It was 1977 when the beast first came out of hiding—and all it took was a legislative session held in its honor.
In June of that year, a young lawmaker named Ted Kulongoski stood up in front of the Oregon House of Representatives, with the intent of speaking on behalf of Sasquatch. A spate of sightings across the state prompted the representative from Junction City to introduce a measure promoting the protection of Bigfoot, the famously antisocial ape-man of legend thought to roam the woods of the Pacific Northwest.
Before Kulongoski could speak, a large, furry creature entered the chamber. It approached the podium, and reached out its paw in a gesture of gratitude—then it balled up a copy of the resolution and stuffed it into its mouth.
It was all a joke, of course—a cheeky stunt meant to drum up publicity for the man who would be governor. Kulongoski, however, admitted the response to his proposal astonished him.
"To a large number of people it is not a frivolous issue," he told the media. "It is serious."
Four decades later, Oregon hasn't stopped believing.
Sure, there's no more proof of the mythical monster's existence now than there was then. But in Portland, Bigfoot is everywhere.
He's in restaurants and storefronts, on beer glasses and under bridges. He's in the movies—Laika's latest, Missing Link, is about a lonely Sasquatch searching for his relatives. A new jet boat tour, tracking him through the Columbia River Gorge, has sold out almost every weekend since it launched. In two weeks, hundreds of true believers will converge in Troutdale for the third annual Oregon Bigfoot Festival.
Maybe it's because, at a time when the looniest conspiracy theories have infiltrated the mainstream, the idea that there's a race of 9-foot Wookiees living undetected in the forest seems quaint—and more legitimate. Or maybe it's because, as civilization burns, there's comfort in the belief that the natural world can still keep secrets from us.
Whatever the reason, Portland has Bigfoot on the brain. So we decided to go looking for him.
We spent the night in Mount Hood National Forest, along the so-called Bigfoot Highway, trying to coax him out of the shadows. We jumped aboard the Portland Spirit's Bigfoot Adventure Cruise and kept an eye on the shoreline. We spoke to a scientist who's meticulously mapped every Sasquatch sighting in Oregon, and talked to one of the country's leading Bigfoot hunters, who's about to open a museum and research center right in our backyard.
Laugh all you want—the reps in Salem sure did. But Kulongoski was right: In this part of the world, Bigfoot is not a frivolous issue. Because real or imagined, the myth is part of who we are. And if seeing is believing, all you have to do is open your eyes.