Sunday, April 21, 2024

Estes Park Bigfoot Days 2024 (Post 1 of 3)

Well, I have attended the Estes Park Bigfoot Days for the second time. Even for someone like me who thinks it highly unlikely Bigfoot is tramping through around the woods, it was a fun and informative experience. Headquarters was the Holiday Inn, a genuinely nice place with binoculars and walking sticks in every room for guests headed out to see the gorgeous terrain around this Colorado mountain town. You can almost see the famously haunted Stanley Hotel from there.

I study cryptozoology along with zoology, but I'm not a cryptozoologist: I prefer the time-honored term “naturalist.” I like most cryptozoologists, though. Their boundless (even if sometimes unreasonable) optimism and enthusiasm are infectious, and I enjoy spending time with them and learning what they think. I learned more this time than I expected.

The first night was the Bigfoot BBQ dinner. Despite my complaint of false advertising (they never serve actual Bigfoot), it was very good. The special guests this year were three TV Bigfoot hunters: Russell Acord and Ronny LeBlanc of Expedition Bigfoot and Ranae Holland of Finding Bigfoot.

My table included two couples with a squatch-hunting guy and a spouse who was humoring him, along with one dedicated Bigfoot hunter and an Apache family with some interesting stories. I asked several people what I always ask: why do you think we don’t have bodies? The suggestions were not new. They included the chances of finding any given species’ remains in a huge area, Bigfoot being spiritual rather than material, undiscovered extensive cave systems, burying the dead, and “the government” grabbing remains for reasons unknown. (OK, almost unknown: one man suggested the military wants to study how Bigfoot camouflages itself. That might actually be a good question if it’s a real animal.) Someone mentioned it was just like the way the Smithsonian was hiding all the bones of "giants" found in American West, although every such story is a proven hoax or at least without any supporting evidence. When LeBlanc, visiting our table, said the same thing, my reflexive but unfortunate response of “Bullshit” broke my own rules about objectivity, politeness, and public swearing, although he either didn’t hear it or passed it off. (I apologize, Ronny: everyone says you’re a good guy, but I’ve heard that fiction once too often.)  

I of course had my picture taken with the Bigfooters, although I’d watched their shows only a few times and was unimpressed with their results. I didn’t want to talk to the guys so much: no doubt they had a lot of great stories, but I felt I’d read or heard everything they were likely to say about Bigfoot's existence. I did want to talk to biologist Ranae Holland, FB’s skeptic, and that turned out to be smart. She gets most of the ink in these posts because she proved to be an interesting person with remarkably interesting things to say about science, skepticism, and the Big Guy.

L-R: Ronny LeBlanc, Ranae Holland, yours truly, some leftover hippie, and Russell Acord

When I joked that being the skeptic in a Bigfoot show must be like shooting fish in a barrel, she didn’t embrace that: instead, she used it to launch a group discussion of science and skepticism. She explained that a skeptic’s role is asking for proof, being willing to look at evidence offered, and, for her, spending lots of time in the field looking, and hoping to see better evidence that would tell her what’s actually happening, A skeptic is NOT a reflexive debunker who won't look at the topic. To her, the continuum runs from true believers at one end, to scientist/skeptics in the middle, to cynics at the far end. She thinks it extremely unlikely there’s a large unknown primate, but she’s interested in the whole phenomenon and the larger question of “What is Bigfoot?” She even listens to the "woo" types, like the "portal” witnesses, because they are part of the answer to that question. I was surprised at that. I’m interested in the alleged biological animal: I leave the rest to the parapsychologists or folklorists, and I did something no writer should do in assuming Holland had the same approach. There will a lot more on that topic in the next post.

Far from disdaining Bigfoot-hunters (hoaxers excepted), Holland is protective of the Bigfoot community. She explained she had no problem with people doing Bigfoot as entertainment, like on Mountain Monsters, as long as they're not trying to claim they're doing science when they're not. She hates people luring enthusiasts with crap, like CGI videos, just for money. Her participation is "about the people and the conversation.” It’s also a platform for interesting youth in science, especially LGBTQ+ youth who may feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. (She said wryly that, being an “out” lesbian, left-handed, and an academic who studies Bigfoot, she understands being an outsider very well.) She mentioned the importance of citizen scientists and diverse kinds of scientists, noting that Pyle, a lepidopterist, authored the valuable book Where Bigfoot Walks.

Ranae emphasized, "Science is not rejecting Bigfoot. Science is rejecting the evidence people are bringing in." She's currently spending a lot of time going to Indigenous communities to hear their stories for herself. (I asked the Apache gentleman at my table, whose name I can’t bring to mind, whether his people had a word for Bigfoot. He said the medicine men had one, but he didn't know it. A woman of his family said most Apache just use a direct translation of "Bigfoot.")

With over a hundred people present, I was surprised when a request for people to tell their encounter stories drew just four or five responses, only a couple involving direct sightings. Our Apache tablemates described Bigfoot as a well-known denizen of the Jicarilla Apache Reservation, although it wasn’t physical but also spiritual and shapeshifting. I have only a surface understanding of First Nations worldviews, so I'm going to stick with just reporting what they said.

Suffice to say, I finished Day 1 feeling very full and very intrigued.

Coming in Post #2

Saturday in the Park and More Conversations with Ranae Holland

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!



Look At ME said...

Thank you for taking the time to share your experience. I always find it interesting to hear the impressions of those who attend these type of conferences. I find Ranae Holland to be an interesting character as she seems to diplomatically straddle the fence when presenting her views even choosing to entertain the "woo" angle. I find her to be a bit disingenuous when she states she hates people luring enthusiasts with crap, like CGI videos, just for money when she participated in a show which in my opinion lured viewers in with crap (in 11 seasons they never did find one) and I assume the show made money. I'm curious what her purpose is attending these conferences? If she thinks it extremely unlikely there’s a large unknown primate how does she play that to a crowd who obviously believes there is? I assume there is some financial incentive but she seems to want to keep the dream alive by attending these. I'm looking forward to part 2 and your further observations.

Matt Bille said...

Money never came up, and I didn't ask because it didn't interest me: we had limited time to talk, and I just asked about the science. She talked in her presentation (covered in the next post) about how she ended up on the show and how the investigations never faked anything. She did say she attends the conferences to meet people, hear their stories, do her presentation focused mainly on science, and try to interest kids in science: my observation is she's enthusiastic about wanting to talk to every kid who comes within talking (and hugging) range.