Trail Cams; Sticking Around; Pajarita Observatory

by Matt Moneymaker, July 6, 2011

The three most frequently asked questions lately:

1) Why don't you use trail cameras at the hot spots you know about? Answer

2) How come no one has gotten a photo with a trail camera? Answer

3) Why don't you stick around a while after you've ID'd some activity? Answer

4) What's the best spot in North America for a surveillance effort? Answer


Answering Question 1

Why don't you use trail cameras at the hot spots you know about?

The short answer: We do use trail cameras. BFRO member's use some trail cameras at some hot spots they know about. That's a fact. Collectively we've been experimenting with trail cameras for years, and learned the limitations of most inexpensive trail cam models that make them pretty ineffective in this context.

The odds are against you if you're using a common trail camera to obtain a photo of a bigfoot, because the low-end models don't trigger fast enough. They'll miss a lot of shots of something passing by quickly in front of it. If they flash after a bigfoot passes by, then a bigfoot will not pass by again.

You can only rely on common trail cams to get photos of species that don't care about the camera, and among those species you can only expect to get a good shot reliably if the animal can be lured to hang around in front of the camera for a while. Only the most expensive (and therefore uncommon) trail cams will reliably get shots of every warm blooded animal moving through the trigger field. And among those more expensive trail cams, only the most expensive type (and therefore most rarely deployed) is dependable enough to get absolutely everything passing by, no matter how fast it is walking by (e.g. gets bats swooping by) and no matter what the ambient temperature is. Temperature extremes affect the trigger speed in lower end trail cameras, which are the vast majority of trail cameras that are actually put to use in the field.

The vast majority of trail cameras (of all types) that have been sold in America over the years sit idle on shelves in garages, etc. ... They are not deployed in the woods. You'll ask around a long, long time before you meet someone who actually has trail cameras set up in the woods for some reason. It's not as common as you might think. Here's a good analogy: Millions of kites have been sold in America since the 1960's. How many kites to do you see flying in the sky on any given day?

The number of trail cameras actually deployed across North America by hunters, etc., on most days of the year would likely be in the four figure range. The places they are deployed are not necessarily good spots for bigfoot activity. More importantly, those mostly crappy trail cameras are never concealed well enough to avoid being noticed by a bigfoot from a distance.

Hunters strap trail cameras to tree trunks, and they strap them up at face height, and on trees next to deer trails. They are usually very conspicuous, and they are large enough boxes to be spotted from a distance by a bigfoot. Also, bigfoots usually don't walk right on deer trails. Their trails for stalking deer will parallel deer trails on the downwind side, and/or uphill from active deer trails.

For a longer treatment of the drawbacks of common trail cameras, click here.

Answering Question 2

How come no one has gotten a photo with a trail camera?

People have gotten photos of bigfoots with trail cameras. Here are the best ones.

There is another photo from a different state which we can't show online, but Wally Hersom has a huge to-scale blow-up of this trail cam photo in his living room. The guy who obtained that trail cam photo does not want it made public yet. It's his decision and we respect that.

The point being ... trail cameras do get shots of bigfoots sometimes, but trail cameras are not as omnipresent as some would suggest.

Answering Question 3

Why don't you stick around a while after you've ID'd some activity?

If I watched the series Finding Bigfoot and I wasn't involved with it then I would also wonder why the team doesn't stick around at a good area.

Reality: The whole cast and crew cannot stick around somewhere with good action because we're on a schedule to make new episodes in various states. When we're on the road there are airline reservations, etc., for dozens of people. We have a tight schedule already and the logistics are all planned in advance. We only get a few days in one area, but we're used to that, because our expeditions only last a few days. Longer term investigation is the responsibility of local BFRO members, both after the expeditions, and after the episode shoots.

Continuing investigation in an area only happens where there are local BFRO investigators. Sometimes there are none in the area. In that scenario there is no one to check trail cameras and replace batteries, so there's no point in leaving behind trail cams in the first place.

Unless a trail camera is placed on well protected private land, then you can't leave out there indefinitely, at least not next to a trail, not even an animal trail. Unless the spot is in a super remote area, a human will notice it eventually (unless it is very well hidden), and then the camera(s) are at risk of being stolen or removed. When you check your trail cam and you find photos of people looking at the camera and/or pointing at the camera, then you don't put it back where it was, and you pull all your other cameras in the same area.

