Posted by: Craig Woolheater on October 22nd, 2005
Travel journalism is taking vicarious adventure to new highs and lows
From the San Antonio Current
Rob Riggs spent Labor Day weekend camped out in the Big Thicket region with members of the Texas Big Foot Research Center, searching for a creature known variously as the Wild Man of East Texas or the Southern Big Foot. Riggs had a camera with him, of course, although in more than three decades of documenting others’ sightings, the Hardin County native has yet to see one himself. He’s heard them, though – "The nearest thing I can come to describing it, is that it’s like a train whistle, except it’s a different tone, obviously" – and that close call, along with tracks and firsthand tales, has been enough to fuel an entire career, including a 2001 book published by Paraview Press and subtitled "Exploring Nature’s Mysterious Dimensions."
There used to be a name or three for people like Riggs, and they weren’t all nice, but nowadays he has a new title: travel writer. And producer. Footage from Riggs’ Piney Woods stakeout will be used for a Travel Channel program scheduled to air this winter. Riggs also is a co-author of Weird Texas: Your Travel Guide to Texas’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets, the latest book in the Weird U.S. empire, which includes guides to the curio cabinets of five other states and a television pilot for the History Channel (best watched, I might add, late at night in a hotel room).
The wilderness may be largely settled in the 21st century, but cable and satellite television is a vast territory populated by hungry media executives clamoring for programming to which ad revenue can be tethered, and specialty channels such as Travel face a bigger challenge than their polygamous brethren: How do you put a fresh face on 24 hours worth of globetrotting? The answer seems to be leave no demographic or formula unturned. Caviar? Check. Wallets made from human skin? Check. Viewers who spent childhood evenings mesmerized by Leonard Nimoy’s exploration of Easter Island on In Search Of… will feel at home with Riggs and the Weird U.S. crew. Travelers who follow their stomach can rely on Anthony Bourdain, author and host of A Cook’s Tour, to sample Icelandic mud baths and the beating hearts of cobras ahead of them on No Reservations. And Saturday evenings can be spent in the not-so-capable hands of 5 Takes’ young guides.
"Oh, my gosh. I wish I were so virtuous," Cash Peters says, laughing, in the heavy English accent (Ringo Starr-like in its heavy nasality and muddled vowels) familiar to fans of NPR’s Marketplace and the Savvy Traveler. While filming his new Travel Channel series, Stranded with Cash Peters, the host spent time tempting the confirmed Luddites of the South Pacific’s Tanna Island with radio and other wonders of Western civilization. "I tried several times: ‘Wouldn’t you just like to sit in a car?’" he recalls. "I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t wear trousers. It really was the most phenomenal experience. There are people in the world that genuinely don’t share your enthusiasm for progress."
If Cash Peters gets stranded in East Texas, being part of the country’s passion may require a trip to the Big Thicket’s Bragg Road, where Riggs is documenting a connection between mysterious ghost lights – not unlike those sighted in Marfa, but more active – and the Texas Bigfoot. Riggs would be happy to serve as guide because, while the area was recently designated a county park, the Wild Man has a reputation for aggressiveness and even the more passive phenomena can be scary to the uninitiated. "I’ve interviewed people who’ve been really traumatized," says Riggs. "Occasionally the lights will show up and just scare the crap out of people."
But after the giant insects of Tanna Island, a reclusive hairy ape man might seem downright civilized.
The research operation after-action report is available on the Texas Bigfoot Research Center here.
Co-founder of Cryptomundo in 2005. I have appeared in or contributed to the following TV programs, documentaries and films: OLN's Mysterious Encounters: "Caddo Critter", Southern Fried Bigfoot, Travel Channel's Weird Travels: "Bigfoot", History Channel's MonsterQuest: "Swamp Stalker", The Wild Man of the Navidad, Destination America's Monsters and Mysteries in America: Texas Terror - Lake Worth Monster, Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot: Return to Boggy Creek and Beast of the Bayou.