More Coast & Willow Creek

Oregon Coast, continued

The southern third of Oregon's coast has some noteworthy vista points.  Many sit atop cliffs much like those along the entire American coast, but the rock formations at sea level are stunning here.  At many points, jagged rocks rise 100 feet or more from the sea, dozens of feet out from the shore.  Combine this with choppy surf and intermittent fog, and any of these scenes could be on a postcard.  Most probably are.

Speaking of fog, it engulfed route 101 for nearly 100 miles this morning — not that I am complaining, mind you.  The mountains above trapped the fog as it rolled in from the ocean; and the road, halfway up the cliffs, had no choice but to endure.  Fog shrouded the road, the cliffs, and the redwoods in a pulsating, almost living veil.  It was the perfect tease for the offshore rock formations.  At times, visibility was less than 50 feet.  Fortunately, it cleared enough in the area of Gold Beach for me to see (and, of course, photograph) a tsunami danger zone warning sign.

The most striking feature of this fog was its translucence.  The sun was bright and hot, shining through a cloudless sky.  Instead of blocking the sunlight, the fog dispersed it and glowed like a luminescent algae growing on everything — the trees, the rocks, and even the air.  The overall effect was like looking at a white cotton T-shirt stretched over a light bulb, and it was bright enough to require sunglasses.

Forest Café

For lunch I stopped at the Forest Café in Klamath — across the street from Trees of Mystery and Paul Bunyan.  The café put a unique spin on the ubiquitous forest theme of redwood country.  The stuffed bear and woodland mural were to be expected, but the ceiling covered with faux vines, bushes, and flowers — as thickly as a jungle floor — completed the forest feel upon entering.  On the right was a transition, then a complementing forest lake theme.  The mural here showed the comings and goings of freshwater fish, vegetation, diving ducks, and a human swimmer.  From the ceiling hung duck butts and webbed feet, the keel of a rowboat with accompanying oars, and other assorted floating items.

Bigfoot Museum

Route 299 between Arcata and Willow Creek offers several nice vista points overlooking the rolling hills, but they pale in comparison to the views from the outbound lane of Rim Road at Crater Lake.  I forewent these points on the trip eastbound, as it was two o'clock, and the Bigfoot museum would close at four.

The Bigfoot consumer experience begins long before you approach Willow Creek: shop after shop for 50 miles along route 101 sells Bigfoot souvenirs — hats, magnets, T-shirts, hats, carvings, photos, and footprint casts.  The region is heavily forested, and one can easily imagine how trees and shrubbery viewed at night or in bad sunlight could look like a Bigfoot.  For a fleeting moment, I thought I saw one myself — until I realized it was a shaggy hitchhiker with a brown backpack.  The only other thing to note on the way to the museum is the music playing on the airwaves.  The Willow Creek area has two pop music stations, two country/western stations, and at least seven Christian stations.  This must mean something, but I am not sure exactly what.

The China Flat Museum has two rooms.  The larger is dedicated to local history and the smaller to Bigfoot.  The proprietor is very knowledgeable about local sightings, the major American trackers, and her collection.  She will talk your ear off if you let her.  (I did.)

The first thing you notice as you walk into the Bigfoot room is the 10-foot poster that dominates the far wall: a blowup of a Patterson-film frame where the lady Bigfoot appears to be holding an object — helpfully highlighted in red.  Most of the exhibits line the walls, forming a ring around the center display cases, which contain over a dozen footprint casts.  Most are copies of casts made locally, dating from the Wallace casts of 1958 through last year.  Most of these come from Bob Titmus' personal collection and those he made himself; he donated much of what he collected in decades of Bigfoot hunting before he died.  While the museum does not have a copy of the Skookum cast, it does have a large display to lady Bigfoot's right, with detailed diagrams of the body impressions and narrative background information on the Skookum expedition and the pheromone-scented plastic chips used to lure the creature.

The first display along the wall is on the find which instantly transformed Bigfoot from a regional curiosity to an international celebrity: the tracks planted by Ray Wallace in 1958.  The display features period press clippings and a scale drawing of the casts made the next day by a member of Wallace's construction crew.  The exhibit has a picture of Wallace and a caption with his name, but it neglects to mention his family's revelation after his death that he had faked the tracks.  Apparently, in the Bigfoot business, any hint of skepticism is bad for business.  (Not that I expected anything different, really.)  Wallace's wry smile in the newspaper photograph, however, is priceless.

The next display introduces gigantopithecus blacki and strongly suggests (without making an outright claim) that the extinct (or so "they" tell us) ape is responsible for the Yeti legends in China.  Next comes an illustrated summary of a comparative morphological analysis of Bigfoot casts and the Patterson film, allegedly written by D.  Jeffrey Meldrum of Idaho State University.  Interestingly, his web site does not list this among his papers.  The display on the Patterson film is a breathless tribute to its authenticity which glancingly refers to the "controversy" surrounding the film and ends with, "…but no one has disproved it!"  It also makes no mention of Patterson's and Gimlin's recantation of the film decades later.  The remaining displays show timelines and maps of the region, pinpointing where tracks and fur have been found and where sightings have occurred.

If you visit, be sure to check out the souvenir shelves on the way out.  I picked up a nice blowup of frame 352 of the Patterson film for a few bucks.  It will make a nice addition to my wall, next to the aerial photos of crop circles.

Oh, and one last thing.  I could not resist staying in the Bigfoot Motel for the night.  It was hard not to, being in the Bigfoot spirit….

Willow Creek & Environs

One block farther down route 299 lies Cinnabar Sam's, which was a happening place that night and a nice dive for breakfast the next morning.  The most striking feature of this establishment is its devotion to local history without dwelling on Bigfoot.  In fact, the only Bigfoot mention I recall seeing is a glossy photo of this year's winner of the Little Miss Bigfoot pageant.

After the museum closed at four o'clock, I had about four hours of daylight remaining to explore.  I was too tired to drive two more hours to see Bluff Creek (next vacation, perhaps); so, on the advice of the Bigfoot Motel proprietor, I headed down to a swimming hole in Trinity River.  The rocky beach was almost fifty feet wide, and the water was excellent for swimming – broad, slow current, and deep enough to dive into from the ten-foot-high rocks on the far side.  The swimming hole was set against a backdrop of a steep hill covered in scrubby brush and trees.

I met a nice park ranger named Jillian who was kind enough to snap my picture.  She was about my age, so I struck up a conversation and asked her to recommend something else local to see with what little daylight I had left.  She obliged with another river viewpoint and, after some more conversation, Cinnabar Sam's for dinner.  The way she said it, it was an invitation, so I asked her to join me.  I think she left her post early, but I was not about to argue.  I was shocked to learn that Jillian knew almost nothing of Bigfoot lore, and I was all too happy to play professor for over an hour.  She never sounded bored.  (Honest!)

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