A strange set of what appear to be footprints discovered in a snowy field near Sunnyslope, Washington, have stirred interest in the state's most famous, reclusive cryptid.
The Yakima Herald reports that the set of prints were found by Rock Island resident Roy Bianchi, who describes himself as a Bigfoot "believer." They were discovered on the morning of Monday, February 13th, behind a construction site for a new development on Sarah Drive.
After discovering the odd set of prints, Bianchi notified his friend Paul Graves, a long time Bigfoot enthusiast in the area, who visited the site along with reporters and made casts of the prints.
Video uploaded to the Yakima Herald site, which can be seen here, shows the long set of prints, which run in a perfectly straight line (as opposed to being staggered like the bipedal stride of a human). Each print is spaced roughly four to six feet apart, and the impressions themselves larger than that of a human foot.
Speculation about the prints has ranged from a person walking in snowshoes, to what Graves' associate Josh Lawrence, as reported by the Yakima Herald, called "deer postings", in reference to a deer bounding quickly through the snow. However, the researchers noted that no hoofmarks could be seen in any of the prints, and the snowshoe hypothesis seems equally unlikely, given the spacing between the prints, and their straight-lined orientation.
While some evidence of contour could be seen in the prints, the researchers suspected that the prints had been made sometime around February 9th, with fresh snowfall partially filling the impressions between the time they were made, and that of their discovery. This could account for why the tracks, as large as they appeared to be, appeared to be relatively shallow.
Washington has recently been in the news for a bill proposed recently that would make Bigfoot the state's official cryptid. Of course, the state has a long history of association with Bigfoot reports, with many of the most famous case reports and sightings having occurred there. So are the prints discovered near Sunnyslope the latest evidence that Bigfoot is still hanging around the region?
There could be another explanation that might account for this set of prints, and in particular, their odd orientation. Consider the following quote from the Yakima Herald article, where what is perhaps the best clue of all was described:
Perhaps most bewildering for the group was a segment of tracks in an orchard that maintained four-foot dispersion as they passed directly below waist-high branches. No hairs or broken tree limbs were found.
“How are you that consistent under (branches) this low?” wondered Derek Bianchi, Roy’s son. Adding, “Like, how do you duck under that and not rub your back?”
Did Sasquatch manage to duck beneath the hanging brush, stealthily dodging the tree limbs, and leaving no trace of his passage... apart from the prints, which curiously maintain their spacing and straight-line path all the while? Perhaps when confronting tree limbs and branches, Bigfoot merely shifts his dimensionality to a quasi-physical state, but only from the waist up, so that his upper torso passes directly through the branches, while his spoor is left intact below by the steady tread of his still-physical feet.
Or, returning from imaginary realm of mystery which, over the years, some astute researchers have called "The Goblin Universe", perhaps there is a simpler explanation than either of these far out and fairly nonsensical hypotheses.
To help determine what left this set of prints, one must be able to identify the clues they offer, as well as the varieties of locomotion used by various animals (particularly in several inches of snow). When an animal is walking along at an even pace, or even trotting, it will typically leave footprints that fall to either side in an identifiably pattern of locomotion, with some prints occasionally overlapping (see figure below for examples of this).
However, particularly in deep snow, a more efficient mode of transportation may be required, where an animal will resort to bounding instead, taking a series of successive leaps, where the footprints left in snow appear in a tight grouping, rather than as the separate tracks of the individual feet (again reference the diagram above, with the third group of prints from the left which display the bounding locomotion I've described). A number of animals will move through snow in this manner, ranging from members of the Mustelid family (badgers, skunks, etc), to Cervidae (deer, elk, moose, etc).
Even canines will employ bounding in snowy areas, as shown in the admittedly cute video below where a couple of dogs can be seen bounding playfully through the snow together:
The bounding hypothesis certainly would account for the straight-lined orientation of these prints, and even the 4-6 foot spacing. But why, then, were the individual prints of a dog, or a deer, not present within the individual impressions?
I suspect that researcher Paul Graves offered us a good clue about this. The Yakima Herald article notes that, "The tracks aren’t very deep, but (Graves) thinks that’s due to a combination of snow or rain accumulation and the snowshoe effect that he says comes with a foot of this size." This, along with the relatively shallow depth of the print areas, would seemingly account for why no discernible details could be made out in the prints.
Factor in varying degrees of melt that may occur during daylight hours, and the likelihood that the identity of the spoor would be discernible after several days decreases significantly. Hence, my best guess would be that a dog, or perhaps a deer, left this set of prints, rather than a Bigfoot.
A final clue does come to us from the comments section of the article, where a user named Valerie Carney left the following comment:
"That is my orchard they walk thru we push out a cougar with the snowmobile the night before"
If this area, particularly the thick, waist-high brush referenced earlier, is indeed the orchard of one Valerie Carney, and a cougar had indeed been spotted lurking about the area recently, then we might indeed be able to attribute this mystery to a big cat, rather than a Bigfoot.
The question, of course, remains: do felines bound through the snow in this manner too?
Finally, additional details about the appearance of varieties of animal spoor in the snow can be read about in this very thorough guide, as well as the article found here, including detailed photographs of the bound patters of various squirrels. Such very enticing stuff. ;)
To offer this theory about the origin of the Sunnyslope tracks is not to attempt to detract from the researchers who were operating on the site (and frankly, I'm just not into the whole "snarky, asshole skeptic" thing). To the contrary, I say good on Paul Graves and the guys for getting out there, and actually looking at the tracks, studying them, and taking the situation seriously enough to relate things that included 1) the relative depth of the tracks, indicative of fresh precipitation, 2) the similarity of the impressions to "deer postings", 3) the straight-lined orientation and spacing of the prints, and 4) the curious way the tracks passed beneath waist-high brush through the orchard. Deductive logic (and a bit of cooperative detective work) does the rest, and all of these elements assist in determining, in the end, what kind of animal most likely left the prints.
For now, perhaps we can close the book on the case of "The Sunnyslope Sasquatch." That is, at least until locales start complaining about a big, apelike fellow peering in their windows, or stealing the orchard apples at night. ;)