The vast majority of people strap trail cameras to tree trunks, because they assume animals will not pay attention to them, or won't care. Indeed, most species will not avoid passing by a noticeable trail camera, but a bigfoot will notice and will avoid it. If the camera is strapped to the side of a tree then it is quite noticeable from a distance, even in silhouette. They're pretty easy to spot most of the time, because most people don't go to the trouble to make them completely concealed.

Concealing a trail cam requires special spots. You can't conceal them everywhere. They must be off the ground a bit so leaves won't blow in front of them and block the view, and they cannot be on the sides of trees. They must be embedded into steep slopes adjacent to a trail, or tucked away in rock crevices, or set back in the cavity of a log pile. Concealment greatly limits your options for placement.

Getting a squatch with a trail cam requires total concealment of a trail camera(s) at a totally reliable bottleneck that's only 25 feet wide. It also requires a very expensive trail camera ($700). We don't know of many places where a bigfoot is forced to pass through a 25 foot wide gap with no other options for passage. We do, however, know a view spot (a mountain peak) where some bigfoots will come look out at herds of grazing elk at certain times of year. That's the best spot we know of for a surveillance effort, but trail cameras would not be useful there. There' no way to conceal them and too many would be needed to cover the whole summit. At this location security cameras (video surveillance cameras) should be used instead. Read more on this location below.


Q: Where's the best bet for surveillance footage in North America?

A: One sure bet for video w/in 1 year: Pajarita Mountain, New Mexico

One sure bet location for extended daylight footage of a bigfoot is the summit of an 8,000 foot peak in New Mexico. The name of the peak: "Pajarita" (Spanish for 'little bird'). There is more than one peak in New Mexico named Pajarita. The Pajarita referred to in this article is the one in Otero County. There is a "Pajarita Wilderness" in the Jemez Mts. also. That's a different place and far away.

new_mex_mapIf a 360-degree HD video surveillance system (unmanned) were installed on the unoccupied lookout tower of Otero's Pajarita, to record images of any animal movement within 200 feet of the tower ... that surveillance system would definitely obtain good footage of at least one bigfoot within one year. You can take that to the bank.

Bigfoots have been ascending Pajarita-Otero on occasion for years to look across the vast elk grazing plains and ravines east of Sierra Blanca -- the Mount Fuji of southern New Mexico -- looking for deer and elk herds. Bigfoots will continue to do that on occasion, but they may only be up there for a few days out of the year. It's not a frequent occurrence, but it's very dependable.

As long as thousands of elk and deer continue to pass through that area on a seasonal basis, a bigfoot will come up to the summit of Pajarita at some point within the year. From the summit of Parajita a bigfoot has an incomparable 360 degree view over thousands of acres of acorn-laden grazing lands.

Elk and deer wander through those high plains and ravines around Pajarita to consume a bounty of acorns in Fall and Winter, and then the green growth in Spring. They spend Summer in the high country closer to Sierra Blanca. Where the elk and deer herds go, the bigfoots will follow. And when they follow they will always look for good views over or across the choicest grazing fields, to keep an eye on the herds they shadow.

Q: "So why haven't you guys done a surveillance project there??"

A: It's not public land. It's tribal land, so it's for the tribe to decide. We can only recommend it.

Pajarita is in the backcountry of the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation. The reservation covers a large portion of the most prominent sky-island in southern New Mexico -- Sierra Blanca.


The Mescalero backcountry is not open to the non-tribal public. Road access is very limited. The few inroads are well monitored by native ranchers, and also patrolled by Apache rangers, whose main task is to spot and apprehend elk poachers ("mostly from Texas" they tell us).

It is not irresponsible to mention this particular location because: 1) A bigfoot might only be up there for a few hours on a few days of the year, and 2) This area will be over run by curious people. Not a chance.

Some people may worry about this disclosure, but those who have been out to Pajarita (guided by Apache rangers) know the zone is self-protected by its own rough terrain. It's very easy to get lost ... and very easy to get stuck.

