Expedition Skunk Ape: Searching for Florida’s Bigfoot

When one thinks of the Sunshine State three things typically come to mind: Disney World, spring-breakers and elderly retirees. Yet most vacationers never set foot outside the infamous amusement parks or pristine beaches. Just beyond major tourist destinations are millions of undeveloped wetland acres. Gators, Burmese pythons, wild boar and endangered panthers call the region home. Some individuals claim that there is another species inhabiting Florida’s swampy terrain, an unaccounted Bigfoot-like creature called Skunk Ape.bright-dawn-evening-1096038 Native tribespeople were familiar with this beast long before European explorers arrived. According to Seminole legend, a monstrous being referred to as ‘hairy man’ roamed the encompassing bush. Supposedly, in the early 1800s, one particularly violent battle between early settlers and a Skunk Ape resulted in several men’s fatalities. Encounters with the elusive cryptid continued for centuries but gained notoriety after a series of sightings occurred over sixty years ago. On December 22, 2000, Sarasota County Sheriff’s department received two mysterious photographs from an anonymous source. Dubbed the “Myakka Skunk Ape Photos,” these unnerving images depict a large bipedal hominid. Accompanying the peculiar portraits was a letter from the photographer. She identified herself as a senior citizen who snapped several pictures in her backyard and had concerns for the safety of her young grandchildren.myakkaape2 Witnesses describe the bog-inhabitants as having muscular bodies covered with red-tinged fur. They are estimated to reach heights of over seven feet tall and weigh a staggering four hundred and fifty pounds. Many who have experienced firsthand nocturnal confrontations recount glowing red eyes. Skunk Ape’s name derives from its unpleasant scent. Those within close proximity frequently report a strong foul-smelling odor, similar to methane gas or rotten eggs. Over three hundred and twenty observational reports have been filed with the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization. Washington, California and Florida, respectively, comprise the top three states where Sasquatch sightings most frequently occur.1My partner, Clint, and I traveled to an undisclosed rural Southwestern location in search of the reclusive animal. Our tightly packed truck more closely resembled a circus clown car than an expedition vehicle. With enough supplies to survive post-apocalypse, the journey away from civilization began. Idly peering out the passenger-side window, I realized this landscape was a stark contrast from my days on the Jersey Turnpike. A seemingly infinite mosaic of picturesque farmland and grazing cattle sprawled hypnotically. As the miles progressed, my mind drifted into daydreams of Skunk Ape. If this revered brute truly exists then it most certainly could thrive in such a remote place.2 Suddenly my cryptozoological musings abruptly halted as we made a sharp righthand turn. Completely covering the bumpy dirt road was a thick oak hammock canopy. Spanish moss hung from twisted tree limbs and created a hauntingly beautiful scene. In the distance we could see a quaint lakeside cabin; we finally reached the destination. Our fearsome protectors, two toothless senior chihuahuas, curiously inspected their new territory. While we unstrapped our canoe from the roof racks a back-woodsy looking woman slowly approached us. “Y’all taking that thang out on the water?”, she asked through her thick southern drawl. Confused, Clint replied we were planning to, and asked her if there was problem. The woman laughed and said, “Naw, it’s fine but I seen gators here bigger than that dingy”. It wouldn’t be long before we realized this lady wasn’t exaggerating.twoLater that night I sat alone on the front porch serenaded by a symphony of crickets, tree frogs and howling coyotes. Thousands of stars shimmered above casting an ethereal glow atop the water’s rhythmic surface. Despite the balmy and tropical evening temperatures, there was a deep chill which I could not ignore. An unshakeable sensation washed over me: something had been closely watching. Leering from the abysmal darkness a sentient presence could be sensed. Unexpectedly, a tree branch snapped from deep within the shadows. With my heart racing, I hastily gazed towards the tree line ahead. Dead dried leaves and palm fronts crunched beneath what sounded like two heavy feet. Frozen by a state of apprehensive excitement, I remained still and listened intently. The swift movements traveled further away until they eventually became inaudible.6On the following morning we ventured to a National State Park. Many bizarre and unexplained disappearances take place within these sites each year. Below the sun’s pleasant rays, we briskly walked towards a nearby thicket. With each step the scenery became more wild and dense. After hours of hiking whilst scouring for prints or hair samples, a popup thunderstorm quickly developed. Towering nimbus clouds shaded the area and cool gusts of wind provided much-needed relief from overly persistent misquotes. Onwards we noticed an unusual structure erected amongst the trees. In the middle of nowhere, miles away from any designated trails, stood a massive cage.4 Galvanized steel beams supported the peculiar enclosure. Weaved wire paneling wrapped around all four sides creating a barrier from the outside world. Standing about fourteen feet tall, this industrial cell starkly contrasted against the surrounding greenery. Lush foliage consumed the weathered metal and produced a dilapidated appearance. I couldn’t help but wonder what purpose the holding pen might provide. Perplexed, we cautiously turned to look at each other. At that precise moment we noticed an eerie silence radiating throughout the forest. Instead of chirping birds, rustling branches and buzzing insects, an ominous stillness engulfed us. It felt as if someone had pressed a universal mute button. Intense feelings of dread formed in the pit of my stomach.5Hastily we checked the time only to realize several hours had somehow passed. Both of us felt extremely disorientated and pulled out a trusted compass for guidance. Instantaneously, the device spun erratically in every direction when attempting to relocate our main route. By this point the dreary skies completely opened and colossal raindrops started plummeting down. For a lengthy period it seemed we were merely running in muddy circles. Thankfully, the distant parking lot slowly came into view. Relief ran through my veins once I spotted the truck: we were not going to be a chapter in one of David Paulides’ latest Missing 411 installments.8During my week-long expedition I searched for Skunk Ape by foot, car and boat. Although I was unable to find definitive proof of such a creature, I am more confident than ever about its existence. Take Florida’s cougar population for example. Millions of people reside here but few residents have ever set eyes on the rare felines. An animal with intelligence that parallels or surpasses humans’ could most certainly choose to remain undetected. After all, they inhabit inaccessible areas teeming with gators, poisonous snakes and deadly insects. Perhaps on a future voyage my luck may change. This quest for Swampsquatch is far from over and I hope to one day come face-to-face with these enigmatic jungle-dwellers.7Do you believe in Skunk Ape or have an experience you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments!

