Published on June 17, 2016
Two NAWAC Investigators find interesting trackway. Read more...
Written by Brandon Lentz Saturday, 22 August 2015
I’ve always been fascinated with nature. From an early age, I fondly remember seeking out the world beyond the comforts of home. I spent much of my childhood on a tract of family land, turning over logs to catch sight of reptiles and amphibians, wading in a stream catching turtles, and looking for clues of animals that I had never before seen. I desperately wanted to know everything that lived in the woods. As I grew older, I graduated to bigger animals. I started looking for mammals: White-tailed deer, black bears, gray wolves, and otters were all common targets of my curiosity. Maturity taught me that you can provide healthy sustenance by hunting, and I’ve spent decades pursuing that craft.
After feeling like I knew quite a bit about my own backyard, I started to seek out bigger mysteries of the natural world. I went to my local library nearly every day, seeking new animals to learn about. On one of these trips, I happened upon a book that had the silhouette of an apelike creature standing on two legs on its cover. The book was The Mysterious Monsters, by Robert and Francis Guenette (1975). Intrigued, I opened the book and flipped through it. I stopped at the famous image from the Patterson-Gimlin footage of an apelike creature, walking upright and looking back at the cameraman: Frame 352.
I was now beyond intrigued. Could there really be a hairy bipedal primate in the woods of North America? Given my predilection for mystery in nature, I had to know more. Since then, I’ve spent fifteen years reading everything I could find about this creature known as “bigfoot.” Tiring of the constant bickering and hoaxes within the bigfoot Internet community, I decided to take action and find out for myself what is really happening in the woods, and why people in different parts of the country were reporting the same thing: a tall, hairy, bipedal creature that is unlisted by science.
I had been a fan of the now defunct podcast The Bigfoot Show, and was utterly fascinated by the stories out of a place called “Area X.” The people on this show sounded sincere, like they had genuine stories to tell. I sought out Brian Brown, host of The Bigfoot Show, to ask him a few questions about this group called the North American Wood Ape Conservancy, or NAWAC. Brian was kind and thoughtful in answering questions from a stranger, and the NAWAC seemed to be the most legitimate and scientific group trying to solve the bigfoot mystery, so I decided to become a member. I sent my application to the group’s board of directors, and was accepted as an associate.
One week later, I found myself in a vehicle with Brian and other members of the NAWAC on our way to Oklahoma for the annual retreat at a beautiful ranch near Tulsa. Despite not having met me, I was invited to meet the group and hear their stories. What I learned that weekend seemed almost too good to be true; this group of biologists, outdoorsmen, professionals, scientists, and naturalists had very real experiences with what they called wood apes. Not only did they have knowledge about this mysterious animal, but they were real people banded together to try and save a species that they knew needed help. There was a kinship in the air that felt genuine. I knew then that I made the right decision in joining the organization.
After spending time with members in the field and meeting the requirements to become an investigator, I was invited to this place we all know as “Area X.” I signed up to spend a week in the Ouachita Mountain range with the hope of satisfying decades of curiosity and to help the group save the habitat of a species they all knew to be real. Having never had any sort of encounter myself, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I knew I had to help.
I arrived at a prearranged location on a Thursday and met Mark McClurkan, an NAWAC board member, and we were soon driving down a long, extremely rough, stretch of road, or more accurately, an old two-track mule trail. Upon turning a corner near where Alton Higgins found a trackway of 16-inch tracks back in 2000, we both observed an upright, light brown animal moving at a speed that I had never before imagined possible through such terrain. (We later estimated its speed to be in the 20-25 mph range.) The huge animal appeared to be running on two legs and seemed unnaturally smooth, as though it were floating across the forest. I saw the sun reflecting off its hair. I calculated that I saw the creature for about three seconds. I was floored; I hadn’t even unpacked my gear and already I’d learned that the stories were true. I’m in Area X, and I’ve encountered what appears to be an unlisted species of ape. “Bigfoot” is more than myth! Amazing!
Shortly after unpacking my gear at the primitive hunting cabin and trying to take in what I had just witnessed, I heard what sounded like a loud clear “wood knock” from the top of the nearby mountain.
“So something does knock wood against trees! Why?” I’ve been here for two hours and already the legends and rumors have proven to be true, at least in my mind.
The following afternoon, longtime NAWAC member Robert Taylor and I climbed the mountain behind the cabin to explore and look for evidence. While on the slope, I discovered what may have been a track. Upon inspection it seemed similar to what I had seen in the classic sasquatch books. I soon took a concealed position alone, not knowing what else I was going to experience. As I settled in, I suddenly noticed the distinct odor of what other team members have described as a “wet horse smell.”
Later on, I heard rhythmic rock-on-rock clacking sounds coming from the creek. What other animal could possibly bang rocks together?
