On the trail of Bigfoot

Twists and turns mark a Grants Pass man's decade-long search for the famed creature

The first time Matthew Johnson spotted Bigfoot, the Grants Pass psychologist was answering nature's call on a hillside near Oregon Caves National Monument in summer of 2000.

The last time the 6-foot-9,300-plus-pound man made contact with a Sasquatch was just a few months ago, he said. And he even pulled the hairy beast's finger.

when the 15 minutes are up

Sunday — Ryan Sheaffer of Medford, 2005 contestant on "The Bachelorette"

Monday — Windfall, a black bear raised by two "mountain men" in Coos County

Tuesday — Ric Holt, former Jackson County commissioner

Wednesday — Northgate and Alba Village, developments planned on the former Medco property in Medford

Today — Matthew Johnson, Grants Pass psychologist who says he saw Bigfoot

Friday — Wes Cooley, former Congressman who lied about service in Korean War and was later indicted in money-laundering scheme

Saturday — Branden Rickman, Crater High School grad who won "Make Me a Supermodel" in 2009

"I held onto it for about 10 seconds and then he slowly pulled it away," said Johnson, 49, who still lives in the Grants Pass area.

Late in the afternoon on July 1, 2000, Johnson, his wife and three kids, freshly arrived in Oregon from Alaska, had already toured the caves and were out on the 3.3-mile Big Tree Loop Trail when everyone got a whiff of a particularly pungent musky odor. Then their ears picked up the sounds.

"Whoh, whoh, whoh." The strange noise continued in cycles of five to six repetitions, he said.

Johnson began putting the pieces together and immediately felt his "fight-or-flight" response kick in.

Telling his family to stay put on the trail below, Johnson climbed up a hill to do his duty, keeping a wary eye out for danger even as he hunkered, and that was the precise moment Johnson spied his first Sasquatch.

The huge hairy creature appeared half-man, half-ape. It was standing about 60 feet away, peering at his wife and three kids. First from behind one tree. Then again, after walking upright to another tree, Johnson said.

Fearful for his family's safety, Johnson buckled his britches and made his way down the hill. He told his wife to take the kids and get ahead on the trail while he lagged behind. An hour and a half later, and with no further sightings, Johnson and his family were all safely back at the caves.

Johnson, who was familiar with wildlife, said he was sure the animal was not a bear standing on its hind legs. He also knew he was risking being labeled a lunatic. Quite a conundrum for a counselor, Johnson said at the time.

In the end, Johnson said he had to go public with his experience not only to be true to himself, but also to support others who may have seen a Sasquatch and were too afraid to speak up. A shaking and tearful Johnson reported his experience to park officials that summer's eve.

Johnson spent the next decade chasing Bigfoot and was instrumental in forming the Southern Oregon Bigfoot Society.

Members went on overnight camping trips in remote areas of Josephine County, where Johnson said he's found plenty of trails, bedding areas and footprints.

"I've been growled at, screamed at, and had pinecones thrown into our camps," Johnson said.

Along the way, Johnson experienced other dramas. He got divorced, remarried, and had another child. He is currently separated from his second wife. Johnson also toured the states promoting his book, "Positive Parenting with a Plan."

"This was the fastest growing parenting program in the USA," Johnson wrote in an open letter seeking financial help after experiencing a brain injury in January 2009.

While on a speaking tour in Georgia, Johnson hit his head and suffered a "closed brain injury," which has resulted in chronic severe pain, cognitive impairment and short-term memory issues.

"Please understand that there is no way on God's green Earth that I would ever be writing you a letter like this if I wasn't in an extremely emotional, physical, and financial desperate situation," Johnson's letter reads. "I seriously need your help right now."

Johnson is still having a "tough time," both physically and financially, since his injuries. His impairments were such that he was required to turn in his counseling license. But last August, the Oregon Board of Licensed Professional Counselors and Therapists released him to begin speaking engagements again, Johnson said.

Several months ago Johnson had a close encounter with Bigfoot in a "new research area outside of Grants Pass," he said.

"We're keeping the location a secret," he said, adding the area is bordered by federal land and is near a pond where they have found bedding areas and tracks of a "Bigfoot family group" consisting of an adult male, adult female and an adolescent, he said.

Johnson can tell Bigfoot family relations by the size of their footprints and the bedding areas, he said.

"One print was 22 inches long, nine inches at the toes and five inches wide at the heel," he said.

Johnson was just drifting off to sleep when Bigfoot poked Johnson's shoulder through the tent wall that night a few months ago, he said. On the third poke, Johnson grabbed the creature's finger and gave the digit, which he described as "a fat cigar," a good pull, he said.

"I bent it to see if it was jointed," Johnson said. "I wanted to know if he was poking me with his finger or a stick."

About two minutes later, Bigfoot was back at the tent, this time poking at Johnson's own size 16 feet.

"The next morning we found two tracks by the side of the tent and all around the foot of my tent," Johnson said.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.



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