John R. Salmond plans to head to a remote corner of northeastern Utah this weekend in search of a legend.
Salmond, 44, is a new member of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, which plans to explore the Ashley National Forest near the Utah-Wyoming border this Thursday through Monday looking for elusive Bigfoot evidence. Founded in 1995, BFRO claims to be the only scientific organization dedicated to finding Bigfoot.
Some 26 years ago when he was 18, Salmond, of Clearfield, said he discovered three sets of footprints of varying size while on a Boy Scout trip in southwestern Wyoming. In his mind only one type of creature could have made those tracks: Bigfoot.
Since then, Salmond said he's recorded knocks and whistle sounds that fit the evolving profile of a Bigfoot or sasquatch. He has viewed strange night-time thermal images of something he can't quite describe. And he says he has even had rocks thrown at him in the darkness of the high Uintas by what he believes was one of the large, hairy nonhuman primates that, according to folklore, roam North America.
"I've had some experiences," he said. "I can't deny what I saw."
Purported sightings in the Utah are not uncommon. Less than two weeks ago, Ryan Burns said he spotted a strange, hairy creature in the forest south of his home.
"I saw a reddish figure," he said. "At first, I thought it was a person in a fur coat."
Burns, who runs a bed and breakfast in Duchesne, said he had a weird feeling about what he was seeing. He said the figure looked at him and "disappeared into the brush." He raced after it on horseback, but it eluded him. He doesn't believe a human could move away that quickly, and he said few people ever frequent the rugged area he was in.
A member of the BFRO's 2007 expedition to Utah, Burns believes from the recent sighting and other experiences that Bigfoot is real.
Experiences like those Burns and Salmond describe are the reason Bigfoot researchers are returning to Utah.
"Our target area (in Utah) has everything we look for," said Caroline Curtis, secretary/investigator with Florida-based www.bfro.net, which besides the Utah trip has 16 other expeditions in the U.S. and Canada planned this year. "The location is kept secret, not just to keep it unspoiled, but also for safety and scientific purposes."
The group participating in this year's hunt will be relatively small, about 25, including investigators and first-time participants. The team will set up a base camp from which it will venture out in search of clues during the day. At night they'll use night vision cameras and sit around the campfire swapping Bigfoot stories.
Reported Bigfoot sightings vary, but according to folks like Curtis, 80 percent happen at night and are usually in the mountains, the foothills or near open spaces. Most involve a creature who is reserved, though a little curious. Bigfoot may watch a camp in the mountains from a distance, but is rarely aggressive. Some people reported their trucks or campers being rocked by a Bigfoot, but Utah Bigfoot expert Ryan Layton says that is rare. A foul odor usually permeates a Bigfoot encounter, he said.
While few scientists give Bigfoot's existence any credence, one who does is Jeffrey Meldrum, an associate professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University who has two zoology degrees from BYU. He is the author of the book "Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science," a companion to the Discovery Channel documentary of the same name. Dubbed by some as America's "Bigfoot professor," he's been a believer ever since he came across 15-inch footprints a decade ago in the woods near Walla Walla, Wash.
"I'm not trying to proselytize that Bigfoot exists," Meldrum told the Associated Press. "I place legend under scrutiny and my conclusion is, absolutely, Bigfoot exists."
Most people scoff at Bigfoot reports — Meldrum's colleagues at ISU signed a petition when he hosted a Bigfoot symposium on campus and some of his fellow science professors want his tenure revoked. Detractors point out that to date scientists have not found fossil evidence to support the existence of a nomadic apeman.
Layton, an independent Utah Bigfoot researcher who lives in Layton, believes Utah Bigfoot sightings go largely under reported because the possibility of ridicule prevents many people from coming forward.
Layton has interviewed numerous people who claim Bigfoot sightings since 1980, and said he believes the majority told the truth — they saw something they can't explain.
Salmond helps maintain the Web site utahsquatchinggroup.com.
"I respect their viewpoint," new BFRO member Salmond said of nonbelievers. "I'm not here to convince them. … There's a lot of mysteries in the world still to discover."
Some purported Utah Bigfoot sightings
When the Deseret News first did an overall look into Utah bigfoot phenomena back in 1993, it found at least 36 total purported sightings/signs of the creature from 1977 on. In the 16 years since, there have been at least another 49 new alleged sightings (an average of more than one a month) reported in Utah.
Here's a sampling of some reported bigfoot sightings in Utah:
Early June 2009 — Two campers along Reservation Ridge, northwest of Price, were frightened by a strange creature they saw in the area. They quickly packed up and left.
December 2008 — A man driving along state Route 44 three miles west of Flaming Gorge reported seeing an upright figure with eyes that reflected his headlights. It had long black and gray hair and was not afraid of his noisy pickup truck, but soon disappeared into the trees.
Jan. 8, 2008 — A semi driver on I-15 near Scipio said he had to swerve to avoid hitting what he thought could have been a bigfoot running across the freeway during foggy conditions. It was hairy and the creature's leg alone was the size of a man's body. The man said it was like looking into the face of a gorilla when he made eye contact. He said he was a bigfoot skeptic prior to that experience.
Aug. 22, 2007 — A family reported unearthly whoops and howls heard at night in the Yellowstone Canyon area of the high Uintas wilderness area.
September 2006 — A woman camping in the Monte Cristo area, Cache County, reported seeing a tall, dark figure in the moonlight, about 25 yards away. It was unlike any other animal she had ever seen. Her usually calm dog also had whined and whimpered a lot that night.