Still later, after I had been sitting quietly and silently, observing and studying, I heard a large crash roughly 100 yards away from me. It was the obvious sounds of a tree falling to the ground. Trees do fall, the teams have documented dozens of trees falling, but this is the first time I’ve heard one fall in my many years of being in the woods. I found myself becoming unnerved for the first time. I decided to leave my position and head back to the relative security of the cabin, where I could process everything that had happened in peace.
During an evening hike along the base of the mountain, I heard another loud clear knock sound directly up the slope from me. Was I being tracked?
Late that night, Saturday morning, actually, I took my first shift at 3:45 AM of what the NAWAC refers to as “overwatch” using an ATN thermal scope. After a few enjoyable hours watching the resident gray foxes running around, I heard what sounded like large boulders being moved in the creek bed. Whatever was moving these boulders had to have considerable strength. Listening closely, minutes later, Brian Brown and I heard a sound that gave me chills. An animal produced a vocalization that sounded exactly like what is referred to as the “Ohio Howl.” I was out in the middle of nowhere, in the pitch-black darkness, and then the howling started. It reverberated throughout the valley. In my opinion, there is literally no known animal that could make the sound I heard. To put it mildly, it was startling.
On Sunday my teammates left to pick up new members. I decided to stay behind for the hours they would be gone, remaining quietly in the cabin to see if any rocks would be launched at the roof. When the heat became unbearable, I walked outside to the base of the mountain and yelled out, as my teammates had suggested, as a way to stir up animals. Much to my surprise, a charcoal-colored animal broke out from behind a tree on the slope and disappeared behind dense foliage without making a sound. Did I see what looked like the head of a gorilla?
Later, after I found a secluded spot to wait out the intense heat, I produced a high-pitched “WHOOP!” and immediately heard the same sound returned from the top of the mountain. Another attempt produced no response, but I couldn’t help but wonder, “Did I just interact with an undocumented species of ape?” Incredible!
The following two days produced more possible encounters while in the company of teammates. For example, Tim Sievert and I heard rock-clacking during a walk down to the creek on Monday. It takes hands to beat rocks together. When I answered with my own rocks, the clacking ceased and was replaced with a low, rough, barking-huff (documented by NAWAC teams before).
Late that same night, as the team sat outside in darkness listening to the sounds of the night, NAWAC board member and team leader Brian Brown and I both saw what we were convinced were apes through ATN thermal scopes. The creatures had silently approached the group from different directions and were quietly observing us. We would have never seen the figures without a thermal unit. During a recreation conducted afterwards, Brian estimated that the creature he saw was easily eight feet tall and three times my width.
The next day I was with Brian again near the location in 2014 where fellow NAWAC Field Investigators Travis Lawrence and Gene Bass had spotted four seemingly young apes that resembled chimpanzees. Our intent was to try to flush animals back towards three other previously deployed members. Seconds after Brian said, “Nobody ever comes to this spot, it’s a good place to hide…,” we came upon two large animals that hurriedly took off in different directions. From what I could tell, one was brown while the other appeared to be the same charcoal color I had seen earlier on the slope of the mountain. I focused on the charcoal animal; Brian focused on the brown animal. They were large, hairy, and very quick. We had practically walked on top of them. I wondered if the animals were trying to conserve energy in the oppressive heat and waited to move until we were almost on them. I don’t know what other large animals sit together and run off in opposite directions when spooked.
Early the next morning, Wednesday, I was packed and heading out of the valley to start my long journey home. I had much to process.
I left Area X feeling like I had just witnessed a world that very few will ever know. Any illusions about the existence of these animals were completely shattered. From what I could tell after my week in that place, these animals are real. What’s more, they are strong, nimble, incredibly fast, incredibly smart, and intensely curious about us. My mind was spinning.
Why doesn’t anybody seem to care about this?
Why doesn’t anyone acknowledge what’s happening in the wilderness?
Doesn’t anybody know that habitat is shrinking at a ridiculously fast rate? Why is the subject of undiscovered apes in North America, or “bigfoot,” such a big joke to the general public? They exist! One merely has to search with focus, determination, and persistence.
I struggled with my experience for days, wondering, for fear of ridicule, if I should tell anyone outside of the NAWAC. I have since decided that what is happening in the Ouachita Mountains is far bigger in importance than the possibility of being the brunt of jokes. I know what happened in Area X. I know what I saw, heard, and smelled.
I have concluded that something very special is happening in the Ouachitas. It is maddening to realize that, while I can tell of my experiences to others in an effort to help an undocumented species, I know that most people will look at me like I belong in a mental hospital. So be it.
The world needs to know that this species, the North American wood ape, exists, and that it could very well be on the brink of extinction. I am determined, along with the rest of the NAWAC, to continue to sacrifice time, effort, and expense, the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears, to bring these very real and spectacular animals out of the sphere of superstition, speculation, anecdote, myth, and legend, and into the light of scientific recognition.
Brandon Lentz is a Field Investigator with the North American Wood Ape Conservancy and lives in Minnesota with his dog Luka. There, he hunts and fishes the dense forests and many waterways that Minnesota has to offer.
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