed on top of a large boulder. Also on the boulder is what we have termed a hammer rock. The remnants of shells and pulp are stuck to the underside of the hammer rock, seemingly, indicating it was used to smash open the nuts. This is a behavior that has been observed in known primate species. What could be indulging in this behavior in North America, particularly our main area of study, is anyone’s guess.

That is about it. It was a great week spent in true wilderness, the type of place most people think does not exist anymore, at least in our region. I remain confident that wood apes inhabit this and other areas in the Tex-Ok-Ark-La area. I also remain confident that, eventually, we will get the evidence we seek proving, once and for all, these animals are not myths and are, indeed, flesh and blood creatures in need of our protection.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Ancient Chinese Wisdom

"The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it."

- Chinese Proverb

Friday, July 17, 2015

Sometimes, Life Intervenes

I have been pretty quiet lately and thought you all deserved an explanation. While I have been a bit inactive as far as cryptozoological matters over the last few months, I have been anything but inactive. There are several reasons for this, which I will touch on below.

I was diagnosed with skin cancer toward the end of 2014. I had a large knot/tumor in my eyebrow above my left eye. I underwent surgery to have it removed in the spring of this year. The surgery turned out to be more extensive than was originally anticipated and ended up including a skin grafting procedure. The graft failed to fully take and I may yet have some procedures ahead of me to minimize the scarring. The good news is the cancer is gone.

The health issue also led to some career changes. I am a teacher and a coach (football/basketball). The doctors strongly recommended I not be in the sun for hours on end starting in July and August like I have for 15 previous seasons. After wrestling with it for several months, I have retired from football coaching. I will continue to coach basketball but getting all these changes lined out took some time and has kept me busy.

By far the biggest reason I have been preoccupied has nothing to do with health or job issues; rather, it had everything to do with my oldest daughter’s wedding. She was married just last week. It was truly a joyful occasion for me, and the entire family, but I can tell you the last few months have been very hectic (not to mention expensive, lol). Never would I have imagined the amount of work putting on a wedding actually is, never. It has been quite exhausting. I can only imagine how my poor wife feels.

So, all of those things put together, plus the historic amount of rain Texas received earlier this spring, which forced me to limit my activities, have kept me away from all things cryptid. I will be getting back in the swing of things, though. I will be leaving tomorrow morning for a week in the Ouachita Mountains where I will be attempting to find evidence supporting the existence of everyone’s favorite bipedal ape. I’ll be providing an update on how the week went upon my return.

My best to you all.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What Haunts Belle Plain?

The Texas landscape is littered with the remains of towns and communities that almost made it. Some bustled and boomed for a while and grew quite large based on some regional quirk. For example, towns like Marlin and Mineral Wells grew to be quite well known in the early 1900’s because of mineral water. Saratoga boomed briefly based on the timber and oil industries. Never heard of these places? Well, they are not exactly what they used to be. The advent of penicillin spelled the end of the mineral water craze and times got hard in the oil patch of southeast Texas which put an abrupt end to the growth of these Texas towns. While Marlin, Mineral Wells and Saratoga have fallen on some lean times, at least they still exist. Other communities disappeared altogether. The ghost town of Belle Plain is one such community.

Established in 1875 by Nelson M. Smith, Belle Plain got off to a great start. Nelson platted the town site and started Belle Plain College. Within in a year, the town had several businesses and 65 residents. Belle Plain College was already making a name for itself as well due to its exemplary music program. When Callahan County was organized in 1877, residents voted Belle Plain the county seat. Two years later, the town got its own newspaper and good times seemed all but assured. Prosperity, however, lasted about as long as a mirage on the west Texas horizon. The Texas and Pacific Railroad chose to build in Baird, bypassing Belle Plain, essentially dooming the town. In an amazingly short period of time Belle Plain was gone. The newspaper relocated to Baird, the stone jailhouse was dismantled and rebuilt there as well. In 1883, Baird became the new county seat of Callahan County. The college hung on until 1892, the last store until 1897 and the post office until 1909 and, just like that, Belle Plain was gone. Today, only the ruins of Belle Plain College and an old cemetery remain to show that the town was ever really there. This is where our story begins.