Mokele-Mbembe: Living Dinosaurs of the Congo

13792864_f520Within central Africa is a territory known as Congo Basin, a sprawling tapestry of dense jungles, flowing streams, flooded bogs and vast savannas. Over ten-thousand varieties of tropical plants cover the land, thirty percent of which are unique to this area. Inhabiting these five hundred million acres are a plethora of endangered wildlife including gorillas, elephants and chimpanzees. A total of four-hundred varieties of mammals call the region home. According to many indigenous people there is another elusive species that roams the deep Congo, a creature known as Mokele-mbembe.

In the Lingala language this name translates to “one who stops the flow of rivers”. Based on eye-witness accounts, the semi-aquatic monster is described as closely resembling a sauropod. It possesses a long snake-like neck which is supported by a round grayish-colored body. They can reach heights of over thirty feet and frequently pluck leaves from tall trees. Some allege there is a spike atop the ancient being’s head. Natives both revere and fear this enigmatic and territorial beast. Some claim Mokele-mbembe is supernatural in nature and should be avoided at all costs.

map_of_democratic-republic-of-congoWesterners first began catching wind of the unaccounted herbivore over two hundred years ago, a time when dinosaurs remained undiscovered. Explorers who traveled to the distant landmass heard legends from nearby citizens regarding an unidentified forest-dwelling animal. One early account occurred in 1776 when French missionaries discovered huge footprints in a rural location. These tracks were similar to the size of an elephant’s, about three feet in circumference, with long claw-marks present. Each church member was perplexed as to what could have created such bizarre impressions. An escorting priest then shared he previously encountered the source firsthand. According to the man of god, he observed a prehistoric-looking brute feasting on vegetation.

