Writing on the wall: Pictographs, tribal tales add to lore of Sasquatch

June 19, 2012 by  

YAKIMA, Wash. — Not far from the Tule River in Central California is a rock shelter used by tribal villagers long before the Sierra foothills began filling up with white settlers and gold miners.

The shelter is known as Painted Rock by tourists and archeologists for its colorful array of centuries-old pictographs depicting the animal spectrum from the small (lizard, centipede, caterpillar and frog) and the high-flying (condor, eagle) to the bigger beasts (coyote, beaver, bear and man). And man, of course.

Hairy Man as depicted in a Central California pictograph estimated to be 500 to 1,000 years old. (Photo courtesy KATHY MOSKOWITZ STRAIN/Stanislaus National Forest)

Almost all of the painted images are instantly recognizable as creatures that would have inhabited the Sierras 500 to 1,000 years ago, when the pictographs are believed to have been created.

Three of the animals, though, can only be described in today’s lexicon as an adult male, adult female and child Sasquatch.

The big male, according to Yokuts tribal lore, is Hairy Man, standing on two legs, its arms spread wide, with long hair and, writes Forest Service archeologist Kathy Moskowitz Strain, “large, haunting eyes.” Next to it, with the same hairy, two-legged aspect, are what appear to be the adult female, the “mother,” and her child.

None of the animals shown on Painted Rock are proportionally larger than one would expect; they’re all either life-sized or smaller, as if in the distance.

The painting of Hairy Man is 8 1/2 feet tall.

By the time the first white man saw the Painted Rock pictographs in the 1870s, earlier European settlers of the American west were already well aware of Native Americans’ historical belief in the animal the Central California tribes called Hairy Man.

This is a hand-drawn replica of Hairy Man as depicted — at 81?2 feet tall — in a Central California pictograph estimated to be several hundred years old. (Photo courtesy KATHY MOSKOWITZ STRAIN/Stanislaus National Forest)

Many Native Americans, from the Cree people in Manitoba to the Cowichans in British Columbia to the tribes of central and northern California, have through the centuries taken a wide berth to avoid encountering a race or tribe of large, two-legged hairy beasts.

The account of a Methodist missionary found that the Salteaux Indians of Lake Winnipeg “living in dread” of what the missionary himself described as “these imaginary monsters.”

Anthropologists’ response to this has been mixed. Some believe the animals were a creation of tribal folklore meant to keep children in line and convince them not to stray too far from the villages.

But early white traders, settlers and miners often talked about the fervent belief held by the locals in what the whites invariably referred to as “mythical” creatures — which were described much the way Sasquatch is now described.

A 1790 publication related a Hudson’s Bay Company trader’s story about the North Saskatchewan River Indians’ belief in a giant, two-legged beast called the wendingo or windingo. The Indians, noted the trapper, “frequently persuade themselves that they see his track in the moss or snow.”

Two decades later a fur trader named David Thompson found a large footprint, described in historical journals as having been 14 inches long and eight inches wide, near what is now Jasper, Alberta. The print is often referred to as the first Sasquatch footprint found by a white man, though Thompson himself was said to have believed it to be the track of a large grizzly bear.

British Columbia periodicals in the late 1800s and early 1900s carried short news items referencing “the wild man of Vancouver Island” being seen by prospectors and others. And the region’s Kwakiutl Indians related tales of the “Woods Giant” which was routinely described the same way — much larger and hairier than humans, walking on two legs, with deep-set eyes under a thick, protruding forehead.

Which, again, is the same description applied to many Sasquatch sightings today.

While modern-day curiosity about Sasquatch was stoked by the 1967 film taken by Yakima County residents Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin, an even more dramatic incident near Mount St. Helens predated that one by nearly a half-century.

In her book, “Myths and Mysteries of Washington,” prolific Northwest historical author Lynn E. Bragg wrote about Cascade and coastal tribal tales of a “band of renegades who looked like giant apes and lived like wild animals in secluded caves high in the Cascade Mountains.”

Tribal belief in the giant beasts — referred to by different tribes and dialects as Seeahtic (or Selahtic), St’iyahama, Stiyaha, Kwi-kwihai and Skoocoom — were related by missionaries as early as 1840. But it wasn’t until July 1924 that the non-tribal world sat up and took notice.

That year, a group of miners prospecting in the Mount St. Helens and Lewis River area reported that their pine-log cabin had withstood a night-long attack by a group of what they described to forest rangers and reporters as “mountain devils” and “hairy apes.”

The miners’ account was that the assault on the cabin came at night, several hours after one of the miners had fired several rifle shots at a seven-foot-tall, hairy animal. According to their story, which was related in numerous newspapers, several of the creatures attacked the cabin, pelting it with large rocks, shrieking loudly, battering at the front door and climbing onto the cabin, the latter prompting the miners to fire several shots through the roof.

The miners left the next day, so anxious to put distance between them and the creatures that one of them, Kelso resident Fred Beck, said they left behind some $200 worth of “supplies, powder and drilling equipment.”

Their revelations made the newspapers, and numerous reporters and curiosity-seekers returned to the site and found numerous large, bare footprints around the cabin — but no “apemen.”

The tale told by Beck and the others is considered evidence of Sasquatch by some while being dismissed by others as a hoax or a bad case of cabin fever.

According to the latter version, the “attackers” were a group of local youths pelting the cabin with pumice stones from the top of the canyon either intentionally or by accident, perhaps not knowing there was a miner’s cabin at the bottom.

Beck, though, later said he and the other miners were able to see the creatures through the gaps in the log walls. “Only three of the creatures (were seen) together at one time,” Beck recalled in a dictated statement to his son four decades later, though “it sounded like there were many more.”

Beck’s description of the shrieking, wall-banging experience bears an eerie resemblance to one that occurred Aug. 14, 2004, at remote Snelgrove Lake in the Canadian province of Ontario.

A group of people were staying at a lakeside cabin, including documentary filmmaker Doug Hajicek, who has produced more than 200 films for such entities as PBS, Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, Outdoor Life Network and ESPN.