The Belle Plain cemetery has been the source of many odd reports for well over a century. The most enduring legend tells of a young boy and girl who fell madly in love with each other during Belle Plain’s heyday. The young lady’s father did not approve of the relationship and told his daughter to end it. Many things have changed since the mid to late 1870’s but the behavior of teenagers is not really one of them. The pair continued to see each other on the sly until one night they were caught. Enraged, the man sent his daughter home to her mother and told her to wait for him. Begrudgingly, the girl obeyed, leaving her young lover to face her father. Exactly, what happened next is something that will never be known. All that is known is that the boy was found dead the next day. The young girl was understandably devastated and believed her father had murdered the boy in a fit of rage. Filled with grief, and determined to defy her father and be with her lover forever, she hanged herself in a tree adjacent to the boy’s grave. To this day, people who visit the cemetery claim to have odd, and sometimes terrifying experiences. Some have reported spotting a young boy in out of date clothing watching them only to disappear when addressed. Others claim to have heard the terrible weeping and wailing of a female in awful distress, presumably the young girl still mourning her young lover. Odd lights are also occasionally seen floating and bobbing among the headstones of the old cemetery. To be sure, the area projects a creepy aura. Between the ancient cemetery and the ruins of Belle Plain College, one’s imagination can truly venture to some spooky places.

As interested as I am in Texas folklore and good tall tales, this blog is not about ghosts or the paranormal, it is about animals and creatures that may or may not exist or that are seen far from their normal ranges. There is another aspect to the legends surrounding the Belle Plain Cemetery that may better fit the cryptozoological mission of this site. In addition to the strange goings on previously mentioned, there are some other weird reports that sound suspiciously like wood ape, or sasquatch, sightings and behavior. There have been several reported sightings of huge, hulking creatures that are covered in hair and approaching eight feet in height roaming the rear portion of the cemetery. Witnesses have described the creatures to be twice the size of a large, athletic male in colors ranging from dark brown to white with glowing green eyes. Long powerful howls, much deeper in tone than those of coyotes, growls and mumbling have been reported along with the sound of an unseen bipedal walker that shadows visitors while remaining out of sight. Some believe these creatures are the guardians of the souls interred here. I do not know about that but can tell you that there have been more than a few wood ape sightings originating from cemeteries in the Lone Star State. Why this might be I cannot say, but it has been reported often enough to be noticeable to those who pay attention to such things.


I realize some will criticize this post as being more of a ghost story than a cryptid story. I suppose they might even be right to feel that way; yet, there does seem to be a biological entity responsible for some of the more bigfoot-like sightings in the Belle Plain Cemetery. Regardless, I have once again found myself fascinated by a small piece of Texas history of which few are aware and wanted to share it.

After all, who doesn’t love a good story?

*If there are readers up in Callahan County who have had any odd experiences in the Belle Plain area, I would enjoy hearing about them. You can leave a comment below or email me at Texascryptidhunter@yahoo.com.

**Special thanks to my fellow NAWAC member Jerry Hestand for making me aware of the history of Belle Plain.

Sources:

"Belle Plains Cemetery." RealHaunts. 21 Oct. 2005. Web. 30 June 2015. .

"Belle Plain, Texas AKA Phantom U." Texasescapes.com. 1 June 2005. Web. 30 July 2015. .






Saturday, June 13, 2015

Jaguar Photographed in New Mexico, A New/Old Suspect in the Black Panther Mystery

Earlier this month, well-known mountain lion hunter Warner Glenn was out on a hunt in southern New Mexico. It was not long before Mr. Glenn’s dogs were on the scent of a big cat. Once they had scented their target, the dogs were off like a shot. Glenn gave his dogs space to work and followed their barks from a distance. It was not long before the barking of the dogs ceased and was replaced by long, baying howls indicating that their quarry had been treed. Upon hearing these telltale howls, Glenn accelerated his pace to catch up to his hounds and dispatch the treed mountain lion.

Then a funny thing happened. When Warner Glenn arrived at the scene he did not find a mountain lion. Instead, his dogs had bayed a full-grown jaguar. Glenn did not reach for his rifle, however; he grabbed his camera. After snapping a few pictures, Glenn pulled his dogs off the big cat and allowed it to go on its way. One of the images captured by Mr. Glenn is below. It is simply spectacular.


It turns out that Warner Glenn is no stranger to jaguars. He photographed another jaguar in the Animas Mountains of New Mexico back in February of 2006, also while out on a lion hunt. The photos he captured are thought to be the first pictures ever taken of a live jaguar in the United States (all other photos were of jaguars that had already been killed). Since then, game cameras have captured images of other jaguars, most notably the cat that was dubbed Macho B in Arizona a few years back, but these cats remain extremely rare north of the border and are incredibly elusive. The latest sighting by Mr. Glenn would seem to be a sign that efforts to protect the jaguar, a cat that used to roam a huge part of the American South and Southwest, are having some effect. Hopefully, this latest sighting will spur further efforts to set aside and protect habitat for this magnificent animal.