During the early nineteen hundreds a German Captain, Ludwig Freiherr von Stein, was visiting the remote district. Trusted Congolese leaders warned von Stein of an enormous reptile that lived nearby. Independent sources all recounted an identical character adding further validity to such grandiose declarations. Despite extensively searching the surrounding wilderness the respected commander was unable to find hard evidence of Mokele-mbembe. Von Stein interviewed many tribesmen and chronicled his findings. In 1959 science writer Willy Ley published this section of von Stein’s report:

“The animal is said to be of a brownish-gray color with a smooth skin, its size is approximately that of an elephant; at least that of a hippopotamus. It is said to have a long and very flexible neck and only one tooth but a very long one; some say it is a horn. A fews18spoke about a long, muscular tail like that of an alligator. Canoes coming near it are said to be doomed; the animal is said to attack the vessels at once and to kill the crews but without eating the bodies.The creature is said to live in the caves that have been washed out by the river in the clay of its shores at sharp bends. It is said to climb the shores even at daytime in search of food; its diet is said to be entirely vegetable. This feature disagrees with a possible explanation as a myth. The preferred plant was shown to me, it is a kind of liana with large white blossoms, with a milky sap and applelike fruits. At the Ssombo River I was shown a path said to have been made by this animal in order to get at its food. The path was fresh and there were plants of the described type nearby. But since there were too many tracks of elephants, hippos, and other large mammals it was impossible to make out a particular spoor with any amount of certainty.”

By 1932 news of the alleged saurian was spreading throughout Europe and the Americas. One British naturalist toured Likouala in hopes of catching a glimpse of the obscure giant. While traveling by canoe he began hearing intense and frightening sounds. These bellowing roars were completely different from any organism he had previously encountered. Although a lengthy investigation was conducted the thunderous source was never identified and the researcher returned home empty-handed.

canoe-krabi-landscape-1031798That same year Ivan T. Anderson, famed zoologist and biologist, embarked on a journey to the mysterious land. As he and his endemic friends leisurely paddled down a river they began hearing haunting noises, comparable to loud rumbles produced by an earthquake. Suddenly the water beneath burst into an eruption of bubbles and a gargantuan shape emerged. Anderson said its head alone was the size of a hippopotamus and resembled something that should have gone extinct thousands of centuries ago. His aboriginal companions were familiar with this primitive entity. They informed their traumatized companion that the mythical breed goes by the name Mokele-mbembe.

Less than two decades after this bizarre incident an equally intriguing sighting took place. One warm summer day a group of English soldiers went swimming at Lake Barombi in Northern Cameroon. As the men were cooling off in the picturesque oasis an enormous figure surfaced nearby. Terrified, the troop frantically swam towards land. Once safely on shore they watched in horror as a pair of massive reptiles emerged from the murky abyss. Each possessed scaly skin and long necks with the larger specimen bearing a horn. Observers were utterly perplexed as to what these strange amphibious habitants might be.

mokelerebAnother fascinating case involves a reverend named Eugene Thomas. Since the 1950s he had journeyed to Congo Basin repeatedly on various mission excursions. Over time the clergy built a sincere relationship with local residents. Twenty years into his frequent trips one group of pygmies recounted a disturbing tale. Apparently, not long ago,  abominable reptilian  beasts began to intrude on their territory. Fishing, a vital source of sustenance, became increasingly difficult with creatures’ constant interference. In order to protect themselves they made the decision to erect a spiked fence around their waterside settlement.

Soon after, a rogue vertebrate broke through the defensive barrier. Alarmed tribal members began to throw spears and fatal wounds were inflicted. Dozens of victorious warriors harvested its colossal carcass succeeding the slaying. That night a feast ensued and many men, women and children consumed its meat. Those who ate the flesh quickly perished of a terribly agonizing sickness. Remaining pygmies who had not ingested the tainted fare were horror-stricken and utterly terrified. Following this tragedy, frightened survivors drew the conclusions that Mokele-mbembe was a paranormal spirit. Interestingly, during the early 1980s, remains of a sharpened fence were found surrounding the village.

57c39dba4d22dca525cc4aad3bcfffa2Japanese trailblazers trekked to the exotic continent in 1988. Their goal was to capture footage of the fabled Congo inhabitant. Jose Bourges, a renown environmental official, led the expedition. While filming areal footage over Lake Tele, a videographer noticed something anomalous beneath the plane. He examined the strong wake and attempted to focus on whatever was creating this disturbance. Unfortunately, in his eager and excitable state, the cameraman did not initially remove the lens cap. Ultimately only fifteen-seconds of footage was captured. Viewers of the brief clip are torn: some believe it’s merely an elephant, others feel something entirely different was recorded.