If you're still worried consider this: The Mescalero backcountry is extraordinarily quiet and very rocky. The excellent acoustics means that even jaded ears can hear the hum of engines from miles aways. Moreover, Apache rangers have extraordinarily keen eyesight, as we saw first hand. They'll perch at elevated views overlooking the backcountry to look for billowing dust clouds in the distance -- the dust clouds kicked up by vehicles. There's no way to avoid doing that, unless you drive out there right after a soaking rain ... but then you run into the red clay soil that turns into chocolate pudding or something just like it, when its very wet. Doesn't matter if you have big mud tires. Eventually your vehicle will slide off the road helplessly and tumble down into a ravine. Its like driving on ice in the worst imaginable places. Indeed, the Apaches staked out some marvelously defendable terrain -- ambush-facilitating terrain that is chock full of elk and deer, and always will be. Nowadays bigfoots move through the area and take full advantage of that natural abundance, with no human competition whatsoever in the backcountry.

The Pajarita backcounty is a perfect bigfoot sanctuary, and it was totally unintentional. The Apaches protect the area in order to protect the elk and deer herds. By protecting the elk and deer when they've feeding in this area, the Apaches indirectly protect the bigfoots. The lesson applies to any other bigfoot habitats in North America:

A protected sanctuary for bigfoot food is the best way to create a sanctuary for bigfoots.

The hills and plains (elevation 6,200' - 7,500') around Pajarita were once the hunting grounds of "the ancient ones" (i.e. the Anasazi). When the BFRO was there in 2005 (see the report) we were led by Apache rangers to a set of impressive archaeological sites near the base of Pajarita. Very few outsiders have seen the arch sites we were taken to, with huge stones moved into symmetrical positions for a long forgotten ceremonial purpose -- clearly some special ceremony involving many people. They are not Apache ruins, according to the rangers. They are Anasazi. We were told to not even ask to take photos of those sites, so we didn't. It's OK to mention them though because they are not marked on any maps and no one will ever find them unless they are led out there by Apache rangers.

parajitaIn Winter of 2005 BFRO investigator Dennis Pfohl and Apache guide Abraham Chee photographed some fresh bigfoot tracks on Pajarita. They were only a few hours old. Click photo on right to see more shots.

Based on the location and orientation of the various tracks, it was obvious the bigfoots (more than one track size) were up there to gaze out across the landscape.

They were up there for a while scoping out the view. As they looked out over the landscape they would have been in clear view of the unoccupied lookout tower on Pajarita, less than 200 feet away.

To get the best view of the landscape in all directions you would need to walk to different spots on the summit, but all those spots would be in clear view of the lookout tower.

Part of what makes it a uniquely good location: There's already a man-made installation up there into which some security cameras can be installed in covert ways. The local bigfoots are already accustomed to the large structures up there, so the trick is to embed surveillance cameras into those structures so they are as unnoticeable as possible.

Another element that makes Pajarita desirable: The relative lack of trees and brush on the summit means that any animals will be in clear view of the tower. If a bigfoot wants to look out over the view, it will have to expose itself on the summit.

If a bigfoot comes up there to scan the terrain for deer and elk they will be up there for a long while, possibly even a few hours. If there's more than one bigfoot, they will look out across the landscape and gesture and chatter to each other. So we're not talking about a mere photo of a lone bigfoot walking passed a trail camera ... No, we're talking about something much more powerful than that.

Another helpful factor: The bigfoots will not come up to Pajarita to survey for elk in total darkness. They must be there in daylight, or at dusk or dawn, or they won't see elk in the distance at all. That's a key element to this location because an adequate surveillance system would not need thermal or nightvision components (very expensive equipment). It would merely require a set of ultra-low-lux CCD security cameras. Coincidentally those exact types of security cameras can be seen around the parking lot of the Mescalero casino, and probably nowadays around the resort too (Inn of the Mountain Gods).

The Inn of the Mountain Gods resort was under construction when we did an expedition on Mescalero in 2005. There's surely a lot more security cameras around the town and resort nowadays. Consequently, the tribe need not accept any outside assistance just to assemble and deploy a covert unmanned video observatory on Pajarita. The tribe already has all the equipment and knowledge it needs for a starter system, at the very least.

I can spot a few compact security cameras in the video below. This is a promo for the Inn of the Mountain Gods resort.

Mescalero Apache Tribal Homelands from Img Admin on Vimeo.

There is no shortage of outsiders who would strive to inject themselves into the matter. Many may offer equipment or services, but they can send their offers in writing. Keeping it tribal would prevent it from becoming unnecessarily complicated, grandiose and tiresome.

For various legal reasons which would bore most people ... it should be the tribe's own equipment.

Your land, your elk, your bigfoots, your cameras. That simple.