As is my habit, my mind began to decipher what, if anything, increased jaguar sightings in Arizona and New Mexico might mean for those of us in Texas. I simply see no reason why these big cats would not or could not cross into the Lone Star State if they are able to do so in Arizona and New Mexico. It is likely only a matter of time before a jaguar is photographed on Texas soil. My guess for the most likely area would be the Trans-Pecos Region, maybe the Chisos Mountains of the Big Bend country or the Davis Mountains a bit farther north and west.

I also pondered what this could mean for the black panther conundrum I have been investigating for years. As I am sure most of you know, there is no such animal as a black panther. The term is a sort of catch-all for any large, black, long-tailed cat in the American South and Southwest. The animals most commonly referred to as black panthers are really leopards or jaguars exhibiting melanism. While jaguars are native to Texas and do exhibit melanism in about 10% of individuals (this may be a high estimate), I have never really never considered them as the answer to the black panther conundrum. I always reasoned that if melanistic jaguars were being seen and reported, then the much more commonly colored/marked individuals would be showing up as well. That has just not been the case. I have received very few reports of anomalous spotted cats. Where are the golden jaguars with the normal rosettes that make up at least 90% of the population of the species? Should more encounters like that of Warner Glenn come to light, I might have to reconsider the jaguar as the prime suspect in the black panther mystery. I am not there yet but would like nothing better than to get there.

It would mean the jaguar is back where it belongs.

Sources:

Blakeslee, Sandra. "Gone for Decades, Jaguars Steal Back to the Southwest." The New York Times 10 Oct. 2006, Science/Environment sec. The New York Times Company. Web. 13 June 2015. .


Facebook. California Outdoor TV, 3 June 2015. Web. 13 June 2015. .

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Teachable Moment

A couple of days ago, I was on my way home when I spotted something of interest. I thought the experience could serve as a sort of learning moment for everyone, myself included.

I was at a stop sign at a “T” intersection in a rural area when I spotted a large, black animal with a long tail moving about in some high grass in a field directly in front of me. I was immediately very excited. I have been taking reports from people who claim to have seen black panthers for years but have never seen one myself. Could my time have finally arrived?

Fortunately, I was practicing what I preach about having a camera/video recorder ready at all times and was able to get a video of the animal. That video is below.



As you can see, video does not always do justice to what a witness is seeing. The animal I was viewing was much closer than what it appears in the video. I would estimate the animal was not quite 100 yards away. The creature appears like a tiny speck in the video despite my best effort to zoom in on it.

The animal was easily as large as a Labrador retriever and clearly had a long tail. Was this the elusive black panther I have sought?

No.

Sometimes, a Labrador retriever-sized animal is actually a Labrador retriever. I believe that is what I was looking at as I sat at that intersection. Even if I have the breed wrong, I was clearly seeing a dog of some kind. The way the animal moved, the way it held its tail up, etc. all clearly said “dog” to me. I will admit to being excited upon catching my first glimpse of the animal and had the dog stayed low and retreated into the taller grass I would have been left to wonder what I had seen. Fortunately, it stayed long enough for me to make a clear identification.

So, what is the lesson here? First, keep a camera, phone or some kind of video recorder handy at all times. You just never know when you might come upon something of interest. Even if you are unsure of what your own eyes are seeing, you might be able to figure it out later by examining the video. Second, when you see something of interest, stop. Look at it for as long as you can. Had I simply taken a quick look and then proceeded on my trip home, I would have been left to wonder what that animal might have been. By pausing, the animal eventually revealed its identity. Next, understand that the most common answer is usually the correct one. We have discussed Occam’s Razor here before and I believe it holds true most of the time. Last, be skeptical but open-minded. Imagine if this video had been presented to you. Clearly, there is a large, black, long-tailed animal in the shown. Would you have taken a quick peak and decided “black panther” or would you have said it has to be a dog because there is no such thing as a black panther? Either assumption, jumped to prematurely, is a bad thing. Let it all play out and know that saying, “I don’t know” is not a bad thing. If the dog in this video had not cooperated and stayed in my field of view for as long as it did, I might be saying that to you now.

Keep those eyes open and cameras ready.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Movie Review: Minerva Monster

Small town.

