My Long, Strange Night With Rob Lowe

By Brian Brown

I honestly didn’t think anything would happen. The premise wasn’t one I’d have predicted would be conducive to encouraging apey behavior: Dragging a large Hollywood TV production crew way into the bush for a few hours one night, their vehicles and gear, and one of television’s most recognizable stars and his two young adult sons. I’d seen enough episodes of Finding Bigfoot to know “nothing” was far more likely than “something.” But what the heck, I figured. Time spent in the woods is never wasted and it might be fun seeing how the sausage gets made in reality TV.  

But something did happen. A couple somethings, in fact. But…they didn’t happen exactly the way it looked on the show.  So this is my personal remembrance of the behinds the scenes adventure that was episode eight of the The Lowe Files, “The Wood Apes.” 

Let’s back up. TV production companies have reached out to the North American Wood Ape Conservancy many times in the past asking us to be part of their shows. We invariably say no. Sometimes they ask more than once, but no remains our answer. In fact, when The Lowe Files folks originally contacted us, they got our standard answer. They got it the second and third time they asked, too. That was before they revealed the real premise behind the show and that our more scientific approach was what drew them to us and that Rob Lowe was attached. Rob has had a life-long interest in the subject of what we call wood apes, we discovered, and has discussed it publicly on several occasions. After they made many assurances we would be portrayed as we are (serious, dedicated) and not in whatever way made for the most entertaining hour of television and agreeing to make a modest donation to our organization, we eventually relented (nobody you see on-screen from the NAWAC was compensated in any way). The first time we’ve done that for an active TV production in a decade.

We met them in the Ouachita Mountains in southeast Oklahoma, not the Ozarks as the show indicated. The Ozarks and Ouachitas are adjacent yet distinct ranges. In any event, they came rolling up in about a half dozen vehicles, including at least two motorhomes and a minivan, and the crew poured out bristling with cameras and boom mics moments before the Lowes pulled in driving their tricked-out Ford F-150 Raptor. A serious case of truck lust ensued, but I endeavored to maintain my professional demeanor.

And then we just jumped right in. No preamble, no introduction. The meeting you see on the show is the first time we talked to any of them directly. We barely had a chance to say boo to the crew who had just landed in force. To me, it seemed somewhat awkward as we hadn’t really practiced anything or discussed what to say. It was at this point I noticed the first “adventures in creative editing” problem. In real life, I related at least two separate events involving encounters I’ve had with wood apes, but on the show they compress them into one in such a way that made no literal sense (how could I see a wood ape peeking from behind a tree if it was pitch dark?). 

My initial impression of the Lowes was that they were genuinely interested in hearing what we had experienced and the subject matter in general. They were obviously very close and enjoying one another’s company. Rob in particular seemed quite engaged and animated as we related various events and suppositions we’d developed over years. And then, just like that, the entire bizarre convoy was driving into the woods. At one point, we passed a family on ATVs driving in the opposite direction on the forest road. Can’t imagine what they thought they were seeing. Certainly a force like none other encountered on that road before. 

We had to stop a short way in because none but the serious off-road vehicles could get to the campsite we called Tosche Station. The road was just too precarious. Rocky and narrow, our people regularly deal with damage done by it to their vehicles. No way the crew was getting in driving their minivans and campers. We deposited the bulk of them at a nice wide clearing by the side of the road and went the rest of the way in with a skeleton crew that still seemed to number a dozen people, not counting the Lowes themselves.  Everyone piled into the backs of pick-up trucks or stuffed into their cabs.  

Except for the Lowes. My friend Brandon Lentz was chosen to ride with them in the truck that caused lust in my heart and I’ll probably always hold it against him.  

  

Along the way, we found what might have been a nut-crushing station. We’ve found these from time to time in the mountains around there. This one didn’t have any nut remains on it, but did have flakes struck from the hammer stone still on the anvil stone. Intriguing but inconclusive. We pressed on. 

We encountered a mature tree down over the trail resulting in some muscular demonstrations of the abilities of the Ford pick-up truck platform. When we couldn’t move it and realized we had no way of cutting it, the trucks simply drove right over it. A time where significant ground clearance came in very handy. In lesser vehicles, the show would have ended right there. I’m sure the Ford people would have liked to see their product placement dollars hard at work in that situation.


We arrived at the campsite and, in order to take advantage of the remaining daylight, immediately broke into two groups as shown in the episode. We each went separate directions on a loop trail and met up half way through. The on-screen text said we were four miles from camp at one point, but in reality it couldn’t have been more than a quarter mile at its furthest. And this led to the real “adventures in editing” crime. The one time I sat up and yelled at my TV. Here’s what happened.

Rob, Brandon, and I were walking along, scrambling over downed trees, and discussing various aspects of our research. At a certain point, I realized I had no idea where we were. Tosche Station was not our regular research location and was used for the show primarily because it was the least arduous drive with the most seclusion. I had never been there before and have not been back since, so in retrospect, I was probably not the guy to be leading one of the two groups. I knew we were getting close to camp, but didn’t know exactly where it was. I radioed to them to make noise and that’s when you see, on the show, Daryl Colyer fire his weapon into the mountainside causing something to bolt and run up its slope. The reason Daryl fired is not explained in the show and makes it appear rather random which is problematic, but that’s not my real issue. Still getting to that.

But first, an aside. I’m very comfortable hearing my own voice. Unlike most people, I like how I sound. But seeing myself on TV? That was new. And I’m not sure how well I like that, especially when on screen with the freakish genetic specimen that is Rob Lowe. He makes everyone look at least 25% older and fatter. Yeah. Anyway…

Not long after Daryl fired his weapon, we were back on track. Then the three of us heard a perfect, clear “whoop” from behind us. Not too far away. Then we heard another whoop, perhaps in response, from the opposite direction across the creek. The first whoop was the best I’ve ever heard in those mountains. Both were recorded on camera. Pretty clearly, though they’re barely heard on the show.