Writer Rory Nugent visited Africa to study the world’s largest swamp. In December of 1985 he spotted a peculiar form moving across the lagoon. Closer inspection revealed it was in fact the legendary critter. Nugent moved his boat to get a better view and watched in fascination while taking several photographs. Before he could get closer look accompanying Congolese guides demanded him to stop at gunpoint. Back at camp they instructed him to destroy all the film which had been shot. Due to superstitious beliefs, locals felt that keeping the pictures would anger Mokele-mbembe and put them in great danger.    

beautiful-cascade-creek-460621Doctor Roy Mackal, biochemist and evolutionist, dedicated his life to the pursuit of cryptozoology. Mackal was determined to prove the existence of supposed African dinosaurs. Interviews were conducted with tribes throughout multiple nations. These groups had no communication with each other nor the outside world. However, each person shared identical descriptions of the creature ranging from physical appearance to behavioral traits. During another excursion he presented flashcard illustrations to dozens of residents. Some were familiar, such as hippos, others like American black bears were completely foreign. They recognized domestic inhabitants but could not identify overseas varieties. Shockingly, when shown a rendering depicting a brontosaurus, they positively identified the sketch as Mokele-mbembe.

Science teacher Peter Beach was determined to uncover tangible proof of the shy vegetarian. Whilst exploring a muddy shoreline in 2006 he stumbled upon abnormally large footprints with prominent claws present. Surrounding canopies with abundant foliage had been completely stripped at heights in excess of eighteen feet. Giraffes, the only reasonable culprit, do not occupy this part of the country. Perplexed, Beach took snapshots to document his peculiar findings. Plaster castings were made from the unique impressions. Further analysis of the tracks has brought forward more questions than answers.

images.jpegBy 2009 researchers once again undertook the quest for Mokele-mbembe. Credible informants relay that during dry seasons the cryptid hides in natural caves. Air passages are dug along the riverside and eventually dry out becoming similar to concrete. Such structures ensure they have ample air supply to last through lengthy hibernative states. Investigative parties located several of these formations along the muddy embankment. Implementation of a fish finder provided further fascinating discoveries. Numerous serpentine figures moved below the dismal depths. Experts were extremely baffled by the specimens’ astonishing size. Unfortunately, severe thunderstorms forced the team to abruptly abort their mission before definitive data could be obtained.

Much of the Congo remains unseen by human eyes. Earth’s final frontier is filled with dangerous predators, deadly insects, armed militias and extreme weather. Such factors cause much hindrance on further exploration of this rugged terrain. It was not until 1998 that the four-thousand pound Javan rhino was recognized. Only five years ago, in 2013, a quarter-ton pygmy tapir was positively identified. It’s entirely plausible that an unknown species is avoiding detection within the depths of Africa. However, until hard evidence surfaces we can only theorize and evaluate spectators’ testimonies. For now Mokele-mbembe will remain one of the world’s greatest mysteries.


Do you think it’s possible that dinosaurs still exist? Share your thoughts in the comment section!

Living Among Bigfoot: An Interview with Tom Lyons

Throughout my entire life I have been drawn to all things Sasquatch-related. Watching the infamous Patterson-Gimlin Film as a young child filled me with both horror and intense intrigue. When most of my peers pursued typical teenage endeavors, I was listening to the Sierra Sounds or researching native ‘wild man’ legends. Over the last two decades I have watched countless documentaries, seen dozens of TV shows and read a myriad of Bigfoot books. By far the most compelling story I have come across in my lengthy investigation is a firsthand account recounted by Tom Lyons.


This week I am honored to be sharing an interview with Mr. Lyons, a Kindle Bestseller and author of the riveting series Living Among Bigfoot. Ten years ago he moved from Wisconsin to the vast wilderness of Idyllwild, California in hopes of living more healthfully. After settling into his quaint countryside cottage several terrifying events suddenly occurred. At first the former skeptic believed someone was messing with him. All of this would change once he came face to face with a creature which he never thought existed. Tom’s previously normal life would soon be turned upside down. Living Among Bigfoot chronicles the repeated Sasquatch encounters which he has experienced. 