The term conjures up certain mental images and clichés in all of us. For some, it might be Andy Griffith’s Mayberry that comes to mind, a place where everyone knows everyone else. Maybe a vision of a one- or two-chair barber shop, where all the men gather on Saturday mornings to solve the world’s problems and talk about the high school football game the night before, would occur to some. Still others might think of a quaint corner café on a town square, likely across the street from a courthouse, where the one waitress working calls everyone “Honey” but, somehow, still manages to make you feel special.

Life is not a Norman Rockwell painting, however, no matter how much it may appear to be so, and there is often more going on in a small town than first meets the eye. It is hard to keep a secret when everyone knows everyone else. Gossip and unusual goings-on are discussed voraciously, just not with outsiders. Folks are friendly but will circle the wagons quickly and look at you with a suspicious eye should you ask too many questions about one of their own. It is often difficult to penetrate this wall of suspicion, especially when the subject is something as unusual as a monster; yet, executive producer Nathan Newcomer, director Seth Breedlove and their team have managed to do just that in their new film, Minerva Monster.


The film documents the goings-on in and near the small town of Minerva, Ohio, back in the summer of 1978. Specifically, the film centers around the experiences of the Cayton family whose home seemed to be at the epicenter of the odd events. Howe Cayton convincingly and effectively relates the events that both terrified and perplexed his family during that summer: the killing of the family dog (broken neck); rocks bombarding the roof of their home from the slope above on an almost nightly basis; something raiding the family’s chicken coop and leaving behind only some brownish hair and a strong stink; and the huge creature that peeked in their kitchen window. Cayton’s story is backed up by James Shannon, Stark County Sheriff’s Deputy and Barbara Galloway, reporter for the Akron Beacon-Journal, both of whom spent quite a bit of time at the Cayton home that summer in an attempt to get to the bottom of what was going on. Deputy Shannon’s recounting is especially effective as he states clearly that he believed the family and smelled the powerful ammonia-like stench left behind by the animal himself.

While the film centers around the events of August, 1978, other Minerva residents share tales and make it clear that odd things were happening in the area as far back as 1956 and continue to this very day. Locals share stories of sightings of hairy figures darting across roads, huge creatures peeking in windows, being chased by hair-covered beings, having rocks thrown at them, finding large human-like footprints in the woods, hearing odd wood knocks and catching glimpses of a huge brown animal rummaging around in the town dump. One account comes from a hunter who spotted a tall, hirsute creature while out hunting with his son in September of 2011.

A unique aspect of the film is that only the voices of the people involved are heard. You never hear the interviewer ask a question. Not once is anyone on camera other than those telling their stories. I found this refreshing as most bigfoot-related programs these days are little more than star vehicles for the hosts or guest “experts” who weigh in with their opinions. The approach is also quite effective. Everyone featured comes across as very normal, sane, and most of all, believable. The matter-of-fact way these people relate their experiences makes them all the more intriguing. The filmmakers do not try to convince anyone of the existence of the Minerva monster, they simply allow the local residents to relate their tales. It is up to individual viewers to ponder for themselves the possibility that such creatures could exist.

The film was very well done from start to finish. The atmosphere created by Breedlove’s cinematography and the music written by Brandon Dalo sets the tone perfectly. The opening sequence is a perfect example of this as shots of everyday items and landscapes are made just slightly ominous by the combination of music and witness testimony looped over them. The sequence was beautiful in its subtlety and reels you in quickly.

If I have a criticism, and I am really picking nits here, it is that a bit too much time is spent after that beautiful opening sequence with local historians and the Mayor of Minerva discussing how the town came to be. I understand why this background is necessary, but it could have been abbreviated just a bit in order to capitalize more on the spectacular opening.

I would highly recommend the film. If you are interested in the bigfoot enigma at all, you need to see it. These are the types of stories investigators hear all the time. What these folks went through back in the summer of 1978 is at the heart of the entire phenomenon: ordinary people who experience something extraordinary and who do not really care if you believe them or not. I would warn you, though, if you are looking for dramatic recreations, over-the-top narration, or a plethora of special effects, Minerva Monster is not for you. If you are, instead, interested in what it is really like to talk to people who have seen and experienced things they cannot explain, give it a look. You will be glad you did.

After seeing Minerva Monster, you might find yourself slowing down a bit as you drive through the rural areas and small towns of our great country, realizing that there is no telling what you might see if you just take the time to look. Too, you will understand there is more to most small towns than meets the eye.

Sometimes, much more.

Minerva Monster will debut May 16 at the Ohio Bigfoot Conference. You can order a DVD here.