Bizarre Bounty – Times Publications, October 2009
Howling winds tore through the Juniper trees of northern Arizona’s high desert, about 50 miles south of the Grand Canyon.
As thunder rumbled from the storm-blackened skies, Larry Jenkins heard heavy raindrops spattering against the aluminum siding of his narrow 8- by 20-foot cabin. Secluded on 40 acres of rocky desert at the edge of a meandering wash, Jenkins was utterly alone, miles from civilization.
To stave off the bitter cold, he tossed another log into his small wood-burning stove and plopped down on the edge of his mattress, which nearly consumed the entire width of the room.
Wearily, he dropped his head to his chest. Exhausted from three grueling days of single-handedly constructing a backyard porch on his property, Jenkins could hardly move his arms.
It was 2 a.m., and Jenkins was eager to get some much-needed rest when he was suddenly startled by a loud thud, and another and then another. The fierce pounding reverberated through the floor, causing the walls to shake.
Traipsing furiously through the trees, something was approaching his cabin from the southwest; with each step the sound grew louder until it was at his doorstep.
Paralyzed with terror, Jenkins could only listen as the massive creature loomed outside his door.
Cautiously, Jenkins peered through the pipe of his stove. Horror filled his eyes as he caught glimpse of the huge, hairy intruder, now outside stalking him.
It was too big to be human, and it definitely wasn’t an animal.
Jenkins trembled with fear, separated from the creature by only a few thin layers of particle board.
“I just sat here holding my breath. I was scared to death,” Jenkins recalled. “My heart was in my throat. That was the first time I, honest to God, knew he was outside.”
For twenty minutes, the cryptic creature crept outside his cabin, before suddenly vanishing into the forest, leaving but a trace of its presence.
The following morning, Jenkins discovered mammoth 15-inch footprints leading up to his cabin and through his backyard wash. Even more mysterious was what Jenkins found next. Broken off in one of the tracks was a grimy, jagged toenail measuring more than two inches in width.
“Wake up, Starshine,” a folksy voice said, rousing me from a deep slumber. Groggily, I rolled onto my back and slowly peeled the furry, pink eye mask off my face.
Staring back at me through the mesh top of my pop-up tent was a gray-haired man with a bushy white beard and eyebrows, dressed in camouflage cargo pants, a khaki shirt and tall brown work boots. He gently patted the top of my tent in a gesture of welcome.
“I’m Java Bob,” he said in a neighborly voice. “I need you to move your Jeep.”
“Jeep keys, somewhere,” I mumbled, wiping the sleep from my eyes.
I recognized Java Bob, whose real name is Bob Schmalzbach, from the “Searching for Bigfoot” website. Years ago, he owned a coffee shop until a chance encounter made him a believer. These days he’s second in command to world renowned Bigfoot hunter Tom Biscardi.
Biscardi is a legend in the wild world of Bigfoot, and he’s been hunting for the mystic creature since the ‘70s. Biscardi is the reason we were all here, camping on Larry Jenkins’ property. After hearing Jenkins’ incredible story about the huge, hairy beast and the giant toenail it had left behind, Biscardi assembled a team of crack monster hunters, armed to the teeth with enough artillery to start a small war, and headed to the Arizona desert.
Searching my travel bag for my car keys I jostled the air mattress my photographer, Eric Hendrix, and I had been sleeping on. He muttered, “What, the? Was that Bigfoot?”
“Very funny,” I said sarcastically.
“What time is it?” he asked.
I checked the clock on my cell phone. “Eight a.m.”
“Too early.” He covered his face with his forearm.
It was well after midnight when we arrived at the campsite, about 25 miles off historic Route 66 in Arizona’s high desert, near Ash Fork. The winding dirt road that led us to the property made for some rough and rocky four-wheeling. To get here, we followed a crude hand-drawn map, while periodically entering a series of GPS coordinates into my Jeep’s navigation system.
“I can’t tell if this is a left-hand turn or a coffee stain,” Eric said, as he flipped the map from horizontal to vertical.
“We’re never going to find this place,” I sighed.
After a dozen or so wrong turns and missed exits, we finally found Jenkins’ well-concealed cabin. I parked in the roadway, fished a flashlight from the backseat and scanned the property.
In the dark, the squatty Juniper trees swayed like a creepy, never-ending orchard. The ground was covered with lichen-encrusted rocks, sparse prickly pear cacti and other desert shrubs. Littered across the property were rotted pieces of plywood, busted tires, broken old signs, empty cans of paint and a dilapidated camper shell. Not exactly my idea of the great frontier.