For two hours in the early evening, Hajicek said, someone or something threw small rocks toward the group, though not in a threatening way.

“Fifty or sixty rocks, lobbed,” Hajicek said. “You could shine a flashlight in the woods but all you’d see is trees. I didn’t have the courage to stand up and walk into the woods.”

Later that night, Hajicek woke up hungry, went to the cabin kitchen and flicked on a light “that illuminated my head in the window. The back side of the cabin was attacked — screams, banging on the walls, things hitting the cabin and the entire cabin started shaking and rock, and (rocks) started hitting the ceiling and the walls.

“It was like being in a bad B movie.”

Neither Hajicek nor any of the others in the cabin dared go outside until long after the “attack” had abated. But Hajicek returned on the same date the following year with several other people including two research professors, one from Idaho State University and the other from the University of Minnesota. At 3 a.m., Hajicek said, “something huge hit the side of the cabin, so loud the cabin just resonated.”

Shocked and scared, none of the people in the cabin ventured outside.

So, just as the year before, nobody saw whatever it was that was out there.

Believe it or not: Yes or no, opinions about Sasquatch’s existence are rarely gray

June 11, 2012 by  

“People believe in these things because they like to believe in them, and it keeps on going because people like it. And why not? It’s a charming story.”

Ian McTaggart Cowan

“The father of wildlife management”



This is the first of a six-week series on Sasquatch, a gigantic, reclusive beast that walks on two legs deep within our remote forests — or, depending on one’s beliefs, only deep within the recesses of gullible minds.

This series is not intended to promote or dispel belief in Sasquatch, but will focus largely on the evidence, efforts and experiences of those who advocate acceptance of its possible existence. Why? Because as a whole, the worlds of science and “common knowledge” dismiss it as, as scholar and conservationist Ian McTaggart Cowan noted, “a charming story.”

Writing about what is commonly accepted isn’t a charming story, or even interesting.

The unacceptable being championed by anecdotal evidence and scientists willing to consider it, though, is intriguing.

“The public in general, and the scientific community more importantly, believe there can’t be any such thing,” says John Green, a retired British Columbia newspaper publisher who has researched Sasquatch for a half-century. “Some call themselves skeptics. How can you be a skeptic when you’re just trumpeting what everybody believes? They’re not skeptics.

“Skeptics are people like me who don’t accept what everybody believes.”

Consider this series, by that standard, a study in skepticism.

•   •   •

YAKIMA, Wash. — Do you believe somewhere within the deep, wooded slopes of the Cascades and other remote forests there exists an eight-foot-tall, hairy beast walking on two legs?

Thom Powell, left, talks about The London Trackway with Tom Rutledge during the Richland Bigfoot conference in Richland, Wash. Friday May 4, 2012. Powell was one of the people who examined and made casts from tracks found in a lake bed south of Eugene, Ore. (ANDY SAWYER/Yakima Herald-Republic)

Do you believe in Sasquatch? In Bigfoot?

It’s basically a yes-or-no question. People usually fall into one of two groups: those who are convinced Bigfoot exists, and those who believe people in the first group should not be allowed to operate heavy machinery.

Believers are fervent, sometimes even devout. It matters to them. It’s personal. In many cases, they — or someone they know — have seen, heard or sensed something that, in their minds, could only be explained by accepting the seemingly inconceivable.

Non-believers couldn’t care less. For them, the whole idea is a crock of hooey. Sasquatch? Yeah? How about the Tooth Fairy, you believe in that too?

No, say the believers. Just Sasquatch.

You might be surprised at how many people are OK with the concept of a race of giant, two-legged forest denizens.

According to a 2011 Northwest poll by PEMCO Insurance, 40 percent of Washington residents believe Sasquatch could be a reality. In that same poll, 13 percent say they’ve either seen one or know someone who has.

If that number seems high — 13 percent of nearly 7 million? seriously? — consider this: The number of reported Sasquatch sightings or other “close encounters” over the years is upwards of 40,000.

One Bigfoot researcher has followed up on nearly 400 reports in the Wenatchee area alone. In Yakima County, the closed area of the Yakama Reservation and the thickly forested hills around Bumping Lake have each been the site of literally dozens of reported sightings.

Many of those 40,000 reports involved multiple people who saw or heard the same thing.

Bigfoot sightings have been reported by police and military officers, by college professors and scientists, by loggers and backpackers, by construction contractors and car-campers, and by couch potatoes who think of the great outdoors as the place where the car lives.

Are they all crazy? Deluded? Drunk or drug-addled? Are they part of some loose-knit but far-reaching hoax?

Or are they simply the tip of a much larger iceberg? Are there thousands more out there who saw something they can’t explain, but are keeping quiet about it to avoid being ridiculed?

If the latter is true, their silence is understandable.

A Blewett Pass resident says he and his nephew encountered a “huge creature … eight, nine feet tall” killing chickens in the coop behind his cabin in the winter of 1976-’77. The creature escaped despite their shooting it at point-blank range with a shotgun, says the cabin owner, who notified the Chelan County sheriff and almost wishes he hadn’t because of the weeks that followed.

“The newspapers got hold of it,” he says, “and made fools of us.”

A forestry technician with the Yakama Nation says his willingness to look into Bigfoot reports has gotten him in hot water with his superiors.

“I got taken aside by one of my higher-ups,” the forester says. “He told me, ‘What are you doing, why are you investigating these and openly reporting this material? What you’re doing, if we know something’s there, you’re shutting this whole forest down! It’ll be like the spotted owl situation — protocol will have to be followed. Basically, you’re going to turn us into a reserve. There won’t be any logging allowed at all.’

“I thought that was a little extreme. Hey, you guys don’t believe me anyway, so what does it matter?”

A college professor and anthropologist specializing in the evolution of bipedalism (walking on two legs) saw his own career jeopardized when the promotion process turned to scrutiny of his research into alleged Sasquatch tracks.

Another renowned scientist was driven to the verge of tears when he realized he was beginning to accept what he had repeatedly and quite publicly denounced — that Sasquatch, cause celebre of the wacko set, might, in fact, exist.

