Thursday, April 25, 2024

Bigfoot Fest in Estes Park: Day 2

Estes Park Bigfoot Days (Part 2 of 3)

Day 2 was the free festival in Bond Park, with presentations in the Park Theater, which we writers are required by law to describe as “historic.” It’s a wonderfully quirky place, a jumble of colorful pieces from different decades, that first opened in 1913.

By the way, I didn’t prep for this event. I didn’t look up previous presentations or interviews with the Bigfooters because I wanted to come in with no preconceptions and report my observations. Concerning Ranae Holland, I should clarify that we never had a sit-down interview. I saw her presentation, and she graciously fit in several short chats over the two days. She readily okayed my using her words in the blog and didn’t ask to review them: I appreciate that kind of trust. Everything here is from my hand-written notes, and any errors are mine alone.

Saturday morning was beautiful, mostly sunny yet decorated with light snow. There was good music on tap: the Celtic band unreeled some infectious foot-stompers. There were kid play areas, an axe-throwing venue (I managed to embed one without hurting myself), and about 30 vendor tents. Maybe half had Bigfoot-related merchandise. The rest offered outdoor-themed goods, food, cannabis products (insert your “Rocky Mountain High” joke here), and gear like knives.

I spent some time with a geologist who explained the post-glacial development of the Rocky Mountain National Park’s current contours. He was selling geology tours and trail maps in partnership with the best-known local Bigfooter, Kenny Collins, who leads Bigfoot tours. I kept looking for Collins, only to learn I’d missed him because he was one of several people walking around in a full Bigfoot suit. Estes Park has plenty of local Bigfoot lore, although police officers I asked couldn’t remember anyone making an official report.

I went to Holland’s presentation, which was an eye-opener if you equate “skeptic” with rejection of all Bigfoot claims. Such claims are unproven, but she reiterated that a skeptic is a questioner, not a “cynic” who won’t look at anything connected to the topic.

Holland is a great presenter, with infectious energy and the timing of a standup comic.

Before she went on Finding Bigfoot, she spent over two decades in limnology and biology, with a special focus on conservation of waterways and their wildlife. She was part of the prestigious Alaska Salmon Program and did research at Lake Iliamna, which is cool since I’m setting a novel there. She was acquainted with Bigfooter Matt Moneymaker, who convinced her to shoot the pilot for Finding Bigfoot. Assuming it would vanish like 90+ percent of pilots do; she was headed back to school for her PhD studying “beavers and rainbow trout” when the show was picked up and found her contract did in fact require her to show up. After that, scientific curiosity, travel, and exploration kept her on board.

Calling herself, “Scully with three Mulders,” Holland recounted her good-natured back and forth with costars who brought her what they thought of as good evidence. Those interactions earned her the nickname of “the Renae-sayer,” but she had a lot of fun despite sometimes-rough conditions. She's not impressed with the evidence for an unknown ape stomping around and doubts we'll ever find one, but she remains fascinated by the phenomenon. “What is Bigfoot?” is the question to her, whether the answer is biological, spiritual, or some mix. Seeing a Bigfoot would not change her worldview: it would just give her a new starting point to investigate that question.

A few other highlights from Holland:

    Modern technology is not a shortcut: drones and remote cameras and eDNA don’t obviate the need for patience in fieldwork or analysis,

    People wondering if a cryptid show or video is real should “follow the money: “ Who is paying for it, and why are they presenting or posting it? Discovery, which funded FB, obviously wanted good TV, and the team accommodated them (“we didn’t really need to ride a hot-air balloon to a location,” she said with a grin), but all video of the actual investigation segments, while edited, is genuine.

    She has a deeply spiritual side, calling herself a “woman of faith,” and thinks there’s a lot to learn about Bigfoot beyond the zoological. She’s very interested in Indigenous perspectives on Bigfoot. Holland has had some odd experiences like seeing “orbs” and thinks some things are “outside science.” The skeptical community today leans so heavily toward atheism that her forthrightness about what she believes and is thinking about takes courage.   [I am reminded of Nobel-winning physiologist Charles Richet's statement on some of his experiments that, "I never said it was possible; I only said it was true."] More of my own thoughts, as a Christian who's also a science writer, will appear in Post #3.

    She is not writing her own book. If she eventually does, it will be with an Indigenous coauthor who can help explore the subject from their worldview. She finds her friend Kathy Strain’s work on this topic very useful. [I’ve met Strain and liked her presentation, although I’ve always felt her book tried too hard to reconcile very different creatures/beliefs with the mainstream image of Bigfoot.]

     While she acknowledges there’s plenty of Hollywood stuff in the show, she got the crew to unite to demand there be no faking on the actual investigations: when one crewmember faked noises, they had him removed from the shoot.

     She is curious about other cryptids, having searched for several of the primate types. She believes the likelihood of finding unclassified large aquatic fauna is much greater than that of terrestrial fauna.

    She cautions against cherry-picking evidence, saying the whole body of evidence needs to be considered. I asked her about this later. I said, “Don’t you have to start by deciding which accounts, footprints, etc. are most likely to be valuable”? She replied that that kind of prejudgment steps off the path of the scientific method. Her preferred approach is quantitative as well as qualitative, taking in all the evidence, developing databases, and looking for patterns.

I skipped the day’s documentary film, about a sacred tree near Bailey, CO, that people claimed they’d actually seen Bigfoot emerging from.   

In Part 3: People, Bookstores, Anecdotes, and Observations

Matt Bille is a writer, historian, and naturalist living in Colorado Springs. He can be reached at Website:

Read Matt's Latest book, Of Books and Beasts: A Cryptozoologist's Library. This unique reference offers a friendly skeptic's 400 reviews of books on cryptozoology, zoology, related sciences, and cryptozoological fiction. Your search for the world's new and undiscovered animals begins here!

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