The cabin consisted of two construction-site trailers hastily stitched together with scrap wood and old building remnants. Parked in front of the residence was Biscardi’s Bigfoot trailer, its shiny decals and fresh paint job nearly glowing against the lurid desert floor.
When we finally arrived, Biscardi emerged from the cabin to meet us. I called him just days before he and his team were set to leave for Arizona, and within 15 minutes he had invited me along on this most unconventional of expeditions.
Biscardi, a smooth-talking Las Vegas promoter who occasionally refers to himself in the third person, garners widespread media attention wherever he goes. He’s been featured on Inside Edition, Discovery Channel and CNN and has a weekly Internet radio show where listeners call in to report sightings of all kinds of mysterious beasts. Always donning a pair of brown leather cowboy boots, Biscardi is a handsome 61, with salt-and-pepper hair and a neatly trimmed mustache and goatee.
“You’re in for a special treat,” he said as he showed us around. “Right behind this cabin is a Bigfoot byway. There’s been a tremendous amount of activity through here. It’s just phenomenal.”
“Cool,” I said, masking my uncertainty. “I can’t wait to check it out in the daylight.”
I’m skeptical, of course, but I didn’t drive 250 miles to spend my weekend trying to prove or disprove the existence of Bigfoot. I was there to get a behind-the-scenes look of what it’s like for the believers who have dedicated their lives to finding this legendarily elusive creature. So for the remainder of my journey, with a heavy breath, I set aside all skepticism and completely immersed myself in their world.
“I have something to show you,” Biscardi said as he grabbed me by the elbow and led me through the dark to the passenger side of his pickup. We all huddled around the dim light of the vehicle as he thumbed through a pile of papers and produced a photograph of the notorious, two-inch toenail.
“This is going to blow your mind,” he said.
The toenail is what convinced Biscardi that Jenkins’ claims were legitimate. Jenkins permitted Biscardi to send the toenail to a lab for DNA analysis.
“Here’s the part that’s got everyone scratching their heads,” he said. “The lab determined that the DNA was 99 percent human – and get this,” he squeezed my arm, “one percent unknown primate DNA.”
“Unbelievable,” I said. “That’s amazing.”
He showed us some more “proof,” which included grainy photographs of an ape-like beast roaming through the forest. Then, he eagerly presented both Eric and I with a copy of his DVD, Bigfoot Lives!, before heading back to his hotel, about 35 miles from Jenkins’ property. After more than 36 years hunting Bigfoot, Tom Biscardi still doesn’t sleep on the ground.
It was late, and Eric and I were both exhausted.
Awkwardly holding flashlights in our mouths, we stumbled in the dark, straining to assemble our tent.
A few yards away, Alex Hearn did the same.
Hearn is Arizona’s leading cryptozoologist, which basically means he has a website and spends his weekends hunting a slew of legendary creatures including big snakes, the mythical Thunderbird, El Chupacabra and, of course, Bigfoot. Cryptozoology is the search for new, unexplained, undiscovered animals, he explained.
Hearn is a husky, clean-shaven 47-year-old, with a short military buzz cut and a thick Boston accent. Like any good Bostonian, he’s a Red Sox fan and was dressed in the team’s attire. Fenway, as I called him, led our convoy. On the drive up, I immediately took a liking to the kind-natured father of six, whose day job is in the travel industry.
Unlike Fenway, who looks like someone you might encounter at a parent-teacher conference, Rob “Alabama” Price is a little rougher around the edges. At 27, he was the youngest on the team, and he drove the farthest to be there—about 1,400 miles from his hometown in Alabama.
Always nursing a cheek full of tobacco, Alabama spoke with a slow Southern drawl as he told me about his passion for killing stuff. Recently laid off from his job as an electrician, he’s kept plenty busy huntin’ wild pigs, elk, deer and other game. In fact, he had come straight from a 7-day dove hunt down South.
“I was rather successful too,” he boasted. “I done killed 146 morning doves, shot ‘em all, cleaned ‘em all, ate ‘em all. It was a lot of fun, and them good eatin’ too.”
As far as I can tell, searching for Bigfoot is a way for Alabama to take his huntin’ hobby to the next level. When I presented him with that theory, he said “it’s sumthin’ like that.”
Before hitting the sack, Alabama and Fenway filled us in on the itinerary for the following morning. Afterward, we told them we were going to explore the area a bit, before calling it a night.
“Do ya’ll have protection?” Alabama asked, as I turned to leave.