Could it all be a hoax? Some reports have been proven so.

With others, it’s not as easy to discern the truth, such as the famous 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film. Nearly a half-century later, it remains the subject of heated debate — more than a decade after a Yakima man, Bob Heironimus, swore under oath that he, wearing a monkey suit, was the creature on that jittery, blurred footage.

But if it’s all a hoax, it’s unimaginably elaborate and expensive — as well as historic in scope, dating back hundreds of years.

Tribal lore of Native American peoples from California to Canada includes stories of giant, hairy humanoids variously referred to as Hairy Man, Giant of the Woods and Hairy Giant. They are depicted on centuries-old pictographs. Even the term Sasquatch is derived, and somewhat anglicized, from a Salish tribal term for such a creature.

Hoaxers would also have to go to remarkable lengths to perpetrate the ruse, because tracks have been found in places so remote it’s surprising they were even found.

On a December day in 1998 two foresters found three distinct track trails of bare footprints in the snow, measuring 22, 18 and 8 inches — a family unit? — on the Yakama Reservation’s closed portion, in thick woods unlikely to attract picnickers, hikers or even hunters.

And then there were the tracks found 21 years ago at a remote Canadian lake by two journalists, one of them a documentary filmmaker from Minnesota.

The lake is accessible only by float plane and inhabited only seasonally by the few dozen anglers who visit the lake’s lone fishing lodge. The two men, there to film a story about fishing for huge lake trout, were on an impromptu boat trip when they happened to stop at a sandy shoreline a good 10 miles from the lodge.

There they found and followed a long line of barefoot, 17-inch tracks with a 42-inch stride that continued, unbroken, off into the endless tundra.

“The whole thing didn’t make sense to me,” the filmmaker says. “There’s no way anybody would go to any lengths to hoax something up there. Nobody would ever find the tracks. Not a chance.”

And what can we make of the thousands of eyewitness reports?

If not Sasquatch, what are they all seeing and hearing? Bears?

Try telling that to the retired Army colonel who, as a 16-year-old elk hunter in the Blue Mountains, spotted a towering, hairy beast through his hunting rifle’s scope, magnified such that the animal looked to be barely 45 yards away. The creature appeared so “man-like” that the hunter felt guilty even watching it through his rifle scope.

But because he was too fascinated to look away, he kept watching it — for 45 minutes.

Ohio paralegal Melissa Hovey has never seen a Sasquatch — “so,” she says, “I can’t tell the world they’re out there” — but has interviewed hundreds of what she describes as credible witnesses before and since becoming president of the American Bigfoot Society.

“I’ve spoken with politicians, with oil magnates, police officers, people in the military, factory workers. Police officers or military people may be more believable or credible, but they’re telling the same thing. Why would all these people be telling the same story? They don’t want to be involved in something that sounds crazy,” she says, “but they come from all walks of society.

“You can’t watch and listen to what they’ve gone through and say they’re crazy — because if you don’t believe what they’re saying, that’s what you’re saying. And that’s not fair.

“Either it’s a misidentification with another animal or they’re really seeing what they say they’re seeing. It’s one or the other.”

Not surprisingly, many “Bigfooters” share a sort of gallows humor about how the world perceives them.

The skeptical wife of a Bureau of Indian Affairs timber appraiser hated hearing her husband talk about his and other forest workers’ Sasquatch sightings deep within the wooded Cascade foothills.

Then last February, while driving from White Swan to her job in Yakima in the pre-dawn darkness, she saw in her headlights what she later described as a large, hairy, two-legged animal cross Branch Road in front of her, step easily over a barbed-wire fence and disappear into the darkness.

“Now,” cracks one of her husband’s co-workers, “she’s in the crazy club with the rest of us.”


• Outdoors editor Scott Sandsberry can be reached at 509-577-7689 or [email protected].

A grand opening: Six portions of William O. Douglas Heritage Trail set to open

June 4, 2012 by  

The dozens of local volunteers working toward this Saturday’s official opening of William O. Douglas Heritage Trail had no idea they were part of a fortuitous coincidence.

As it turned out, the efforts of those volunteers have inadvertently dovetailed with those of a documentary filmmaker working on a film to raise public awareness of the conservation achievements of the Yakima native and Supreme Court justice.

And when six portions of the William O. Douglas Heritage Trail get their public unveiling on Saturday, Oregon-based filmmaker John Concillo will be there to do filming for “Liberty and Wilderness,” the Douglas film project Concillo is creating under the auspices of the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission.

“The object is to reach the next generation with this film, in terms of William O. Douglas’ work,” said Concillo, adding that it sounds like “kind of a lofty mission statement.”

Concillo had been receiving Google alerts on any news regarding William O. Douglas, and several weeks ago he received one regarding the June 9 opening of the William O. Douglas Heritage Trail from downtown Yakima to Mount Rainier National Park.

He immediately began contacting volunteers on the trail’s task force, and now he plans to be filming on the trail on Saturday, in hopes of capturing footage that will be appropriate for his film.

His film work, Concillo said, “obviously dovetails with the event and the mission of the task force. I’ll have the opportunity to interview a lot of people out on the trail — it’s an opportunity to get some relevant material for the film, and it may help the trail effort.”

Concillo will also show a 12-minute portion of the still-in-progress film during a Saturday invitation-only event at a local winery for supporters of the project.

“I like to call (the 12-minute piece) a prologue,” Concillo said. “I use it as a presentation piece to talk about the project, which is documentary style, basically an educational asset.”

Concillo, who spent 27 years working in broadcast television, said the film will be “broadcast-quality and made for television” but will probably have most of its primary usage in schools as a special event or as an asset to history curricula.

For more information the film, go williamodouglas.org.

Saturday’s official trail kickoff will begin with an opening ceremony at 11 a.m. at Davis High School, where brochures will be available with detailed descriptions of six selected sections of the trail.

Until the trail receives federal designation — a process that could take years — the brochure put together by the trail task force says the hikes “have no special designation; they are at this point just historic areas accessible to the public which have special meaning.”

