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Geographical Index > United States > California > Santa Cruz County > Article # 433

Media Article # 433

Sunday, December 12, 2004

On the trail of Bigfoot in Santa Cruz Mountains: Museum Focuses On Sightings Of Sasquatch

By David L. Beck
Mercury News

To a nation fed on checkout-line tabloids, "Bigfoot" and "hoax" go together like chips and dip. Mike Rugg, the proprietor of a Bigfoot museum in Felton, respectfully -- well, somewhat respectfully -- disagrees.

"People are sent to death on less evidence than we have for Bigfoot," Rugg says.

His Felton museum opened its doors in July and is still in what Rugg calls "the analog version" of what he hopes it will be: a genuine old-fashioned roadside attraction, of the kind Rugg believes thrived before they were "put down by the Planning Department." It's a little red-painted house and assorted outbuildings on Highway 9, just down the road from the entrance to Henry Cowell Redwood State Park.

Although the evidence for Bigfoot's existence is almost exclusively anecdotal, believers and even some who claim to be neutral on the issue, cite the sheer consistency of hundreds of sightings, eerie shrieks in the woods and casts of huge footprints. Even primatologist Jane Goodall has said she wouldn't be surprised if an undiscovered primate like Bigfoot exists.

Bigfoot is a Humboldt Times reporter's word, circa 1957, for the big hairy biped whose most frequent California sightings have been in that Northern California county. Sasquatch, the preferred name in some circles, is a North Coast Indian word for the barely glimpsed creature; Rugg says most American Indian languages have a word for such a creature.

8 feet, 800 pounds

If it exists, it probably strode across the prehistoric land bridge between Siberia and Alaska about 13,000 years ago, says Arizona zoologist J. Richard Greenwell. An adult male is reckoned to be as tall as 8 feet and as heavy as 800 pounds, measurements deduced from strides and footprints, of which even Rugg's little museum has a few casts.

Rugg has collected enough facts to confirm his boyhood belief that Bigfoot exists, and roamed -- indeed, may still be roaming -- the Santa Cruz Mountains. But he understands the connection to Godzilla in the popular imagination.

Almost the first thing you see at Rugg's Museum is a collection of tabloids, many of them from the gifted writers at the Weekly World News: "I WAS BIGFOOT'S LOVE SLAVE," reads one.

"Anybody that's working on a documentary about Bigfoot goes out and buys a gorilla suit," says Rugg. "That's what I'd do, too."

If you somehow miss the big new sign -- CapriTaurus' Bigfoot Discovery Museum -- Art Gallery -- Gift Shop -- outside the museum, look for the little Bigfoot sculpture chained to the front railing, or the big one still in progress alongside.

Artist, musician, computer guy and lifelong Bigfoot buff, Rugg, 58, is a round, gray-bearded man who was laid off from his graphics job two years ago and is now happily devoted to his obsession.

He's got a digital copy of the 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film -- 60 seconds of Bigfoot bliss for aficionados, sheer hokum for nonbelievers; some books for sale and lots more just for research; a collection of taped sounds; plenty of stills from "Harry and the Hendersons," a jokey 1987 Bigfoot movie starring John Lithgow as Henderson; maps with colored pins representing local Bigfoot sightings; and a huge blurry blowup of the most famous still from the Patterson-Gimlin film, on which he defies visitors to find a zipper.

Rugg is an Oakland native whose family moved to Felton when he was 13. By then he'd been fascinated by Bigfoot for about eight years.

Realm of the UFO

As an art major at Stanford, he crafted a course of study that would have led to a second major in paleoanthropology. But he dropped out in disgust after he wrote a paper, "A History and Discussion of the American Sasquatch Question," for professor Bert A. Gerow's anthropology class and got a C on it with the comment, "This is still in the realm of UFO."

He's still got the paper in its blue binder. "My badge of courage," he calls it.

After Stanford, he set up an art studio on Highway 9 next to the woodworking studio of his brother Howard Rugg. They merged, forming CapriTaurus (Howard's the Capricorn) and began turning out a line of mountain dulcimers.

"I was the front man," he says. "I did the fairs. You can't play every song you can think of for hours" behind a counter at the Renaissance Faire "and not get pretty good."

Rugg says "Bigfoot" is both singular and plural, like "moose," although in conversation he uses "Bigfoots," as in "Bigfoots come in all sizes."

This last is in reference to Homo floresiensis, the 3-foot-tall hominid whose skeleton was recently found on a remote Indonesian island. Rugg argues that that discovery makes a convincing case for Bigfoot and other so-called "cryptids" -- that is, to quote, "rumored or mythological animals that are presumed to exist, but for which conclusive proof does not yet exist; or are generally considered extinct, but occasionally reported."

"Now," says Rugg, "we have bones!"

Bigfoot may be related to or descended from gigantopithecus, a huge prehistoric Chinese ape. But Rugg believes he's more advanced -- "smarter than a chimp, which are supposedly the most intelligent of the great apes," he says. It's not clear whether Bigfoots have language -- authorities such as Greenwell say they do not -- but Rugg believes they are excellent mimics.

Local sightings

"If you hear a night owl where there shouldn't be one, it could be a Bigfoot," he says.

Since his museum opened its doors, many locals have told him stories of Bigfoots seen and heard, such as the man who spotted one -- actually his horse saw it first, according to Rugg -- atop the sand quarry near Felton. Greenwell said his group recently did a statistical analysis of 1,400 sightings and found "tremendous consistency ... just really quite impressive," although he is careful to note that patterns of alleged behavior are not proof of existence.

"There's just no reason why all these things can't exist," says Rugg. "There's just a vast wilderness out there where these things can easily hide."

The Bigfoot Museum is at 5497 Highway 9, just south of Felton. It's open 1 to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends. Call (831) 335-4478 or see

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