“Excuse me?” I spun around.
From the holster on his waist, Alabama reached for a long-barreled revolver that would have had John Wayne quaking in his cowboy boots.
“Protection,” he said, brandishing the small canon. “This here is dangerous country. Cougars and bears all over these parts.”
“Oh,” I chuckled. “So Bigfoot is the least of our worries?”
The truth is we were armed with little more than a Swiss army knife, tent stakes and two-way radios, but you don’t go hunting for Bigfoot without a healthy sense of adventure. We assured them we weren’t going far and wouldn’t be gone for long.
The night sky was lit up by the twinkling stars and a dim, waning moon. We followed what we assumed was the North Star, nearly tripping on rocks and cactus as we made our way up the hillside. The chirping of crickets and other noisy insects echoed through the dense brush.
“This sure isn’t where I would imagine Bigfoot would live,” Eric said.
“I know,” I said. “I envisioned him terrorizing campers in pine forests of the Midwest or something.”
“I guess it isn’t right to stereotype,” he joked. “After all this is the Arizona Desert Bigfoot.”
Unlike the traditional Bigfoot or Sasquatch of legend, the Arizona Desert Bigfoot is said to live in either northwestern Arizona or around the Mogollon Rim, where he’s known as the Mogollon Monster. People who claim to have seen him describe a primate-like beast between 6- and 8-feet tall with large eyes and a body covered with long, dark hair. Witnesses also claim the beast has a strong pungent odor, like that of a decaying fish.
That night having not encountered Bigfoot – or any other creatures for that matter – we headed back to the tent, ravenously devoured our turkey and Swiss sandwiches and called it a night.
Before I drifted off to sleep, I turned to Eric. “Hey, do you think this story will blow all my journalistic credibility, or just most of it?”
“What journalistic credibility?” he laughed.
About six hours later, we received our wake-up call from Java Bob.
After re-parking my Jeep, I plopped back down on the air mattress in my tent, where I caught a glimpse of Alabama hauling two large metal cases, both spray painted in some kind of camouflage pattern.
Up at the cabin, I finally met Larry Jenkins, a slight 60-year-old with shaggy gray hair, a bushy beard and sun-beaten leather-like skin from decades of working outdoors as a construction superintendent. His brown ammunition belt sat low on his hip, the weight of a six shooter pistol tugging it to one side.
Jenkins’ cabin had no heat or electricity, but inside the “kitchen,” Fenway was frying up eggs and bacon on a mobile propane stove.
Everyone grabbed a plate and took seats on the porch to share their Bigfoot war stories, all of which were eerily similar—strange sounds, a hairy hominid and freakishly large footprints.
For Fenway, his fascination with the creature goes back to his Boy Scout days, telling stories around the campfire.
“One night we were all camping in New Hampshire, when we heard something outside our pop tents,” Fenway recalled of an experience he had as a twelve-year-old. “We thought it was one of the fathers checking on us, but then we heard the grunting and snorting. The next day we woke up and there’s footprints all around the campsite—big ones.”
“I’ve been there,” Alabama related.
Story time lasted until about noon, when Java Bob returned with Biscardi and a Navajo chief named Leonard Dan, who serves as the team’s tracker and can practically “sniff out these creatures.”
With everyone finally present, we all fanned out on the deck, facing Biscardi. Like a general addressing his soldiers, he briefed us on our mission.
“We have to find out where these creatures are coming from and be at the ready for them if, and when, they do come,” he said as he drew a map of Jenkins’ property. “We’ve assembled a great team here today, and we’re going to bring this thing back.”
After Biscardi’s briefing, Jenkins breathlessly retold his much-anticipated Bigfoot story to the captive audience.
“This was never supposed to happen to me,” he said, his voice quaking.
While Jenkins was speaking, Java Bob retrieved an old black suitcase from the Bigfoot trailer, which contained evidence they had collected on previous hunts from across the country. He unzipped the case and pulled out the “proof,” which included a large 2,000-year-old jaw bone with ground-down teeth and an old plastic jar with a pickled, slimy-looking severed hand they called “the hand of unknown origin.”
Then Java Bob carefully unrolled the bubble wrap from two huge plaster footprints, which measured over 20 inches in length, and handed them to Biscardi.
“You know what these things are worth?” Biscardi asked me.
“Thousands?” I guessed.
“One in this pristine condition is worth probably about $75,000,” he said as he showed it to the group. “One. We have 67 of them.”