Electrical power at Pajarita may be an issue, but the location is well suited to solar electric power. There's a building (cabin) on the summit that may already have electrical panels on the roof.

Because the structures on Pajarita have been there for so long, security cameras will not appear out of place in the environment ... if they are recessed and concealed. They need to be concealed well enough so a human would not spot a lens, or anything that appears to be pointing in some direction. If a human would not notice the security cameras, then a bigfoot will not notice them. But if a human can spot a lens pointed at him, then a bigfoot will spot it eventually too. They are very observant.

Trail cameras would be suspicious and repelling at this location due to the large number you would need to cover the whole summit -- everywhere a bigfoot might stand to look out across the landscape.

Security cameras have other advantages as well:

>They can get moving footage -- much better than several still photos from trail cameras.

> With a set of security cameras, some can be set to cover a wide field of view, and others can be zoomed in on particular spots, which can be a few hundred feet away. Trail cameras, by contrast, won't even trigger unless an animal comes within 30 feet of the front of the camera.

> You would only need a few security cameras (6-8) to adequately monitor the whole summit. Way too many trail cameras would be required to cover the whole summit area, and they would be very difficult to conceal in the terrain.

The reward for making it work (and keeping it working continuously for a year) ... would be so huge for the Mescalero tribe ... historically, culturally and financially ... enough so to justify serious consideration by the tribal council.

Three different groups (at least) on Mescalero must consent to letting it happen ... because they will be the principle participants:

1) The tribal council -- the ones who have to discuss it.
2) The tribal police (& rangers) -- the ones who have to worry about it.
3) The security techs from the casino -- the ones who have to go out and install it.

In a sense, each group has its own veto power.

On the surface it may seem that the tribal police bear the heaviest burden, because after the discussing and installing are completed, the tribal police will still have to worry about it. It may seem that way at first, until you see what happens. You will see that thieves and poachers don't intentionally trespass into places that are famously under surveillance. No, they tend to avoid those places. Thieves don't try to steal security cameras either, especially if they don't know if, or how, they are operating. There are much less risky things to steal.

A 360 surveillance system on Pajarita will actually deter trespassers and poachers, and not just on Pajarita itself, but everywhere within view of the peak!

If there will be any cameras up there at all, some of them will naturally look out across the landscape, to serve the purpose of the tower: fire lookout.

The tower is manned in lighting season, but unoccupied most of the time. Many previously manned fire lookout towers across the West have been deactived, as satellite imaging has become more helpful and timely in spotting fires. Some lookout towers are still manned and others have been coverted to unmanned surveillance stations transmitting live video back to a receiving station.

If anything were to be purchased for this project, it should be the type of system the U.S. Forestry service would install at a fire lookout tower. In this case a few additional cameras would be added to the array to watch the entire summit as well.

If the video were transmitted back to the casino's security control room, it would be monitored 24 hours per day, without having to hire more people to do it. A security video recorder can automatically flag portions of a surveillance reel where something moved in the frame, so the footage only needs to be checked for a few minutes each day.

Lots of interesting things the tribe could do with a live video feed from Pajarita to the casino, especially if it succeeds. I'm just sayin'.

I'm guessing that if the tribal council takes a vote among students at the high school, they would see that most students would be eager to see a high-profile project like this succeed. It would be a very impressive acheivement for the whole tribe.

Some cynical students may say that success in this situation would be a bad thing, because it would end up with a bigfoot being put in a zoo. Wrong. That won't ever happen. Bigfoots are far too intelligent and communicative to be put in a zoo. It would be like putting a primitive man in a zoo ... It would feel very wrong. A surge of sentiment, from around the world, would rise to return a captured bigfoot to its home and set it free.

If the project succeeds ... then people all over the world will highly appreciate the Mescalero tribe for protecting some of them in such an amazing sanctuary.

The idea for this project may never catch fire at Mescalero. It's hard to predict what will happen. If nothing else, due to this article, some people may come to the Mescalero museum someday to offer money for a guided tour of the backcountry around Pajarita. It may never happen, but if it does, that sort of thing is easily controllable. Logically, the tribal council should want to see how much demand there may be for a guided tour of the Pajarita backcounty. It's a potential revenue stream that wouldn't require any investment. The Navajos already do it with great style and efficiency ... for tourists who just want to look at big rocks! It's also the best way to assure that no one will go out there unescorted. People will always opt for a tour if they can choose between that or a huge fine for trespassing.

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