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DTCH: Can you tell me a little bit about what your life was like in Wisconsin?

TL: Well, my life was certainly nothing out of the ordinary. I worked at a grocery store chain called “Piggly Wiggly” for years after high school while developing various business ideas. Once the internet became prevalent, one of those ideas ultimately evolved into an online business. I’m not going to give too much away on the business (as I eventually sold it), but I will say that anti-virus software was the initial product upon which the business was built.

DTCH: Why did you decide to move to that specific part of California? Had you visited the town before?

TL: I know it sounds sorta silly, but no, I hadn’t visited Idyllwild prior to my move. I had read great things about it and it was at a time in my life where I was enthusiastic about taking a shot in the dark so to speak. The major advantage of making your income from the web is that you can work from virtually anywhere.

DTCH: Why have you now decided to share your story with the world?

TL: I’ve listened to quite a few podcasts where people courageously share their encounters and in some cases the government has even warned them not to. They inspired me to share mine but I’d still prefer to maintain my private life, hence the pen-name. I’m quite the introvert.

DTCH: What do you feel the motivation is for officials who continue to conceal information from the general public?

TL: I get into all of that later in the series, but either way I don’t feel it’s possible to answer that in short form.

DTCH: Do you think full disclosure on this topic would be a good thing? How would society handle such news?

TL: This is something that I still feel very torn on. A large part of me doesn’t appreciate the deception, but another part of me believes certain things are better left alone by certain people, if you catch my drift.

DTCH: Can you describe the physical appearance of Bigfoot? Is the Patterson-Gimlin Film an accurate representation?

TL: All I can really tell you right now is that multiple types do exist, some of which look quite different than others. However, I will say that ‘Patty’ reminds me of what I came across in Idyllwild in terms of looks, but the movement was really quite different (that’s not to say that the one I saw isn’t capable of such motion), and I’m certainly not trying to discredit that video footage as it is obviously very impressive.

DTCH: On the topic of Patterson-Gimlin, do you feel that footage is legitimate?

TL: I do feel it’s legitimate.

DTCH: Do you have an estimated number of what the North American Bigfoot population might be?

TL: That’s a question that still baffles me to this day, but if I had to take a stab at it, I’d say many thousands if you were to include all members of each species.

DTCH: Was there a strong odor that the creature produced?

TL: I’ve come across many strange and even grotesque odors while outdoors, but in Idyllwild I was never able to indisputably isolate the creatures as being the source of the strong odor. As for other regions, you’ll have to read on!

DTCH: Would you say Bigfoot is more human-like, more ape-like, or a 50/50 combination?

TL: To put it simply, I think it’s something else entirely, but I’ll get more into that later in the series.

DTCH: Cultures around the world all have their own legends and versions of Sasquatch: Skunk Ape, Yeti, Yowie, etc. Do you think other parts of the country or world also have Bigfoot?

TL: They absolutely do. 100%.

DTCH: Do you still live in that area? If so, do you continue to encounter the creature?

TL: I no longer live in that area. I skipped around for quite a few years after leaving the region.

DTCH: What are your thoughts on the theory that Bigfoot produces infrasound?

TL: Other creatures possess similar abilities, so why can’t a creature such as this? They are insanely impressive in a multitude of ways.

DTCH: With today’s available technologies why don’t we have more evidence such as photos and videos?

TL: I’m begging for someone to find the courage to whip out an iPhone and aim it at one of these things when close enough to even attempt a quality shot. Believe me, if you see one of them that close in person, you’ll know EXACTLY what I’m talking about. I believe someone out there does indeed have the necessary composure for such a task, however the time frame they’d have to do such a thing is incredibly small and with how terrifying it is to be in that situation it doesn’t surprise me that no one has any footage of the things.

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The fourth installment, Living Among Bigfoot: Unexpected Visitors, will be released on April 15th and can be purchased on Amazon. For those with any interest in cryptozoology, the outdoors, or a love of suspenseful mysteries, these books will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. I would like to thank Mr. Lyons for sharing his insight and answering my questions. You can find him on Instagram and Twitter for more information about the series.