Apparently, there’s a lot of money in Bigfoot hunting. That was just a small sample of Biscardi’s collection. He later told me he owns an entire fossilized dinosaur skeleton, worth over $3 million.
While all the evidence was impressive, I couldn’t help but regain a tad bit of my cynicism. After all, Biscardi has allegedly been involved in a few Bigfoot hoaxes over the years. Most recently, he reportedly paid $50,000 to two men who claimed to have found Bigfoot’s body, which turned out to be a frozen monkey costume. For the record, Biscardi claimed he was swindled.
Regardless, I was thoroughly enjoying the fantasy and decided not to bring any of this up.
After the briefing, the group broke up into three teams of two and established a perimeter around Jenkins’ property.
To lure these creatures from their caves, the men smeared Skippy peanut butter and sardines high up on the bark of the trees, where only Bigfoot could reach.
“These things just go nuts for this stuff,” Biscardi said.
Over his 36 years on the hunt, Biscardi says he has learned much about these creatures, including how they communicate. To mimic the sounds they make, he has actually mastered the art of “tree slapping” and “rock clapping,” which is what it sounds like.
On this trip, I was also informed that Bigfoot is nocturnal and that “the action” occurs mainly at night, between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m., feeding time.
That night everyone changed into camouflage military garb and took their assigned positions in the wash, stationed about 100 yards apart with two-way radios. Every half an hour, they used the rock-clapping technique and then listened intently for signs of Bigfoot.
Being the leader, Biscardi has the most expensive, high-tech equipment at his disposal— infrared cameras, thermal imaging devices, heat seekers, tranquilizer guns, Tasers, a biopsy riffle which can extract DNA and a cannon that shoots a Kevlar net, which supposedly can stop a bull.
Unfortunately, they were equipped for a battle that never occurred. At 2 a.m., after four long, quiet hours, they slinked back to their tents and called it a night.
There was no disappointment, however, Java Bob said. “It’s hours and hours and hours of tedious, good old-fashioned hard work,” he said, “punctuated by moments of absolute terror.”
While there were no Bigfoot encounters the first night, Biscardi said he expects increased activity in the fall when “they” start to migrate. Jenkins has agreed to allow the team unlimited access to his property until they catch it, and they’re planning to stay put until they do.
“Before it was a fairytale, but now we’re on the threshold of one of the world’s biggest discoveries,” Biscardi said. “I want this creature worse than anybody. I’m digging in, and I ain’t coming back until I bring this thing home.”
Eric and I were filthy from camping, covered in a thin layer of dirt and ready to return to civilization.
On the long drive back to the Valley, we reflected on our exciting adventure.
“Okay, that was pretty bizarre, but actually a ton of fun,” I said. “I may have even been convinced to rethink my skepticism, at least a tad.”
“I’m not so sure,” Eric said slyly. “If they’re staying until they catch Bigfoot, I think they’ll be there for awhile.”
Other Bizarre Bounties
This bloodthirsty monster was first sighted in Puerto Rico but quickly toured all over Latin America and has now made its way to the American Southwest. Its name means “goatsucker,” named for its cuisine of choice. In Arizona, Tucson residents have reported seeing an ape-sized creature with piercing red eyes, large hind legs, an arched back covered in spines and leathery skin. After a Chupa attack, what remains are dead livestock drained of blood and with two distinct puncture marks on their necks or hindquarters. It has been said that El Chupacabra may even have wings, which explains why there are never any tracks at the scene of an attack. No humans have been harmed since it was first spotted in the 1950s – at least none that have lived to tell about it.
These half-man, half-animal entities are, according to experts, witch doctors wearing the fur of animals that can transform themselves into a variety of beasts. Skinwalkers, also called Yenaaldlooskii, are most commonly spotted running alongside motorists’ vehicles, taunting them as they travel near Sedona, Winslow and Window Rock. These shape shifters rob graves, steal livestock and have even killed humans. They like to take the form of coyotes, wolves, bears and owls. If you see one, experts say not to show fear and that confronting the beast may save you.
The Missing Thunderbird
This giant bird-like creature’s myth surrounds a mysterious photo published by the Tombstone newspaper, the Epigraph, in 1886. The photo captures a giant bird mounted on a wall with six men standing in front of it with their arms out standing fingertip to fingertip. The beast had an estimated wingspan of 36 feet. There are variations of the legend, but for the most part it is a tale of two men who shot down a giant featherless flyer and brought it into town by wagon. It had a giant wingspan, a long serpent-like neck and an alligator-like face.