They were so perfect, my initial impressions was we were being fooled by Rob’s sons or the production crew back at camp. And then, as we were moving to investigate, we bumped into my friend Mike Mayes coming from camp to find us. In real life, I asked him if he had made the whoop (still not entirely believing we heard such a perfect example with a TV camera running — though the return whoop could not have been him), and he said no, it wasn’t him. They’ve edited the show so it looks like he admitted it was him. But he never said anything like that. No way do members of the NAWAC do that to one another and there are few people’s word I’d put as much stock in as Mikey’s. 

When we got back to camp, there seemed to be some confusion with Rob as to the source of the whoop. You can see this in the show. He apparently still thought it was Mike, even though Mike had clearly denied it to us shortly after we heard it. My theory is the editors spliced the event together to make sense of Rob’s confusion. Unfortunately, in doing so they made Mike look like someone not nearly as serious as I know him to be. 

In retrospect, it’s difficult for me to explain the whoops in any way other than they were produced by apes. As the show indicates, a few of us thought we heard a faint whoop earlier in our walk. Both teams did (though I didn’t). Then we heard two more as we got closer to camp.  Since there was no sign of any other people anywhere near us and the road was blocked by downed trees in both directions. Along with nobody outside our small group knowing exactly where we’d be, the possibility of outside interference and hoaxing is near zero. 

Then there was a bunch of milling about at camp. We took some cheesy promotional images and I was told I could eat from the “talent” food box because I was wearing a mic. That was a nice granola bar, let me tell you. Then all the crew had to bug out because they’re only allowed to work a certain number of hours in day. That left only me, Mike, Daryl, Paul Bowman, and Brandon with the three Lowes and their field producer Jeff who acted as camera man for the rest of the night. 

Not a lot of significance happened for a while. Not until it got late. From the location of our camp, some of us were hearing faint ape-type pant-hoot sounds. Hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo! Quiet but seemingly pretty close. This led Daryl to take Matthew Lowe and Brandon a little ways away from camp down by the creek with a couple thermals to sit and observe and see what they could see. It was late and dark, but the thermal scopes “see” in heat, not light, and anything with a temperature would show up. 

After a bit, as I recall, Brandon radioed to us asking if someone was on the road. Jeff the producer was and Brandon thought he was seeing him so we pulled Jeff back closer to us. But he was still seeing what looked like a person. Only this person was showing up as uniformly bright in the thermal where a person would be mottled as different amounts of heat leaked through their clothes (hot white face, darker under their hair, patches of heat on the torso, etc.). From Brandon’s perspective, it appeared to be swaying slightly. Then it dropped to the ground and out of view.  Matthew also saw something. According to my video of Brandon’s post-encounter interview, Matt saw something dart away. 

We were discussing this event and pointing in the general direction of where whatever they saw had been when we saw two small spots of white light. As shown in the episode, we had been discussing wood ape eye shine earlier in the day and I in particular am always looking for it (having seen it several times over the years). 

With the still-fresh encounter hanging in the air and the lights showing up, from our perspective, pretty much where Brandon had seen the figure, my mind immediately thought we were seeing eyes. In retrospect, I should have been circumspect. The "eyes" were white and typically what we believe is ape eye shine shows green or orange. I have seen suspicious white eye shine, but never when I could confidently say it was ape-related. Also, it was very bright. Ape eyes seem to reflect a great deal of light (making them visible even in incredibly low light conditions) but these were too bright. I blame the heightened sense of the post-thermal event for making me jump too quickly to assuming the light was ape-related. 

In any event, the lights seemed to move in a weird way and then there was more of them. They went from looking marginally like eyes to looking more like people with flashlights. We called out to them, but they didn’t respond. They would stop for a bit and then go again, but we heard no reply. In short, this was easily one of the strangest things I’ve ever experienced in a place noted for strange things. 

Eventually, as is seen on the show, the mystery resolves itself. It was an overland club called ArkLaTex Offroad that had gone miles and miles that day, mostly on nasty roads, and they were looking for a way out. They insist they were not “lost” and, I suppose, in the sense that not all who wander are, they weren’t, but the lead driver told us at the time they were. Once their caravan rolled through camp, we filmed a bit more and then the Lowe’s tore off into the night in their truck of my dreams. 

The entire episode with the overland group is portrayed very confusingly, I thought. A lot of jumping and cutting as if the footage were put into a blender. Little of it was in the order in which it happened. None of it made any sense. But I don’t make TV shows, so what do I know? However, the appearance of that group well demonstrates why we never performed serious operations in that location. The fact that there was a through-road made it inappropriate for us and the TV event, as random and weird as it was, highlights that. We can’t operate in a space without a much higher degree of control over who shows up, for a variety of reasons. 

Turns out, our episode was the season finale. I’m glad we were able to provide some drama for them, even if it didn’t always play out how it was shown. I will admit now that I presumed the show and its concept was a bit of ego thing for Rob, but after watching all the episodes including ours, I find myself sort of moved by the whole thing. If given the chance to go on a series of adventures with my son (especially in that truck) I’d jump at it, ratings be damned. I don’t think it’s a coincidence he did this shortly after they both left home for college. My son recently did the same and I find myself wistful for times like those the Lowe’s shared together. It may not be the best show ever made about weird “paranormal” subjects, but I think it had heart. And that’s not nothing.

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