Saturday will not feature any guided hikes, said task force spokesman Ted Gamlem, but there will be volunteers at each of the six trailheads to explain the routes and the historical or geographical significance of each segment.

“Everything won’t be as complete as we’d like it to be,” Gamlem said. “This whole thing is just the start of what we’re trying to do.

“These six hikes are places people can go and hike, and a lot of folks will have already been there, of course. The significance to this (official opening) day is that we want people to go there with an understanding of a new significance of that piece of trail — or, if they haven’t been there before, to go there and experience something new.”



These are the six hikes being highlighted as part of Saturday’s official opening of the William O. Douglas Heritage Trail, named after the Supreme Court justice who was raised in Yakima and hiked, hunted and lived in many of the places along the trail.

For more complete descriptions of the six trail sections (and directions from the WOD Trail genesis at Davis High School), pick up a William O. Douglas Heritage Trail brochure at Saturday’s 11 a.m. official opening event at Davis.

1. From Davis to the Greenway: The trail’s first dedicated segment begins at Justice Douglas’ alma mater (now Davis High School) and follows about two miles of designated paths and city streets, ending at the historic railroad bridge crossing the Naches River.

2. Myron Lake Greenway Trailhead to the Railroad Bridge: This pleasant 2.2-mile hike follows the Greenway from further along the WOD Heritage Trail, at the Myron Lake trailhead, back to the same end spot as Section 1, the railroad bridge across the Naches River. Douglas used to cross that same railroad bridge on his way to climbing to the top of Selah Ridge.

3. Cowiche Canyon east to Weikel: Anybody who hikes around Yakima already knows this popular, level 3.0-mile route following Cowiche Creek through historic Cowiche Canyon.

4. Rocky Top Loop: The Rocky Top Loop hike is a little more than two miles, with about 900 feet of mostly steady climbing toward the summit of Cowiche Mountain. The trail starts at a trailhead kiosk at the edge of a large, gravel parking lot surrounded by large boulders off Rocky Top Road (turning left onto Rocky Top off Summitview Avenue). But instead of following the most visible gravel path, this trail begins on the gravel driveway at the southeast end of the parking area and follows an old irrigation canal. Follow trail signs to the intersection with the main access trail from Rocky Top, at which hikers can continue to the summit or follow the main access trail back to the parking lot.

5. Snow Mountain Ranch to Cowiche Mountain Summit: This trail is accessed by the Snow Mountain Ranch parking lot off Cowiche Mill Road. The nearly three-mile ascent from the Snow Mountain Ranch kiosk to the summit includes roughly 1,100 feet of elevation gain.

6. Cowiche Mill Road to Box Spring Canyon: This hike is nearly five miles with 900 feet of elevation gain, following an old four-wheel-drive road to Box Spring Canyon. To reach the trailhead, pass the Snow Mountain Ranch parking lot to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife parking area (Discover Pass required) near Cowiche Mill Road’s intersection with Sunset Road. At its apex, this hike offers expansive views of the shrub-steppe country above the South Fork Cowiche Creek and back to the Yakima Valley.

— Information taken from WOD Trail brochure

Caving is about the moment for Yakima’s Jeffrey Reynolds

May 28, 2012 by  

YAKIMA, Wash. — He squirms through openings that would make an earthworm claustrophobic and rappels into vast caverns that could swallow the Louisiana Superdome whole and have room for dessert.

Jeffrey Reynolds and his fellow cavers will not reveal the location of the cave with these fragile “soda straws,” pencil-thin limestone tubes that could be shattered by a simple touch. (Photo courtesy Jeffrey Reynolds)

In this subterranean milieu, he must remain alert. Focused. Vigilant. A seemingly benign oversight can have dire consequences. A person can freeze to death. Be killed by a falling rock. Or drown. Even a failed headlamp — without extra batteries or, in a worst-case scenario, a backup headlamp — can be fatal.

“Basically, in most cases that we’re in, if you actually found yourself in the dark, the safest thing you could do is wait. Stop. Because if you travel in the dark you’re going to die,” Jeffrey Reynolds says. “The terrain is just too rough.

“You’re asking to kill yourself.”

Reynolds, a forensic pathologist from Yakima, isn’t asking anything of the sort as he makes his annual summer sojourn to the Cumberland Plateau region of Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia to explore its honeycombed network of natural caves.

He isn’t in it for the adrenaline rush. He isn’t in it for the danger. He is in for very much the same reason a climber ascends sheer cliff walls to a summit — a world in which, not coincidentally, Reynolds is also quite experienced.

“The goal,” Reynolds has written, “is to be utterly, totally in the moment, seeing it with absolute clarity without ever contemplating the risk any one detail might represent, thereby becoming completely someone other than he who wakes as me every morning.”

To be in the moment.

And, at that moment, to travel within a world quite literally beneath our own.

• • •

Reynolds was born on Florida’s Gulf Coast and his love of cave exploration was stoked on those regular summer visits to his grandmother’s house in the limestone country of the area cave-lovers affectionately call TAG — for the junction of Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia.

“If you took a map and put a dot on every known cave mouth, you’d obscure the entire area. You wouldn’t be able to see anything,” says Reynolds, 65. “The place is Swiss cheese.”

Jeffrey Reynolds emerges from a caving experience in the Southeast. (Photo courtesy Jeffrey Reynolds)

That creates countless caving options for Reynolds and his friends. They can warm up on caves they’ve been to before, then test themselves on caves they’ve never been to but that are well known to speleologists — cavers — and save a day or two to find and explore new caves.

Some have underground streams requiring scuba gear. Some are so tight that it may take literally hours to crawl — also, quite literally — a mile. Some involve a lengthy rappel straight down into a hole, only to find that there are no side channels to explore.

“You’re just bashing around in the woods with the ticks and the chiggers looking for openings into the ground,” Reynolds says. “A lot of them are anticlimactic. You’re looking for the ones that have passageways going on from there, not just the ones that are the rope down. You’re looking for the happy surprise, and some of it’s pretty dramatic.

“Some of these places are just amazing.”

