Artwork, Animal Encounters and a Different Side of Sasquatch

Visit the High Desert Museum in Bend for a fresh look at Bigfoot.
February 13, 2024

Imagine you’re walking through a high-desert forest of junipers and pine. The air is pungent with the sweet, earthy smell of sagebrush and something else you can’t quite put your finger on. As you round a particularly thick ponderosa, your eyes dart from the pine-needle-strewn path at your feet to the hairy, gigantic feet of an immense biped. You immediately jerk your head upward to stare at the towering face of Sasquatch — Bigfoot, as it’s known to many.

This face isn’t menacing at all. Instead, it’s warm and welcoming and conveys a feeling of protection. Your nerves settle and your surprise is slowly replaced by the realization that there may be more to this local legend than you once knew. 

Such is the thinking with the new exhibit at the High Desert Museum in Central Oregon: “Sensing Sasquatch.” Instead of the kitschy Americana and preconceived notions of this elusive beast, this exhibit explores the idea of the Pacific Northwest’s Bigfoot through the eyes and stories of the Native peoples of the region.

From left: HollyAnna CougarTracks and her Bigfoot sculpture; Frank Buffalo Hyde's study piece; Rocky LaRock Bigfoot mask

Sasquatch Through An Indigenous Lens

“Sasquatch has captivated people in the United States and throughout the world,” says High Desert Museum Executive Director Dana Whitelaw, Ph.D. “However, what many people don’t know is that Native Americans have had deeper relationships with Sasquatch throughout time. The exhibit will be centered on Indigenous art, voices and storytelling.”

Before entering, visitors will see an homage to the pop-culture icon, along with an interactive invitation to consider a different point of view. Multimedia, signage and stories walk visitors through the various forms and representations of Sasquatch, including in the high-desert region — a stark contrast to the more stereotypical view of the creature striding through dense Northwest rain forests. 

Through the work of five Indigenous artists — Phillip Cash Cash (Nez Perce, Cayuse), HollyAnna CougarTracks (Nez Perce, Yakama, Cayuse, Cree), Charlene “Tillie” Dimmick (Warm Springs), Frank Buffalo Hyde (Nez Perce, Onondaga) and Rocky LaRock (Salish) — “Sensing Sasquatch” examines the creature’s history as one of protector, guide, communicator and elder. From an intricately carved mask to a 6-foot-tall sculpture, the exhibit infuses elements of the past with the present and future to bring to light the Indigenous stories of Sasquatch.

“Sensing Sasquatch” opens March 2 and will be open through January 12, 2025.

The Museum’s Wild(life) Side

For families visiting the museum, undoubtedly one of the biggest daily draws is its wildlife. The museum is home to dozens of animals, from owls to porcupines, reptiles and so much more, both in the museum’s habitats and those that participate in daily programs. The public introduction of a new bobcat in 2023 has added even more reason to visit, and now Timber, as he’s affectionately called, has become a new favorite. Located inside the museum across from the permanent “Spirit of the West exhibit, Timber rotates in the space with another popular animal, Gert the gray fox.

Be sure to time your visit to coincide with a thrilling “Bird of Prey Encounter” in the Donald M. Kerr Birds of Prey Center. Museum staff talk and share insights about the various high desert birds at the museum and give up-close demonstrations of the bird’s abilities. It’s hard not to get excited when raptors fly just a few feet above your head.

Visitors to the museum may soon also be able to catch a glance of the newest addition to the roster, a baby beaver. Like many of the animals housed at the museum, the baby beaver was rescued and cannot be returned to the wild. Though not yet on display, she may be making appearances later in the year.

“Spirit of the West” exhibit

Art, History and Culture in the High Desert

The museum exhibits are always evolving, but one thing is for certain: You will walk away learning more about the high-desert region and its history, people, flora and fauna. Walk through the permanent exhibition of the “Spirit of the West and see life-size dioramas of a Northern Paiute shelter, a fur trapper’s camp, a settler’s cabin and a Chinese mercantile from the early 20th century, among other scenes. Meanwhile, “By Hand Through Memory” takes visitors on a journey through the modern life and experiences of several Pacific Northwest tribes.

Through early April 2024, visitors can see 25 works from Andy Warhol’s “Endangered Species and Vanishing Animalsseries, brought in to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act. On a more local level, visitors can view the new “Endangered in the High Desertexhibit through early July 2024 to explore the past, present and future of the region’s endangered species. 

If you’re visiting in the months of July through September, check out the annual “Art in the Westexhibition, which showcases an array of contemporary and traditional Western art from across the country. From photography to sculptures, oil and acrylic, the artwork highlights the people, landscapes, wildlife and culture of the high-desert region. Exhibition artwork is also available for sale through a silent auction online.

No matter what time of year you visit, or where your interest lies, a trip to the High Desert Museum in Central Oregon is a must for any visitor’s itinerary. From artwork to wildlife, culture-shifting narratives to captivating aviary encounters, each visit promises a dynamic journey through the tapestry of the high-desert region.

About The

Lucas Alberg
Lucas Alberg is a native Kansan who ventured west after college and found his happy place in Oregon. He writes articles and books, plays music and loves to belt out a tune. The bulk of his free time is spent traipsing through the woods with his wife, two kids and designer mutt (aka doodle).

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