It’s just before dawn, on the shortest, darkest day of the year. I’m parked underneath a street lamp at a gas station just east of the Tillamook State Forest. I’m here anxiously awaiting a rendezvous with a pair of Bigfoot trackers from the Bigfoot Research Organization (BFRO): Cindy Caddell and Russ Lockrem.
Off to my right, a pair of headlights pierce the early morning fog. The lights slowly get bigger and brighter. The source of the lights — a large, white pickup — pulls up behind me. The lights are now blinding, as they reflect off my rearview mirror and into my eyes.
Through the light, I see a man’s shadowy figure hop out of the driver side of the truck and saunter toward my SUV. I open the door and step out to greet him. With a big grin, he introduces himself: Russ. From the passenger side, a woman gets out and cheerily power walks up to greet me, her hand already extended: Cindy.
After a quick how-do-you-do, Cindy climbs into the back seat of the truck behind Russ, allowing me to ride shotgun.
Normally, I’d be wary of taking a ride into the wilderness with a pair of strangers. I’ve thrown caution to the wind today, though. That’s because the BFRO keeps its Bigfoot hotspots secret. And, if I want to learn the art of Bigfoot tracking, I am going to have to play by their rules.
The Forests of Oregon
Growing up in Northwestern Oregon, I was aware of the legend of Bigfoot. It wasn’t until I met my neighbor, Joe Beelart, Bigfoot expert and author of "The Oregon Bigfoot Highway," that I began to give Bigfoot a second thought.
Sitting in Joe’s suburban kitchen, I got the Bigfoot deep dive. Spreading out a large map on his kitchen table, Joe plotted the spots I’d need to visit for the best Sasquatch sightings across the state, from Suttle Lake in Eastern Oregon to Estacada just outside the Mount Hood National Forest to the Tillamook State Forest in the west.
After I left his home, Joe introduced me to other Oregon Bigfoot aficionados. This is how I wound up riding shotgun in Russ’s truck through Tillamook.
Tillamook State Forest
Almost as if it’d been planned, as soon as Russ turned off the paved highway and onto the gravel back road, it began to snow. We weaved our way deep into the forest. Cindy narrated from the back seat.
She explained that Bigfoot is believed to be a relative of the now-extinct Gigantopithecus. Bigfoot experts theorize that Bigfoot has Asian origins and crossed the Bering land bridge into North America.
Miles into the state forest, Cindy walked me through locations of reported Bigfoot sightings. She recounted mysterious vocalizations she heard in the night and described the infrared outlines she captured of an eight-foot-tall creature — “or naked man” — spying on her camp.
I’d been through the Tillamook State Forest more than a dozen times over the years. Viewing it through the BFRO lens was like seeing it for the first time. The vibrant greenery of the forest, even on the first day of winter, was awe-inspiring. The place felt almost primeval in its lushness.
Before we part ways, Cindy and Russ give me pointers on how to spot signs of Bigfoot. Marks of the Sasquatch vary, from fur snagged on tree trunks to broken tree limbs. The most compelling, however, are foot prints.
Staring at the forest floor, I quickly realize that it takes a sharper eye than mine to spot a Bigfoot print. There are so many impressions, divots, and odd shapes in the forest floor that I wouldn’t know where to begin to pick out a Sasquatch print.
My final Bigfoot expedition took me east over Mt. Hood to Suttle Lake — a virtual Bigfoot hotbed. There, I met with Randy Silvey, BFRO member and founder of Bend Bigfoot Research Group (BBRG).
Randy is perennially cheery and — just like Cindy before him — excitedly narrates the drive. Navigating me around the maze of dirt roads that crisscross the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, he leads me to a couple of the region’s Bigfoot hotspots.
The forests of Eastern Oregon aren’t as dark and lush as those in Tillamook. What they lack in prehistoric atmosphere, they more than make up for in ecosystem diversity.
The ground was snow-covered at the spot where Randy and I met up. Minutes into our drive, we were out into the red soil and sunlight of the high desert. Parking in the middle of the BLM land, we hiked into the spare forest populated by thin, tall pines and came out on a massive lava flow.
Any minute, we should hear a ‘thwack!’” Randy warns me. This is supposedly one of the telltale auditory signs that Bigfoot is nearby, as they try to ward people off by hitting tree trunks with massive logs. Imagine the crack of a baseball bat making collision with a ball, but 10 times louder and more menacing.
“Want to run into a Bigfoot? Just go out and act like a normal person,” Randy says. “Get all decked out in camo and stuff, they’ll steer clear — you won’t find or hear anything. They’re much more intrigued by people acting like people.”
Randy’s advice mirrors what both Russ and Joe had told me, too.
“Bigfoot hunting is anything but,” Joe said, when we sat at his kitchen table. “It’s hiking, camping, fishing, and star gazing.”
Similarly, when I asked Russ what got him into Bigfoot hunting, he admitted it was a way to connect with his son and spend more time outside. To me, that’s the most compelling — and charming — part of Bigfoot, the community and drive to keep exploring.
“It’d be really friggin’ neat if Bigfoot were real,” Russ chuckled during our expedition through Tillamook. I agree. Though, I suppose it doesn’t really matter.
I conceived of this story as a way to expose new readers to Oregon’s many beautiful forests. However, I’ve come through it with a new community of friends and a reason to keep exploring my state’s stunning public lands. In this way, I’ve become sold on Bigfoot myself.