But amazing doesn’t come easy. It typically comes only after long hours — or days or even weeks — of crawling on one’s back through clammy clearances often little larger than squirrel holes.

“You go through on your back because you can roll your head to the side more easily (to see what’s ahead),” Reynolds says. “But (on one’s stomach) you can’t put your head up because it will hit the ceiling.”

And that might hurt, too, because sometimes the clearance is so minimal that Reynolds has even had to take off his helmet.

It’s your basic claustrophobic nightmare.

• • •

Sound dangerous? It is.

“That’s why you have people with you,” says Reynolds. “There are places you go to, while working your way in (you’re thinking) you do not want to have to be carried out of here because it’s almost impossible. It would take people days to get you out.

“So you take it really safe. You may take an hour to do a mile. Maybe two hours. You’re moving one extremity at a time. These are places you don’t want to get hurt.

“Cavers have the same line that climbers do: ‘There are old climbers and bold climbers, but there aren’t any old, bold climbers.’ It’s the same with this. You have to be willing to say, ‘This isn’t worth it,’ and bail. The risk/rush ratio gets bad. When you were 16, yeah, the adrenaline’s great and I’m bulletproof. When you’re 65, no, you’re not.”

Getting lost would be disastrous, especially in unfamiliar cave systems. Reynolds and his fellow cavers navigate by memory or by physical markers at critical junctions. “When in doubt,” he says, “leave evidence!”

But the reward for that patience, that attention to detail and route, and those long hours of squirming through wormholes can be dramatic, even breathtaking. And it might be just around the next bend, through the only hole in a subterranean junction you haven’t yet entered.

Consider the Rumble Room, a massive. Tennessee cave chamber. It’s the second largest such cavern in the country, yet it wasn’t even discovered until 1998 — despite the cave mouth being just a short walk from a paved two-lane highway.

“People kept wandering around in there and finding other passageways,” Reynolds says of the discovery process. To reach the room requires multiple rappels, up and down climbing and crawling over many awkward miles, all while hauling one’s gear.

Then, after all of that, you come upon the Rumble Room, named for the pounding sound of water beneath even more layers of rock. The chamber is “bigger than the New Orleans Superdome,” Reynolds says. “You could drop the Superdome in there and still have plenty of room left over.”

 • • •

It isn’t only the vast geological wonders like the Rumble Room that reverberate with Reynolds.

He’s also drawn to the tiniest marvels, like “soda straws” — fragile, tubular stalactites of translucent limestone, barely wider than a drop of water. Without wind or floods to disturb them, they can grow long enough to run from floor to ceiling, but be so delicate that they could be shattered by a simple touch.

He loves coming out of the caves, returning to the light and emerging into the lush green colors of life after hours in the black and gray darkness. Reynolds says he sees things while climbing deep beneath the earth’s surface that he can’t see while ascending its peaks.

“It’s interesting to me because the space is different. You could not dream up the stuff you see there (in caves),” he says. “You could take a picture in the Himalayas and a picture in the Andes and a picture in Alaska, and there’s a lot of similarity to mountain space. It’s ice and rock and a lot of sky.”

Ironically, it was the allure of those mountain tableaus that drew Reynolds to the Pacific Northwest in the first place. Now he makes his annual pilgrimages to the place he spent so much of his youth, climbing not up sheer walls into the sun’s glare but down into the darkness.

And he loves it.

“These caves,” he says, “have things in there that are just nowhere else.

“These sculptures that have been created over centuries.”

Fastpitch: Miscues cost Selah a trophy

May 27, 2012 by  

SELAH, Wash. — Kylee Fullerton was stretching in the on-deck circle as the Selah fastpitch team was preparing to bat in the top of the third inning of its still-scoreless Class 2A state semifinal game against Tumwater.

Vikings batting coach Ben Graf approached Fullerton and, with a nod of his head toward Selah’s leadoff batter in the inning, Taylor Rath, said, “If she gets on (base), you know what you’re doing, right?”

Selah's Hayley Floyd, left, embraces tearful teammate Kylee Fullerton following Selah High School's 5-3 loss to West Valley (Spokane) High School in the state class 2A softball tournament May 26, 2012. (Gordon King/Yakima Herald-Republic)



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Fullerton nodded and, as Graf returned to the dugout, thought of something. “Ben. Ben,” she said, getting his attention. “You mean when she gets on, right?”

That’s the kind of infectious confidence the Vikings have brought with them into every game this season, and they had it on Saturday as well. They just didn’t seem to have the same bats they’d wielded so effectively en route to their 24 victories this season — or the same gloves.

Selah committed an uncharacteristic eight errors that led to eight unearned runs in its two Saturday losses, 4-2 to Tumwater and then — the Vikings obviously deflated from the semifinal setback — 5-3 to West Valley of Spokane in the game that decided who would advance to the third-fourth place game.

So after a 24-4 season, the Vikings came away with no hardware but a whole lot of lingering what-ifs — particularly about the semifinal loss.

What if one of the team’s best bunters hadn’t failed to make contact on a suicide squeeze bunt that might have triggered a big early inning against Tumwater ace Kiersten Smith? What if Carly Minnick’s absolutely crushed line drive to left-center had been one foot higher and cleared the fence for a homer, instead of hitting the lip and stopping for the day’s longest single? What if a Viking runner hadn’t been picked off third base, with two on and two runs already in?

“We were probably one play away from playing for the state championship,” Vikings coach Bill Harris said. “The semifinal loss really took a lot out of our kids. We didn’t come in as focused (against West Valley) as we would have liked.

“Hey, two of our four losses came against teams in the top four teams in the state. These kids have accomplished a lot this season. And I couldn’t be prouder of any team I’ve ever coached than I am of these girls.”

Class 2A fastpitch: Selah sails into semis

May 26, 2012 by  

SELAH, Wash. — Ten innings, 28 hits, eight extra-base hits, two home runs, 24 runs.

That’s the kind of offensive production, especially in the rarefied fastpitch talent of the Class 2A state championships, that created another very important other statistic for the tournament’s home team: two wins.