July 2006 — A man and other witnesses in the high Uintas near Beth and Trident lakes heard screams at night that they said could have come from a bigfoot.
October 2004 — Two men hunting in the Chalk Creek area near Coalville reported seeing a 9-foot-tall black creature unlike anything they had ever seen before.
May 2003 — Some teenagers in Farmington reported hearing strange noises and seeing a bigfoot along the Lagoon Trail east of the amusement park.
2002 — Various sightings are reported in the Oquirrh Mountains.
2002 — A Layton man scouring the mountainside with a scope spotted a strange creature roaming in the foothills above the state Route 193/U.S. 89 junction. He used his camcorder to film the creature for about five minutes from about 500 yards away. A few hours later, he went into the area and despite snow on the ground, could not find footprints.
1997 — Strange footprints are found all over Ogden Valley during the winter.
1996-97 — A woman and her children in Eden, Ogden Valley, reported seeing bigfoot twice in some brushy areas. "I can't deny it," she said.
1996 — A group of children in North Ogden's Coldwater Canyon said they were chased away by a bigfoot. Footprints also are found at the fish farm in North Ogden and at Nordic Valley.
1995 — A North Ogden resident reported seeing a large, dark, hairy creature in his yard one night. It also ripped a large metal gate out of a fence and hurled it 30 feet away. A teenage boy said he saw bigfoot running alongside a canal.
1991 — Bigfoot sightings reported by residents in North Ogden.
1981 — The police chief of Garland, Box Elder County, said he saw a creature run in front of his car. Several other residents also reported sightings and tracks were found that led in a northwest direction.
Early 1980s — A man from Lapoint, Uintah County, flying a small airplane from Ogden to his home one winter, reported seeing a large, hairy manlike creature walking through the deep snow of the high Uintas.
Early 1980s — One summer, Lee Fielding of Hooper, Weber County, who works for Utah Wildlife Resources, was camping in the Elizabeth Mountain area of the Uintas. He reported that something stormed through his camp one night and scared all the horses away. The next morning, his horse would not go in a particular direction, and he met a group of hunters in a nearby camp who told him they were spooked by seeing what they described as a bigfoot.
May 1980 — An Ogden couple picking asparagus along the Weber River near 12th Street and I-15 reported an 8-foot-tall black figure with glowing red eyes about 40 yards away. Several strange footprints also were discovered in a residential area of North Ogden.
April 1980 — A 13-year-old Washington Terrace, Weber County, girl reported a hairy creature standing up with its back to her only 10 feet away in a gully near the Weber River. She also said she smelled a terrible odor and rushed home. Her brother, cutting oak brush nearby, also saw something "large and black" about the same time.
February. 1980 — Bigfoot made news in Utah with numerous sightings in South Weber and the surrounding area. Paulene Markham said she saw something like bigfoot walking on a ridge behind their house; Ron J. Smith reported a creature in the moonlight in a pasture next to his house. He also said he heard it make an inhuman scream; Walter G. Ray said that a pan of burned stew set outside to cool was mysteriously licked clean; Possible bigfoot tracks were reported in the South Weber area; Lee Padilla of Clearfield reported seeing a 10-foot tall beast dart across Riverdale Road in front of his headlights at 3:30 a.m.; a Uintah man reported seeing something he described as nonhuman out a window of his home in the foothills.
1979 — Larry Darley of Clearfield was elk hunting with his wife in the fall near Monte Cristo east of Ogden. They later reported a loud noise and an "awful" odor at twilight. Mrs. Darley said she spotted a "hairy thing, with fangs" at a water hole 50 yards away through the rifle scope. They watched it for several minutes before rushing to their truck after the animal seemed to look at them.
Aug. 22, 1977 — Eight hikers, including Jay Barker and Larry Beeson of North Ogden, were in the Cuberant Basin of the Uinta Mountains and reported watching an 8- to-10-foot-tall creature with a mantle of white hair from 600 to 800 yards away for 20 minutes until some loose rock alerted it to their presence on a ridge. An expedition into the area a few days later found no tracks on very hard ground.
June 1977 — Four adults in the Elizabeth Mountain area of the High Uintas watched what they thought were three bigfoot in a meadow.
April 1977 — Children in the town of Washington reported seeing a mammoth creature lurking through the town's streets. Later, strange footprints were found in the same area on many different nights.
1973 — Craig R. Johnson of Farr West, Weber County, was elk hunting with friends in the Manti-La Sal Mountains. After returning to camp, they reported something very powerful had lifted the door off a 300-pound horse trailer and tossed it 10 feet away. An imprint in the dust on the door didn't indicate a bear or a human.
1970s — Some residents of Clarkston, northwest of Logan, reported that something took a midnight trip through their community, awakening and frightening residents.
Sources: BFRO, Deseret News archives, Ryan Layton, Ryan Burns, Darrell Smith and personal interviews. — Compiled by Lynn Arave
Alleged Bigfoot sightings by county:
Beaver — 2
Box Elder — 1
Cache — 4
Carbon — 1
Daggett — 3
Davis — 4
Duchesne — 2
Emery — 2
Garfield — 2
Millard — 2
Morgan — 2
Piute — 1
Rich — 1
Sanpete — 1
Summit — 9
Uintah — 3
Utah — 7
Wasatch — 1
Weber — 10
Source: Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization