Exploration in Iowa’s Stephens State Forest

By Brian Woods and Steve Moon

In addition to monitoring established research areas, time and resources are often

expended identifying, scouting, and gathering data from areas that we either have not

visited, or have spent very little time in. Researching areas that we are already familiar

with is enjoyable on many different levels, but our understanding of Sasquatch

populations within the Central Lowlands Physiographic Province can grow exponentially

when we explore new and untested regions.


Identifying a new research area involves among other things, map-work, an assessment of localized environmental resources, and the careful evaluation of any anecdotal stories or reports that might be available from local informants. In this particular case, we were also looking for an area that was somewhat equidistant from one another, in terms of driving time. It was about a three hour trip for each of us. In the end, regardless of why or how a potential new study area is identified, the time comes when an overnight investigation is warranted. It’s time for exploration and discovery!

 

We made plans to visit Stephens State Forest east of Osceola, Iowa, in August of 2019. Neither of us had ever been there, although we had investigated a Sasquatch population further to the west within the past five years. Stephens State Forest is quite large, covering over 15,000 acres, and is broken up into seven "units" in Lucas and Clark counties, in south central Iowa.


Visit the Iowa DNR website for more information on this and other Iowa State Forest

areas.

Stephens State Forest - image source:Google Maps

After a lot of discussion, we decided that the time was right for us to meet up for a two

night investigation. The weather looked to be spectacular, and our schedules allowed us to get away during the week, thus avoiding any weekend crowds. We were prepared to

record many hours of audio, as always, although neither of us took many photographs,

which is unusual. We never know just what to expect, but we were pleased with the

outcome of this research foray, finding our time at Stephens State Forest to be extremely productive.


Wednesday, August 7 Plans were made to meet just off of Highway 34, within the Whitebreast Unit of Stephens State Forest. Our original plan was to examine a few interesting looking remote campsites within the Whitebreast Unit. Brian arrived several minutes before Steve, and took the opportunity to explore the road leading to these campsites, which we had seen on maps and on Google Earth. It became apparent rather quickly that we would need to find another area to camp, as the road abruptly ended at a barricade. A partially obscured sign proclaimed that the bridge over Whitebreast Creek was out. It had obviously been quite a while since the bridge or road had seen any maintenance. Brian returned to the meeting spot and waited for Steve.

When Steve arrived Brian briefed him on the road and bridge closure, and a plan was

hatched to check out the adjacent Lucas Unit. After returning to Highway 34 the two

headed east towards the intersection with Highway 65. A sign noting the entrance to the

Lucas Unit pointed the way in. A sketchy looking one-lane wooden bridge crossed a set

of, as it turned out, very busy double railroad tracks. Once inside the Lucas Unit, well

maintained equestrian and hiking trails were found at nearly every turn. Three medium

sized ponds were encountered; Mine Pond, Hidden Pond, and North Pond. A small

campground near Mine Pond was found to be occupied by a few campers sitting next to

their tent. This campground and pond were in a deep valley bottom, and the surrounding ridges greatly inhibited any wind movement, making the place seem still to the point of being a bit stifling.


We had identified several campgrounds on park maps. Amenities in this state forest seem to include only a few picnic tables and pit toilets, a fact that will tend to keep human traffic to a minimum. We decided to check out Middle Area Campground next. This campground is on a ridge top, and we immediately felt a refreshing breeze as we exited our vehicles. There were no other campers at this location. This was just the ticket! There were several equestrian trails nearby, and North Pond was only a short walk away. We chose to make this our camp.


Steve immediately began recording audio as we set up our tents. We always start an

audio recorder upon arrival at a campsite or research area, because our initial presence

will often trigger a response in a Sasquatch population if present, or in other animals.

Steve eventually deployed a total of three audio recorders in different parts of the

campground, and Brian deployed two.


North Pond, Lucas Unit, Stephens State Forest

We hiked an equestrian trail to North Pond. The pond appeared rather still, and like Mine Pond, was surrounded on three sides by steeply rising slopes and a dense growth and trees. This would be our first and final visit to North Pond, but we were optimistic when we realized that the Middle Camp Area, true to its name, was right in between North Pond and Mine Pond. Bodies of water are a critical element in Sasquatch habitat, and although we suspect that their range of activity can be rather large, this seemed like an area where activity would be concentrated.


We decided prior to the trip to not have a campfire. Cold camping is something we often

do as a research tactic. Avoiding a fire relieves us of the disruption of minding our wood

supply and worrying about hot coals during windy or dry weather. Also, we don’t have to

question whether or not a wood knock is a knock, or the fire popping, when we do our

audio file analyses later on.


Read more about choosing and setting up a squatching camp HERE.


We spent the afternoon getting acquainted with our surroundings, and formulating a plan for our evening research. We noted a high frequency of trains passing on the tracks that we had crossed coming into the Lucas Unit, and were greatly relieved as the evening approached and trains were less frequent. This was a favorable development, as we captured many interesting sounds in our audio on the first night. More on these a little later…

 

We waited until the sun had mostly set to begin our hike down a nearby equestrian trail

that led to Mine Pond. With headlamps ready and walkabout recorders active, we hiked

through near-total darkness, periodically remembering to stop and listen to the sounds of the night. We spent several minutes standing at the north end of Mine Pond, and could smell faint hints of campfire emanating from the solitary campers that we'd seen earlier. The place seemed incredibly quiet and still.

 

Steve wrote the following transcript of his audio recording from Wednesday evening,

which includes our arrival and setting up of camp, our hike down to Mine Pond, and the

first two hours after our return to camp.


The transcript begins at 7:59 PM. The timecodes listed correspond to

hours/minutes/seconds after 7:59 PM. For example, 00.05.48 is five minutes and forty

eight seconds into the audio recording, marking this event at approximately 8:04 PM.

Audio clips and spectrogram images of sounds captured during this nearly four hour time period are included following the transcript.


190807_0050 2019.08.07 Stephens SF walkabout 7:59 PM

 

Brian and Steve register campsite – walk around campground 

00.05.48 distant vocalization with vibrato – not heard 

01.05.10 vocalization 

01.19.53 vocalization with vibrato - heard

01.24.15 Brian and Steve begin walking down to Mine Pond

01.49.33 distant vocalization – not heard

02.06.32 10:05 PM Steve does knock on valley floor using a red Jam Blok

02.06.42 distant reply knock – sounds like Steve’s Jam Blok – not heard 

02.07.05 Brian and Steve begin walking back up to campground

02.16.25 Brian and Steve arrive back at campground

02.18.00 10:15 PM Steve does knock

02.18.04 three distant reply wood knocks – sound like Steve’s Jam Blok – not heard 

02.39.30 Steve howls

02.39.57 quiet knock right channel - heard and announced by Steve

02.40.13 distant coyote

03.21.41 Steve howls

03.22.44 vocalization

03.44.52 five part vocalization - announced by Brian and heard by both but not recognized as a vocalization – also owls


The following video includes several audio clips and spectrograms from this transcript (headphones recommended):

The recordings in this report were made with Steve’s Olympus LS-P4 audio recorder, and

a set of Sound Professionals Master Series in-ear binaural microphones. Other recorders and recording rigs were used by both Steve and Brian, but these recordings proved to be good representations of the activity that was observed, and were the recordings that Steve concentrated on during sound file analysis. The Olympus LS-P4 is a very good quality recorder, with a very “quiet” internal amplifier.


Thursday, August 8

After breakfast in a diner in Osceola, we continued our investigation of Stephens State Forest. There is a variety of terrain within the units, with thickly forested areas broken up by pastureland and farmsteads. As we had discovered the day before, our initial target area in the Whitebreast Unit was difficult to access due to a bridge being out and more than one road no longer being maintained. Roads around the state forest switch from paved to gravel frequently. It quickly became obvious that additional visits would be necessary in order to gain a better understanding of potential study areas within the forest boundaries.

 

We also visited nearby Red Haw State Park, on the east edge of Chariton, Iowa. While we didn't feel that the park would be conducive to future research, it is quite beautiful and worth a visit. The available facilities and maintenance appear to be top notch. Being in close proximity to Stephens State Forest, this park is very likely heavily trafficked, which relieves human pressure on the state forest lands.


View of lake at Red Haw State Park

After an evening meal at a restaurant in Osceola, we returned to our camp. We enjoyed

some down time, while of course keeping our recorders running. We took a short hike into the woods immediately to the north of camp to investigate an area where we had

potentially seen fluctuating pulses of eyeglow the night before. Just beyond where we

estimated the location of the possible eyeglow to have been, the ridge drops off sharply.

This drop in elevation would not have hindered access for a Sasquatch wanting to quietly observe activity in our camp, and would have provided for a rapid retreat if necessary. We had determined that at least one of the vocalizations that we had heard on Wednesday night had come from further down the ravine that we were now staring into; to the northeast of the Middle Area Campground. Of note in this area were two piles of plucked feathers from a grouse or similar sized bird, and small patches of ripe raspberries. We stayed within fifty feet of the edge of the woods where it borders the campground, due to the sharp drop-off. Here is Steve's audio transcript of the walk.


