Travel - Santa Cruz
By Tara Leonard
FELTON, CA (August 9, 2011) -- Michael Rugg is a true believer. Seated behind the counter of his Bigfoot Discovery Museum , Rugg is a genial and convincing tour guide, regaling visitors with the history and science behind the huge, hairy biped known as Sasquatch. Suspend disbelief for a half-hour and Rugg will try to convince you that this infamous beast is living rather than legend. Believe him or not, it's a fascinating, fun-filled adventure, sure to amuse even the most skeptical visitor.
For years I've driven by the museum, on Highway 9 in Felton, and never been tempted to stop. But an out-of-town guest convinced me that I was missing out on some kitschy local fun. So on a lazy August afternoon, my 13-year-old daughter and I escaped the coastal fog and headed up to the Felton sunshine in search of Sasquatch.
Stepping into the tiny, two-room museum, we found ourselves surrounded by all things Bigfoot from toys, games, and TV and movie memorabilia, to teeth, photos, and plaster casts. Newspaper and magazine clippings crowd the walls. There's a copy of the famous 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film (below) which shows a dark, ape-like creature walking upright in the woods of Bluff Creek, California. There's also a topographical map dotted with colorful pins, each marking the location of a Bigfoot sighting in Santa Cruz County.
Just then we were startled by a high-pitched shriek. Turning the corner, we overhead Rugg explaining to other visitors that he had recorded the audio, of supposed Bigfoot communication, in nearby Zayante where acres of undisturbed wilderness create an ideal Bigfoot habitat. An elderly gentleman with a silver beard, Rugg has been building this collection since his own Bigfoot encounter as a child. In 2004, he decided to turn a life-long hobby into a career, displaying his books, images and memorabilia for the public.
From here, he holds forth on Bigfoot theories and hoaxes. He readily agrees that many supposed sightings are actually misidentifications of indigenous animals or even feral humans. But he insists that a number are actual encounters with an unidentified, unclassified species of bipedal ape or subspecies of hominin (human-like beings). In fact, he claims that DNA testing is currently taking place on teeth that will provide "conclusive evidence" of this elusive primate's existence.
Grinning but game, we peered into a life-size diorama of a 10-foot-tall Bigfoot lounging beside a tree. He stared back at us with a bemused expression, as if to say, "What's all the fuss?" Apparently it's a question many are intent on answering, as we had to squeeze past half-a-dozen more Bigfoot hunters on our way out the door. But first we dropped $5 in the donation box. A true labor of love, the museum is admission-free, run only on donations and Rugg's single-minded determination.
A few minutes later, my daughter and I were seated on the sunny patio of Oak Tree Ristorante just a stone's throw away. I must admit, we scrutinized the surrounding redwoods with a bit more intensity than usual. Our flavorful caprese salad and grilled chicken panini were too good to share with any hungry ape, real or imagined. When our friendly waiter admitted that he'd never been to the neighboring museum, we felt oddly superior. He didn't know Squatch.