Investigating the unexplained can be a tricky thing. One needs to have a passion for it, and be willing to work very diligently for very little (or no) payoff. It can be frustrating to be looking for something for so long, spending so much time and energy, and never finding anything. And quite frankly, it’s a very fine line between passion and obsession. This is why you often see ghost hunters presenting photos of dust as “orbs,” or slightly different static than the normal background static as an EVP. Sometimes, obsession can lead people to hear or see things that aren’t there. Every weird light in the sky is a UFO. Or in this case, every strange looking rock is a Bigfoot skull.
OGDEN — “I found a fossilized Bigfoot skull.”
A journalist can go his or her entire life waiting to hear those six magic words. And yet, on a recent weekday afternoon, that very thing happened.
Todd May, of Ogden, dropped by the offices of the Standard-Examiner to see if someone would be interested in a story about a fairly impressive fossil find. After showing off a couple of digital photos, May offered six even more compelling words — “Do you want to see it?” — followed by the motherlode of sentences: “It’s out in the trunk of my car.”
In the trunk of your car? Do I want to see it? Does Bigfoot make in the woods?
May proceeded out to his car, where he popped the hatchback on his Nissan 300 ZX. Peeling back an American flag draped across the cargo area of the vehicle, he hefted a black piece of luggage that resembled an oversized bowling-ball bag, lowering it to the asphalt of the parking lot with a clunk. He struggled to pull a noggin-sized, seemingly ordinary rock out of the bag, held it up and turned it over.
The rock looks vaguely like a smaller version of one of those Easter Island heads. Pronounced forehead. Large, flattened nose. What could only be described as a chiseled chin and jaw line.
It’s been about six weeks since May found the rock near the mouth of Ogden Canyon.
“I was looking for some fossils,” the 49-year-old “semi-retired” private investigator explains, “and I was kind of drawn to something in the ground.”
It was a rock, sticking up out of the dirt.
“So I went and dug it out, and you couldn’t tell what it was ’cause the head was face down; all you could see was the back of it,” he said. “But when I dug it out you could see the face, perfect.”
May believes his weighty prize — it tips the scales at 70 pounds — is a fossilized Bigfoot skull. What compels him to make such a claim? Because he says he has seen a couple of the nonfossilized, live skulls — attached to their monstrous, hairy bodies — in recent years.
“I’ve been tracking and watching for Bigfoot,” May said. “I’m very curious, interested in that, and wanted to get footage on it ’cause I’ve ran across him a couple of times.”
The first time was in April of 2011, just before dark one evening. May was “kicked back, enjoying the hot springs” near the mouth of Ogden Canyon when he spotted something emerge from the bushes just across the river. It was black with a silky coat, and it moved quickly, never looking over at May.
“My first thought was, ‘My heck, there’s a gorilla escaped from the zoo or something,’ ” he said. “I thought, ‘What in the heck’s a gorilla doing?’ Then it dawned on me what it was.”
The only other time May has seen Bigfoot was about a month ago, in the same area. He says he likes to go to the hot springs late at night, when there are fewer people there. He was at the springs about 2 a.m. one night.
“A couple of nights something was breaking branches and throwing rocks in the water,” May recalls. “And I thought it was just some obnoxious people or kids or something in the canyon.”
On this particular night, however, he decided to investigate, thinking perhaps it was an animal. May was walking down the trail when he saw it, down in the trees by the water.
“I had the light on it, and I thought, ‘Oh my land,’ ” May says. “It was tall, it was big, it was big around — pretty good size. And it kind of looked back at me and I was just frozen. … So I just stood there with the light on it for a minute, and then I heard somebody across the way yell, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s a monster!’ or something. So somebody else had seen it.”
May says he found the fossilized skull about two weeks before his second Bigfoot sighting. He has been hunting fossils for two or three years in that area, and says he has found “a lot of things that look like different types of animals.”
How do others respond to May’s Bigfoot tales and his claim of finding a skull?
“The people that have seem ’em before, they kind of smile and they tell me their story,” he said. “There’s some people that kind of shrug their shoulders and think, ‘Whatever.’ You know, ‘Strange.’ ”
May says he’d be perfectly happy to allow scientists to examine his Bigfoot skull, but he wouldn’t want it to fall into someone’s hands “where it just sort of disappears.”
“I wouldn’t mind, I just don’t want to get it lost,” he said.
The Standard-Examiner sent a photo of the rock to several paleontologists for an initial opinion on May’s find.
In an email interview, paleontologist Kenneth Carpenter said what May found is interesting, but it definitely is not a fossilized skull.
“I’ll admit that it is the most head-like rock I have seen,” said Carpenter, director and curator of paleontology at Utah State University Eastern’s Prehistoric Museum in Price. “However, there is no doubt that the object is a natural phenomenon. Basically, it is just the odd way the rock has weathered.”
Carpenter said there are several key features of a real skull that are missing — eye socket, nose opening, and teeth among them.
“The object looks more like a head than a skull,” Carpenter wrote. “When a human head starts to decompose, the first areas to go are those soft tissue high in water, namely the eyes. Thus, even if the eyelids are closed, the eye socket is seen as a collapse of the eyelid into the socket. Scavengers, including coyotes, rodents, insects, etc., feed on tissue. For them it is an easy meal. That is why murder corpses in the outdoors are little more than bones.”
Carpenter also said the structure of the material suggests it’s a rock.
“If a piece is knocked off, you’ll find that it is rock all the way through,” he said. “Bone when it fossilizes still retains its structure, even at the microscopic level. … IF this were a fossilized skull, then knocking a chip off should reveal bone structure inside.”
Brooks B. Britt, paleontologist at Brigham Young University in Provo, says he gets these sorts of calls regularly.
“This happens all the time,” he said in a telephone interview. Rarely, however, do such leads result in an actual fossil.
“I’ve been doing this since I first started at BYU, and only once did something turn out to be worthwhile,” he said.
Most of the time, Britt says, it’s just a rock that looks like something interesting. He has seen people bring in rocks shaped like hearts, kidneys, fingers, eggs — all sorts of anatomical parts.
“It’s just the way the rock weathered naturally,” he said.
Britt says despite explaining this to the finders, he can never convince them otherwise.
“They just won’t listen to anybody,” Britt said. “He’s always going to believe it.”
Carpenter said it’s perfectly normal that May saw a face in the rock.
“Seeing recognizable shapes in objects (including clouds) is something the human mind is wired to do, even if it is seeing the Madonna in toast,” Carpenter wrote. “Seeing it doesn’t make it so.”
Still, Todd May is undeterred. He believes that many people have “tunnel vision” when it comes to discoveries like this.
“I think people need to be more aware, open their eyes and be more aware of what’s around us,” he said. “Because I think there’s a lot of ancient (things), and fossils and different things, around us that if people would just kind of open their eyes to they’d see that we walk past them every day.”
It’s funny that Mr. May is accusing other people, people more knowledgeable about rocks and fossils than he is, of having tunnel vision. I get that he’s interested in Bigfoot, but just because a rock looks like a Bigfoot head doesn’t make it a Bigfoot head. He can very easily have it tested, and I doubt it would disappear. There are plenty of reputable museums, universities and laboratories that would gladly test it for him, and they wouldn’t need the entire head.