The Selah Vikings jackhammered their way into their second straight semifinal berth, battering Fife 13-3 and Interlake 11-0 at Carlon Park.

Selah players line up at home plate to congratulate Kaylee Fullerton, left, as she crosses the base after hitting a home run in the third inning of their game against Fife at the 2A state softball tournament at Carlon Park in Selah on Friday, May 25, 2012. (Sara Gettys/Yakima Herald-Republic)



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The victory moved CWAC champion Selah (24-2) into a 10 a.m. showdown against Tumwater and its powerful pitcher, Kiersten Smith, who had 11- and 10-strikeout games in the Thunderbirds’ 12-2 and 8-1 victories over Cheney and Granite Falls, respectively.

“She’s got a lot of power, and she’s got that good rise ball,” Selah batting coach Ben Graf said. “Our girls will have to be able to lay off that rise ball. As long as we’re not chasing it, I think we’ll be OK.”

Selah’s hitters made Friday’s victories look like batting practice because, well, that’s the way they treated it.

“When we stay really relaxed, that’s when we hit the best,” said senior Carly Minnick, who drove in four runs over the Vikings’ two games while batting 5-for-7 with three doubles. “When we stay relaxed and we keep each other pumped up, we hit like crazy.

“One through nine, we’re all good hitters.”

That was plain to see in the Fife game, when Selah’s No. 9 hitter, Kylee Fullerton, slammed a two-run homer into a blustery wind. And over the two games, the bottom three hitters in the lineup — Minnick, Taylor Rath and Fullerton — combined to bat 11-for-16.

With all of Selah’s offensive highlights, it was easy to overlook the steady performance of sophomore pitcher McKenzie Zerr, who gave up just two earned runs over her two complete games.

“She did real well,” said her catcher, Sarah Bersing, who went 2-for-3 with four RBI and a huge homer against Interlake. “She hit the outside corner all day, she hit her spots really well. It was one of the best I’ve ever seen her throw.”

Ellensburg's Taelor Griffin slides into second past Franklin Pierce's Anna Lennox during the fourth inning of their game at the 2A state softball tournament at Carlon Park in Selah on Friday, May 25, 2012. (Sara Gettys/Yakima Herald-Republic

Tumwater’s Smith got plenty of offensive support as well, most notably from Gabby Vidallon, who batted 7-for-8 with three RBI and Alyssa Ubrun, who slugged a two-run homer.

The semifinal in the lower half-bracket will pit another power-hitting team, Chehalis — which won by a combined 21-2 score in routs of Lynden and Franklin Pierce — against an opportunistic Aberdeen team that did just enough to win. After edging Mount Baker 7-2, the Bobcats upended West Valley 2-1 in the quarterfinals despite an 11-strikeout, three-hit pitching performance by the Eagles’ Kelli Peckham.

Ellensburg was unable to come up with the timely hits and was ousted after losses to Franklin Pierce and Interlake, sandwiched around a 4-3 squeaker over Lynden.

The Bulldogs (19-9) had the defense, especially two sensational grabs by center fielder Josie Savage, which saved probably three runs between them. And they got good plate performances from Taelor Griffin (5-for-7 over the last two games) and Mackenzie Hughes (3-for-4 with a homer in the Lynden game). But there was clearly something missing.

“A few of the girls have been fighting the flu, or something like that,” Bulldogs pitching coach Ken McNamee said. “Ally (Burgess, who pitched two of Ellensburg’s games) been fighting something today for sure. I’m surprised she lasted as long as she has.”

Fastpitch: Injuries hit CWAC foes as state begins

May 24, 2012 by  

YAKIMA, Wash. — After helping the Selah fastpitch program transform itself over the last four years from a playoff interloper to a perennial contender, Vikings head coach Bill Harris is taking nothing for granted.

Selah is coming into its fourth consecutive 2A state tourney, which begins today at the Vikings’ home complex, Carlon Park, with a glittery 22-2 record after earning a fourth-place trophy last season. But even though the Vikings’ quarterfinal bracket — opening against Fife with Sehome facing Interlake on the other side — looks like a good draw for the home team, Harris knows there are no sure things.

Selah’s Laura Steiner, right, tries to avoid the tag of Ellensburg catcher Melanie Swanson during a game on April 27 at Carlon Park in Selah. (Sara Gettys/Yakima Herald-Republic file)

“State tournaments are fickle,” Harris said. “Anything can happen on a given day. In a game where pitching is dominant, if it’s an off day hitting, sometimes you get one bad break on defense and that can decide the game.

“And you may only get a few scoring opportunities, and if you squander the two or three times you do have a chance, maybe you don’t get that fourth chance.”

Sophomore pitcher McKenzie Zerr stepped up in a big way for the Vikings this season, stepping up from the JV following the graduation of last year’s senior ace and CWAC co-MVP Sierra Weedin. Zerr worked extremely hard in the offseason, Harris said, and then maintained a splendid 0.86 earned-run average during the regular season under the guidance of Vikings pitching coach Mark Seward.

But the Vikings will have to do without Weedin’s league co-MVP from last year, senior second baseman Mary Michael Graf. After leading the team in runs batted in, Graf broke a bone in her hand in the season’s final week and will have to watch the tournament from the bench — where, Harris said, “She’s still our team leader.”

Selah still has plenty of firepower, led by a trio of first-team all-CWAC performers — catcher Sarah Bersing (.507, 28 RBI, two homers, nine doubles) and first baseman Laura Steiner (.557, four homers, 22 RBI) and outfielder Kylee Fullerton (.500). Graf’s replacement, senior Cheyenne Merritt, hits a solid .413, but has only had 29 at-bats. Another super-sub, Carly Minnick, is batting nearly .600 but on just 22 at-bats.

Ellensburg (18-7) nearly reached the regional championship game but gave up two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning in a 3-2 loss to eventual champion West Valley. But like Selah, Ellensburg also goes into state not at full strength, having lost all-CWAC shortstop Lizzy Vick to a knee injury at district.