190808_0051 12.31 PM Thursday 08.08.2019 investigation of woods north of camp


00.01.01 whoop right channel as we are walking north towards the woods to investigate

area where eyeglow was observed on Wednesday night – whoop came from the east of

the campground

00.04.47 low ascending vocalization possibly preceded by two vocals - inside the edge of

the woods - right channel

00.11.24 spoken syllables

00.13.22 stepped descending vocalization in left channel probably to the east of the

campground

 

The following video includes several audio clips and spectrograms from this transcript (headphones recommended):


Our second night was spent at camp recording audio, scanning the woods with a Seek

CompactPro thermal device, and issuing both a single howl and a knock. Here is a

transcript of Steve’s audio recording of this hour.


190808_0052 8.40 PM Thursday 08.08.19


00.06.02 unknown sound right channel

00.08.27 three part vocalization – not heard

00.19.01 quiet wood knock but discussed in context of car driving by on gravel car was

possibly used as cover for knock communication

00.31.11 Steve does a knock

00.31.45 two part vocalization right channel

00.59.30 the time is 9.39 PM

01.02.03 Steve howls


No further activity detected in sound file


Here is an audio clip and spectrogram image of the three part vocalization (00.08.27) listed in the above transcript (headphones recommended):



00.08.30 three part vocalization

There was a noticeably lower level of owls, coyote, and other anomalous sounds

recorded in our audio on Thursday night. Because of the apparent lack of observed activity we decided to retire earlier than usual. With recorders still running, we slept through the night.  


The next morning we broke camp and headed into Osceola for breakfast. We were

ecstatic about what we had experienced. Our conversation was loaded with questions

about the activity that we had observed. Excited to return home and begin analyzing our

audio, we parted ways.


We consider our time spent at Stephens State Forest to be a real success. We are

planning future research trips to this state forest, and are anxious to take a closer look the other units.


We obtained several very interesting audio clips. The Sasquatch at Stephens State Forest

seem to exhibit vocalizations that we feel are unusually complex and at times even

musical. We may even have recorded instances of spoken syllables. Audio file analyses

will continue, and our experience with the place will inform what we do there next. This

was very definitely a productive research trip!


A few quick notes regarding audio file processing:


Download audio files as soon as possible after a research trip. Copy them to folders that

are labeled with the date of the initial recording, using the following protocol: YEAR,

MONTH, DAY, PLACE; as for example, 2019.09.15 Stephens State Forest. By doing so, all of your audio recordings will be in order and will be easy to find at a glance. Always make a working copy of every file, keeping original files in their original pristine state.


Before a file can be analyzed it is often necessary to perform a low-cut filtration at around 1500 Hz in order to remove high frequency insect and frog calls as much as possible. Otherwise, listening can be very painful. With the Stephens State Forest files this was very necessary. Files should be listened to at maximum volume in order to hear every detail, and performing a low-cut filtration allows that.


In the case of particularly long files, smaller files may need to be produced before

processing, as just about any computer will be unable to perform processing on long files. Often a clip of a sound will be exported, opened in a separate window, and then a low-pass or other filtration performed on the shortened file. Computers with solid state

processors are much more able to perform processing on longer files, up to a couple of

hours in lengthy, in a timely manner.


High and low filtration, and noise reduction, as well as amplification, should all be used

only as needed. A single routine that best fits all sound files does not exist. Each file is

different, and has different processing needs. It is often a good idea to listen to and analyze a file more than once. It seems that the second time you listen to a file the more you will hear. This is particularly relevant for complex or critical sound files.


We use Audacity, a freely available, and very powerful audio processing software, to

analyze our sound files. A major component of our analysis is to examine our sound files visually in sonogram image form. A three minute window is used for initial analysis, and when identified, individual sounds are represented in a three or five second window, or longer when necessary. Standardization of length of audio clip sonograms allows for better comparison between files. Most of the sonogram images of sound files in this article are three seconds in length. When analyzing sound files we depend on our research partners for feedback. We have come to realize that it’s much better to include a sonogram image with a sound file in order to give the best and most accurate representation of the sound being analyzed. The following sonogram image has been annotated to show a few of the sounds that were heard from our campsite at Stephens State Forest. The sound file that the sonogram image is derived from is also included here. These give you an idea of the process that we sometimes go through when trying identify sounds, both in the field as they are occurring, and later during file analysis. As was the case here, anything that isn’t definitely recognizable as “squatchy” will not be represented as such, and will not be published. These discussions are critical to our overall understanding of a study area.



190807_0050 - 02.40.00 distant vocalization followed by coyote


You can download Audacity HERE.


A registered 501(c)3 Non Profit Organization.  For further information, please contact us at contact@lowlandsbigfoot.org

Lowlanders art by Charlie Hynick
Web site created by Brian Woods