The Pikes Peak Ascent is this Saturday, and that means it’s time to get high. For the past few Saturdays, I and hundreds of other deranged lunatics have been driving the Pikes Peak highway to the summit for pre-race training. Pikes Peak is a jewel in the crown of Colorado. As a longtime Springs resident, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on it. My children (now grown) remember it well. Every day on America’s Mountain is exciting and new. I can’t get enough of it.
Saturday mornings, I head out from the toll booth full of energy and unbridled enthusiasm for another day on the mountain. And then, after about five minutes, I see it: That stupid “Big Foot Crossing” sign.
Why, when surrounded by so much beauty, wonder, and natural mystery, is there a shout-out to unreason and human gullibility?
As I understand it, “Big Foot” (aka “Bigfoot”) “sightings” have been “reported” in the Pikes Peak region for the past several decades. Some sightings were apparently near mile marker 3 on the Pikes Peak Highway. At some point, that somehow convinced somebody to put up a sign near where some spectators supposedly saw the Sasquatch. The sign reads: “BIG FOOT XING: Due to sightings in the area of a creature resembling “Big Foot” this sign has been posted for your safety.” The exact nature of the threat to your safety is thankfully not described. People die on the mountain from exposure, lightning strikes and vehicle accidents. Compared to those, I suppose, the horror of a Bigfoot attack is too gruesome to elaborate.
Myths of primitive man-beasts go back several hundred years. The name “Bigfoot” only became popular in the late 1950s, when a bulldozer operator at California’s Bluff Creek found and made casts of several enormous footprints. It was only in 2002 that the family of a deceased road contractor named Ray Wiles revealed he had faked the tracks. They even produced the molds he used.
But nothing as silly as facts can stop a good myth. I remember in the early ’70s watching the famous Patterson film showing a gorillalike figure walking through the woods. (Ask YouTube about it, it’s easy to find). It caused quite a stir, and had a lot to do with the surge in Bigfoot sightings over the next several years. I suspect that surge led to the installation of the Bigfoot sign in the early ’90s.
Unfortunately for Bigfoot devotees, a decade or so after the sign went up, a friend of the photographer’s named Bob Heironimus confessed to posing for the film in a gorilla suit, determined independently to be in his possession at that time. The list of hoaxes goes on and on.
But there are so many Bigfoot believers! Can they all be wrong? In a word, yes.
Large numbers of people can be sure they saw Bigfoot (or ghosts, or a yeti, or UFOs), be in full possession of their mental faculties, and still be mistaken. That doesn’t make them crazy, stupid or evil. It just makes them human. The tricky nature of human memory and the complex forces that motivate people are intimately tied up with belief in things that are, for lack of a better word, nonsense.
Let me be clear: I’ll change my mind when the evidence says I should. That’s what good skeptics do. Capture one live. Find me a skeleton. Dig up some fossils. Get DNA tested by an expert. In other words, do the things real scientists do every day to document the existence of all the weird, fascinating creatures on our amazing planet.
The Park Service’s mission is to preserve “unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations”. A noble creed to be sure.
I can’t see, though, what that has to do with a Bigfoot sign. It may promote the enjoyment of some visitors. But there is nothing educational about it, and the only qualities it inspires are muddled thinking, superstition and ignorance.
There is more mystery in the dirt where that sign is planted than in all the Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) that mankind will encounter. Time to take the sign down so we can lift our heads up. The summit of America’s Mountain offers a much better view.
Barry Fagin is senior fellow at the Independence Institute in Denver. He writes and speaks in support of skepticism and critical thinking throughout Colorado. His views are his alone. Readers may contact Fagin at firstname.lastname@example.org.