The Bulldogs still have plenty of firepower, led by two-time all-CWAC pitcher Ally Burgess (.532), outfielders Mackenzie Hughes (.526, three homers) and Taelor Griffin and steady catcher Melanie Swanson. And freshman Allie Kopczynski is a star on the rise, having led Ellensburg in hitting (.630) and RBI (26) and being second in stolen bases (13) only to Josie Savage’s 14.

On the face of it, Ellensburg appears to face a significantly tougher road in the bottom half-bracket than its CWAC rival in the upper bracket. The Bulldogs open with Franklin Pierce, whose 19-1 record includes an 8-7 subdistrict win over defending state champion Sequim, and the winner of that game could face power-hitting Chehalis, last year’s third-place state finisher.

The bottom bracket also features the tournament’s most intriguing opening-round game, pitting 2011 champion Sequim (17-4) against West Valley (22-1).

Fastpitch: Facing a powerhouse nothing new for Kittitas

May 24, 2012 by  

YAKIMA, Wash. — The Kittitas fastpitch team knows what it feels like to face an offensive juggernaut, so opening this week’s Class 2B state tournament at Yakima’s Gateway Sports Complex against perennial powerhouse Pe Ell won’t feel like anything new and different.

Kittitas has spent the 2012 season trying to keep pace with Warden and its stellar pitcher-catcher battery of North Central Washington South Division MVP Iris Rodrigues and Bianca Hernandez.

And the Coyotes opened the 2011 state tourney against eventual champion Adna, and were in fact the only team in the tournament to get a lead on the powerful Pirates — though it was short-lived and easily forgotten in the aftermath of Adna’s 23-2 win.

Now they must open the 2012 tourney against Pe Ell, which has played in the last three 1B state title games, winning the crown in 2010.

“I just looked at what the prospects are for the quarterfinals, and it’s not real favorable,” Kittitas coach Nate Phillips said on Monday. “If we were to knock off Pe Ell, we’d have to face a Toutle Lake team that just won their district.

“But I’ve always said if you’re going to get a trophy or have a good showing, you’re going to have to beat one or two teams out of District 4 (Southwest Washington). They’ve been dominating our 2B tournament the last six years or so.”

Senior shortstop Tori O’Shaughnessy is the Coyotes’ top offensive threat, having accumulated more than 30 runs and 40 RBIs while hitting in the .475 range.

“And she’s been on fire lately with better competition,” said Kittitas coach Nate Phillips. “She seems to be really coming on lately. I think most of our hitters prefer the better pitchers and the stiffer competition.”

For the Coyotes (17-5), O’Shaughnessy was joined on the all-league first team by pitcher Ashley Hayes, who has built an 8-3 record this season, and center fielder Caitlyn Steiner.

Klickitat earned a spot in the Class 1B state tourney, also set for the Gateway Sports Complex.

The Vandals qualified for state for the first time since 2002 by defeating Lyle-Wishram 10-5 in Saturday’s District 5-6 title game in Goldendale. McKenzie Schlangen was 3 for 4 and Chelci Curtis was the winning pitcher and went 2 for 4 with two RBI.

Klickitat will open at 1 p.m. today against Wishkah Valley, which was ousted in three games in the 2011 state tourney. Defending champion Colton is also in the Vandals’ half-bracket.

Closing of Fairbanks Outfitters is an end of an outdoors era

May 21, 2012 by  

YAKIMA, Wash. — It’s the experience, not the inventory, that has brought fishermen through the front door of Gary Fairbanks’ store for the last 28 years.

Gary Fairbanks, right, talks to customer Bill Jones at his shop, Fairbanks Outfitters on Wednesday, May 16, 2012. (SARA GETTYS/Yakima Herald-Republic)

Alas, it hasn’t been bringing enough of them often enough. That’s why, in a few short weeks, that front door will be locked up for good. Or, at least, until another business moves into the Yakima Avenue space occupied for the past seven years by Fairbanks Outfitters, the latest incarnation and extension of Fairbanks’ love for fishing.

Fairbanks has sold fishing gear at four locations around town, the first three of them as Gary’s Fly Shoppe. But it wasn’t the lures, the reels, the rods, the line or any of the other gear that has been bringing in longtime customers in droves since Fairbanks’ recent announcement that he was selling all of that inventory at closeout-sale prices.

It has been the chance to say “so long” to an icon.

“A lot of expertise is going out the window,” said Todd Smith, who began as a customer and, since retiring following the sale of his own business, has become such a regular at Fairbanks’ store that he helps keep inventory on the shelves.

And that expertise includes local knowledge — when and where to fish the local lakes and rivers, what flies or lures to use where and why.

“Gary’s a guy you can just come in and BS with as far as local fishing areas, instead of going into some place where they just want to sell you stuff instead of talk to you,” said Todd Bernhardt of Gleed. “I’ve been coming in here for 10 years now, and if I don’t have an answer about what the fish are hitting, Gary does.

“He gives you ideas. He doesn’t try to sell you on one thing.”

Or on a whole bunch of stuff you don’t need, according to Smith.

“In any fishing industry, I’m going to say two-thirds of all the fishing tackle that manufacturers make is for the fishermen and not the fish,” Smith said. “You can have a wall full of items and maybe only a portion of them will really work. So Gary tries to limit that.”

Fairbanks’ suppliers know his store depends on his personal relationship with customers, Smith said, the kind of mutual trust forged through years of his shooting straight with them. “Say, a new item will come out that may have 30 colors and they’ll say, ‘Realistically, these six or eight will do — don’t buy them all.’ They know he’s not going to be gullible and just buy everything.”

The expertise isn’t just about the inventory, though he’s been known to special-order a single piece of gear just so a customer could see if he liked it. But the inability to sell more of the inventory — along with the free fishing advice he’s been shelling out for years — has become an issue since online sales have become so prevalent.

“It boils down to the economy and the Internet,” Fairbanks said. “Lots of people come in here and want me to line up reels for them. I look at the reel and I sell that reel, but I know I didn’t sell it to them, so I say, ‘So where’d you get this?’ And they say off the Internet.

