How a chance track encounter in Washington’s Blue Mountains changed a Ph.D. researcher’s mind
Growing up in Spokane, Jeff Meldrum had a childhood fascination with bigfoot that carried on into his adult life. Over the years, however, his interest in the legendary cryptid had largely faded to that of a casual, personal fascination as he pursued a career in anthropology, eventually earning a Ph.D. in anatomical sciences and becoming a full professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University. That was, until a chance encounter in 1996 with a line of fresh, 15-inch tracks along a remote, muddy road in southeast Washington’s Blue Mountains left him captivated with evidence that the sasquatch myth might just be real.
For the past 26 years, Meldrum’s approach to research into sasquatch has differed from that of many of the bigfoot hunters you can find online pedaling stories of supposed sasquatch sightings. As an academic with a research focus on evolution of hominin bipedalism, he’s uniquely qualified to analyze tracks suspected of belonging to sasquatch, or, as Meldrum prefers to call them, relic hominoids. A testament to his careful, scientific approach to examining tracks in ways that most untrained observers would never be able to unpack, his lab now houses well over 300 footprint casts attributed to relict hominoids around the world, including some he cast himself and others provided by other researchers.
But it was those first tracks back in 1996 that initially made Meldrum a believer. The footprints were discovered earlier in the day near Walla Walla, Wash., by the late bigfoot tracker Paul Freeman, who had a habit of searching for tracks on roads as soon as snowmelt made them passable. The set of impressive tracks freshly laid down in the soft, late-winter clay soil above town was an ah-ha moment, says Meldrum, who excitedly described to me the abundant evidence he found at the site of the footprints. There were tension cracks and pressure ridges, inflections, splaying of the toes, and evidence that the creature likely looked over its shoulder before breaking out into a run toward the brush, recalls Meldrum.
To him, it all added up to irrefutable evidence that something non-human and quite large had walked and ran barefoot and upright on two legs along that muddy road. “Some of the tracks clearly had skin ridge detail preserved in the clay soil,” explains Meldrum. “I was flabbergasted and was wondering how did he [Freeman] do this? How did he fake these tracks?” Meldrum thoroughly documented the site and created casts of the tracks, the first of hundreds of compelling track casts he would make and collect in the coming decades.
Meldrum is the author of “Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science,” which explores the contemporary scientific evidence of sasquatch, as well as two field guides, one focusing on sasquatch and the other covering potential relict hominoid species around the world. He’s also the editor-in-chief of the scholarly journal The Relict Hominoid Inquiry and has shared his findings in numerous popular and professional publications and at live presentations.
Sasquatch Researcher Dr. Meldrum to Speak in Spokane February 25
On Saturday, February 25, 2023 at 3 p.m., Meldrum will be one of several speakers on various outdoor topics at the Spokane Great Outdoors Expo, which is put on by Out There Outdoors at the Spokane Convention Center. Read more about the event and get tickets. Dr. Meldrum will recount how an encounter with 15-inch tracks in eastern Washington’s Blue Mountains set him on the path in search of an answer to the question — Is there a hominoid species behind the legend of sasquatch?