“I can’t make a living selling line. I need to sell rods and reels, and a good friend and customer of mine told me not long ago, ‘Sometimes to make money, you’ve got to stop losing money.’

“And I took that to heart.”

So he’s selling out, quite literally. Everything in his store (423 W. Yakima Ave.) is on sale for at least 25 percent off, and that discount will likely increase as the inventory dwindles — until, finally, Fairbanks cracks, “I’m going to pack it up in crates and boxes and, just like everybody else is doing, I’m going to put it on eBay and get rid of it.”

What longtime customers like Mike Iasella, a retired Yakima periodontist, want can’t be found online.

“You can get things a lot of different ways, particularly on the Internet, but the service aspect Gary has goes a long way,” Iasella said. “You break a rod, you bring it to him, he packages it up and sends it to the manufacturer for you. Same thing for anything you return, he takes care of it for you.”

Iasella is a fly fisherman who ties his own flies, and he pointed to all of the fly-fishing classes Fairbanks offered; all of the times he will go out of his way to show a new customer how to fly-cast; the support he has provided to the annual fly-tying seminar put on at West Valley of the Nazarene Church; and, in general, the base of operations he has provided for Yakima County’s fly-fishing community.

“With my fly-tying,” Iasella said, “it’s going to be a real loss not having Gary there.”

Fairbanks is well aware that, with Cabella’s opening up a store in town to join an already healthy lineup of outdoor-related specialty stores, a lot of fishermen won’t really feel a loss. But, Fairbanks said, it isn’t the Cabela’s move into the Yakima market that is moving him out.

“That wasn’t a deciding factor, because they don’t carry everything. Myself and other retailers would look at what they’ve got and carry things they don’t carry,” he said. “Actually, having Cabela’s here would probably have helped a little bit, because Cabela’s would become friends of mine; Cabela’s would send people to me for stuff they didn’t have, and it might even bring in new customers. They’re a good store, with good people. I think they would have been a good competitor.”

But the customers that are nearest and dearest to Fairbanks’ heart, the fly fishermen, will feel the loss of his store the most.

“The worst thing about this closeout is the fly fishing,” he said. “You can buy all this other stuff at BiMart, Grumpy’s, Hammer’s, Kmart, Walmart — but the fly stuff, nobody has it. I’m really disappointed. I offered to some local businesses the fly-fishing department, because when I’m gone, people will have to go to the Internet or go out of town.”

Maybe that’s why some of the farewells have been so emotional.

“Since I started this closeout, I’ve actually had a couple of customers who have come in and cried. They literally have cried,” Fairbanks said.

Fairbanks has got plans in the works, things he isn’t willing to talk about publicly, at least not yet. But with considerations out there on the horizon, his tears haven’t been falling.

But his prices, oh, they’re definitely plummeting. Until everything’s gone.

Soccer: Goats shock Scotties in quarters

May 20, 2012 by  

COWICHE, Wash. — That old song was right. The first cut is the deepest — especially when it’s also the last.

Highland hadn’t dropped a boys soccer match all season heading into Saturday’s Class 1A state quarterfinal on the Scotties’ home field against Chelan. For that matter, the Scotties had trailed only three or four times all season.

But on Saturday, they trailed the only time it really mattered — for the final two minutes of their 2-1 loss to the Goats, in which Highland was simply unable to apply the kind of offensive pressure with which the Scotties had worn down and put away their first 18 opponents.

Highland High School senior Jorge Marin reacts to Chelan High School's second goal in the final minutes of the state 1A quarterfinal soccer match that sealed Chelan's victory 2-1 in Cowiche, Wash., on May 19, 2012. (TJ Mullinax/Yakima Herald-Republic)


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Chelan junior Eleazar Galvan, the Caribou Trail League’s player of the year and already part of the U-23 Seattle Sounders program as a mere 16-year-old, scored the game-winner with barely over a minute remaining in regulation.

Galvan took a long pass from Alejandro Angulo — who had scored the Goats’ first goal just 41/2 minutes into the match — and simply outran Highland defender Armando Lopez. Highland goalkeeper Antonio Gonzalez, facing the possibility of having to defend a one-on-one shot at point-blank range, opted to come out and force Galvan to make the play early. Galvan popped a little hopper just over Gonzalez’s reach, and it settled into the back of the net.

Galvan’s sensational speed made the goal possible. Lopez and the other Scottie defenders had done a gritty job in keeping him in check, but he was simply too fast when it counted.

“I wouldn’t say (Galvan) outruns people. It’s how he uses his speed,” said Chelan coach Jaime Richards, whose 16-5 team will face Royal (a 5-1 district-tourney loser to the Scotties) in the semifinals. “Not many 16-year-old kids know how to use their speed like he does — the stop-and-start, and his burst.

“The kid’s a phenom.”

“He’s really everything for them,” Scotties coach Greg Wagner said of Galvan, whose swift attack down the left side had paved the way for the Goats’ first goal as well. “You take him away from them and they’re an average team. He’s good.”

Highland’s only goal came as the result of a furious flurry off a corner kick by freshman David Paniagua.

Paniagua’s arcing kick sailed perfectly to Jorge Marin, but Marin’s header hit the crossbar and bounded back. Scottie junior Jesus Gutierrez, whose 31 goals earned him SCAC MVP honors, kicked the rebound toward the corner of the net only to have goalie Ruben Medina block it … right back to Marin, who slammed it into the net.

But that was it for Highland’s offense, and only a sensational save by Gonzalez in the 58th minute kept the Scotties in the game until the end.

“They just wanted it more than we did today,” Wagner said of the Goats. “They fought for it harder.”

The 18-1 Scotties, Highland assistant coach Miguel Delgado said, “were expecting the ball to come to their feet instead of going to get it. Like ‘We’re Highland, the ball will come to us.’

“It doesn’t work that way.”

First half: 1, Chelan, Alejandro Angulo (Erik Garcia), 4:25; 2, Highland, Jorge Marin, 28:00.

Second half: 3, Chelan, Eleazar Galvan (Angulo), 78:30.

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